Title: Shooting Stars
Disclaimer Despite my begging letters to Mr. Lucas, he simply won't give me even a few minutes alone with Luke Skywalker and company. I know, terrible isn't it? So I can't claim any ownership over them, this is purely for fun.
Summary: An AU story, at the time of ANH what would have happened if Biggs hadn't jumped ship and had mouthed off at the wrong moment about Luke's piloting skills?
"We're a couple of shooting
stars that'll never be stopped!"
The heel of the saber pressed deep into his temple, imprinting a burnt circle onto his skin with the combined heat and blinding light of Tatoo1 and 2. The hand holding it shook perceptibly and the palm itched over the activation plate in a war of rough, turbulent emotions that spread in a trembling wave down the arm holding the ancient weapon.
Luke Skywalker turned his head up to the brilliant sky and the man's head eclipsing one sun in a hazy fire of white hair. The eyes quivered with the plea but the hand itched further over the activation plate, palm desperately trying to activate the saber despite the sting of tears in Ben Kenobi's eyes. His other sun-calloused hand, grasping a handful of sun-bleached hair, tightened and Luke yelped where he groveled in the sand under the unyielding hold of the man.
Luke's eyes brimmed with tears, staining his cheeks from the physical pain of the hold, the terror as the palm itched nearer the plate and the look of pure and utter desperation on the old man's face. Luke's choked plea was met only by another tightening of the fist of hair.
The two figures stood silhouetted on the outcropping of rock. There was a stunning view of the Dune Sea spread out some two hundred metres below their feet, had the two been interested in looking. The noon suns beat down as they did every day on this arid planet, but today they were perhaps more oppressive in their heat, an ominous foreboding laying down over the sea of desert like a funeral shroud billowing before it settles. On the ridge, the cloaked figure held the slight boy in a death grip, kneeling in the sand and grit on the precipice edge, one hand clamped down firmly on his head, the other pressing the end of a saber against the blonde head, Luke shivering in the heat.
The taller figure never moved, cast in stone as the last remnants of a near-extinguished creed, the moment stretching to minutes as heat waves billowed up around them unnoticed. A slender hand clawed at the death-locked grip, drawing thick welts on the sand-scoured skin and the scratched voice begged some more.
Please stop, please don't kill me, I don't understand, I haven't done anything, it hurts, Ben, it hurts, why Ben, why?
In the distance, smoke curled up into the sky in a thin funeral prye.
Luke's vision was blurred with tears and the ground bit and burnt through his homespun trousers, nipping at his grazed skin. He cried out in anguish and confusion as he tried to squirm and the grip on the saber shifted yet again. He looked up into eyes spilling a deep well of grief down aging cheeks.
"I'm so sorry Luke." The voice was as scratched as his own, almost numbed beyond recognition by grief and anger and... was that fear? Certainly not the kindly voice of 'crazy old Ben'. "I would give my life ten times over not to do this to you." The man's shoulders shook with an immeasurable sorrow. "But I've failed, it is complete, and I have to end this. Here; now. It can go no further than this."
Again, the heel was pressed deeper into Luke's temple, twin suns burning. He bit down on his lip at the pain and felt the sting of blood on his tongue. He used it to give him focus and licked parched lips.
"Ben... you're... hurting..."
He was weak, so weak. He had lost everything; there was nothing. Only heat and blood, pain and grief. Perhaps loosing his life was just closure. Even coming from him, this benevolent guardian angel who had rescued him countless times in his brief life, this crazy old man.
His own hands trembled over the one holding him down and the landscape seemed to shiver with him, the only element unmoved by the tragedy playing out being the dark speck of a lambda shuttle blotting the clear landscape around the two figures, locked together on the ridge for an eternity of a whole five minutes.
Ben Kenobi let out a shallow sigh, in time with the rasping breaths of the boy at his feet. Luke could only blink back the tears. The cloaked man shut his eyes and forced his own tears back down. That was the thing about Tatooine you weren't allowed tears. The water was evaporated as soon as it hit your cheeks. The planet did not take kindly to human emotions, but Ben's shoulders sagged heavily under the weight of destiny and all the wretched emotions attached to it.
The shuttle edged closer for a landing and eternity had to end.
"I'm sorry Luke."
The boy, the orphaned farmboy, literally sithspawn but with a heart to eclipse any darkness, did not cry out as Obi-Wan's palm finally rested against the plate and saber lit.
One month previously...
Biggs Darklighter stepped down hard on the pedal underneath his right foot, hands flying across the board to cut the power to the starboard engine. His TIE fighter pivoted around in a tight, elegant spiral and he straightened her out, power to both drives, full throttle, as his target came into view. The Pirate fighter ship - a Z-95 in Hornet black and yellows flickered unwittingly across his scopes and the targeting computer grasped at it eagerly, chiming a lock. Black-gloved fingers tightened over the trigger and the lasers spat twin green bolts of energy at the madly evading little ship. Too late, the pilot of the ship realised Biggs' maneuver to bring him around on his tail and the beams spitted the single engine at the back, slagging it to molten durasteel and causing a cascading explosion that shattered the little ship like a ripe fruit bursting. One of his squad whooped in victory as another of the pirates met a fiery death in the cold of space.
Biggs kicked the ship forward and rolled her on her vertical axis, falling back into his wing position. The Hornets were a fairly pitiful band of pirates that had made the mistake of preying on Imperial supply lines whilst the fleet was passing near them. They were not only stupid, but the pilots were pitiful, and the ships no match for even the unshielded TIEs of the Imperial navy. Biggs looked enviously out to where another squad of TIEs, unusually lead by the infamous Darth Vader's TIE Advanced, tangled with pirates a few klicks to his port side and solar north. Now that was a good fighter. Sure, the TIE he was in was fast and fairly maneuverable, but the Empire seemingly didn't care enough about her pilots to give the ship shields. Vader's ship, though, that had shields. If only...
He cut off his thoughts as fire grazed another carbon streak across his port wing, just missing the support strut. He threw the ship into a climbing loop, kicked her around to dive again and slipped onto the fighter's tail before nailing it with a well-placed shot to the cockpit.
Where was his wing-mate...? There.
He slipped into the back draft of the TIE he was assigned to protect and clipped off shots at any enemy fighters looking ready for a brawl as his wing settled in for a head-to-head with another headhunter, only barely having better skill than his opponent. Biggs felt a sigh slip out into the confines of the vacuum mask. What he wouldn't give to be on Luke's wing right now, hunting womp rats back in Beggars Canyon. He had never really appreciated Luke's skill - nor his own for that matter - with anything that could fly until he got caught up with the Navy and saw what the rest of the recruits had to offer.
He blasted another pirate to go meet whatever deity they chose to believe in.
Luke would not have approved, Biggs knew. They had said, had promised each other not to get drafted into the Empire's killing machine. But... as with so many childhood flights of fancy, that dream hadn't lasted very long. Biggs had been transferred here from the Rand Ecliptic almost immediately after a chance battle gave him a moderate hero status for saving the ship, enough to get transferred to the Star Destroyer Adamant where he no longer had the chance to jump ship like he and his new-found friends had planned.
Another fighter was shredded by his fire.
He could almost see the pout of indignation on the Tatooine farmboy's face if he knew where Biggs was right now. At least they hadn't been called on to fire on Rebels yet. He wasn't sure he could do that. He was sure he wouldn't be given a choice.
"Red Squad, we're calling it in. The pirates are falling over themselves to give up. Form up and head back to Adamant."
Biggs gunned the fighter around and obeyed orders, the cavernous docking bay looming large through the octagonal screen.
Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and Ace pilot clambered easily from his TIE Advanced and landed on the perfectly polished black deck of the docking bay, an aide hurrying rather nervously to his side, his usually ruddy cheeks lacking colour. Vader hated these moments, when he couldn't read whether the fear he saw was due to some disaster conspiring against him, or simply terror at facing the dreaded Lord Vader.
"My Lord, the pirates have offered a formal surrender," the man puffed through limp cheeks, uniform painfully neat, corners crisp enough to cut durasteel.
"Unconditional?" Vader rumbled in the deep bass tones of his mask's amplifier. The man offered a curt if trembling nod and Vader grunted in disgust. Pirates they were all the same. Saving their hides regardless of any of their assumed 'causes'. At least the rebels stuck to what they believed in. "Very good, accept their surrender and order Captain Nevikl to destroy their base."
"Yes, My Lord."
As they talked, they made their way to the back of the docking bay, to the turbolifts beyond. The route took them through pilots stationing their fighters into position and huddles of soldiers swapping stories from the barely-finished battle, ripping constricting black masks from their heads and savouring the feel of cool air on their faces.
Vader paid little attention to them. His first love always had been and always would be flying, and at one time in his life - no, Anakin Skywalker's life he had wanted nothing more than to be in the throng with those pilots. But now... well now it all seemed so contrite. Too much misplaced passion.
As they swept past another gathering they heard the sound of raised voices and Vader turned with interest to listen, hidden from view by the wing of a TIE.
"You want to watch you mouth, Darklighter, or you're going to find yourself floating back to that Force-forsaken planet of yours."
Vader stopped in his tracks, stilled by some unseen Force. That name was a native Tatooine name, but that shouldn't have been so unusual. A whole planet was allowed to have more than one pilot, after all. The aide stood silent at his side, knowing better than to interrupt Vader's musings.
"Yeah, well you want to watch that hutt-sized head of yours or they're gonna have to use a hydrospanner to squeeze you into your helmet," a voice shot back, accent vaguely reminiscent of Vader's old home-world.
There was a the sound of a scuffle, booted feet skidding across the floor. The aide look questionably up at the Sith, the question obvious Should I step in and stop them, My Lord? - but Vader held up a gloved hand to hold him back. Why he did this, he couldn't yet say.
The young man's voice echoed around the bay again, "You're no hotshot, Armstrong. You fly about as well a hutt does the cancan, and with less grace. My friend-"
The snorts of laughter were cut off by the other's shout and Vader found himself drawn around the other side of the TIE, although still not in view of the pilots. He saw a thick-set man squaring up with a skinner, taller dark haired boy only barely into adulthood, both being held back by the arms of their squad members.
"Oh, here we go again, huh Darklighter? Falling back on you're imaginary friend, the ace-pilot. You need to get that hyper-sickness checked out," the shorter man sneered in contempt.
The other Darklighter tried to wrest himself free of his friends at the insult on his sanity. "Luke isn't-"
The boy was cut off by the other, and Vader was totally unprepared by the next words, his fascination with the childish argument suddenly justified.
"So where is this Skywalker kid then, huh? Drag him off of that dustball and let's see just how good he is!"
Time stretched like hot plastic and the world around Vader trembled, his perception never quite making it past the name 'Skywalker'. The realisation washed over him in a rough wave of confusion and, strangely, understanding. His breath caught in his throat, the rasping of his mask dying with the shock and suddenly his feet were compelling him forward into the throng. His mind was working far faster than his feet could ever walk though.
All conversation stopped as the Dark Lord of the Sith stepped, or rather stumbled, into view and aimed straight for the dark haired boy, his hand grasping for him. Shaken by his sudden appearance, the pilots all froze in their positions. Had his mind not been drowning in the maelstrom of emotions churning in his gut, he might have seen the humour in the the suddenly halted fight. As it was, he reached the boy and wrenched him free from his comrade's grip, Darklighter gasping a little in surprise as the others regained their senses and shrank backwards in fear. The mask Vader wore could give no hint of his facial expressions, but his stance betrayed a very dangerous frame of mind.
Darklighter blanched from his gaze and the word tumbled from Vaders numb lips.
Was that an alarm throbbing through his brain or was the blood rushing too fast through his temples? Biggs' lips were suddenly parched of any words for Armstrong, now cowering, his flat face showing a concoction of horror and bewilderment, mixed about equally. His eyes were bugging like he'd spent too long out on the dunes with only a stash of Corellia's finest wiskey to keep him company. Understandable of course, considering the death angel practically ripping the shirt from Biggs' back with his sudden and unexpected grip on the much smaller boy. The mask blocked out nearly all other perceptions, fixing him with a sudden, soul-shattering gaze he couldn't even begin to read. Not that you could ever read what was going on behind those black eyes. Not that Biggs had ever been intimate enough with Vader to try before. His perception did manage to become aware of a sudden need to breathe and he tried to suck air past the grip around his throat, not succeeding very well.
Somewhere in it's jaunt through commenting on the blindingly obvious, his mind registered that he'd been asked a question.
Parched lips; paralysing fear; feet straining to touch the deck.
Answer the question!
This was Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, man/machine that killed on a whim, sadist and masochist too if you believed the stories told in Rebel barracks. You weren't supposed to stare stupidly at him when he hauled you off your feet and asked you a question weighted with such a dangerous tone of voice. You really, really weren't supposed to just stare upwards like a womp rat caught in the glare of speeder lights, mouth working uselessly, stuttering.
So answer the question!
Question? Oh hell, he'd forgotten it. Nice way to freeze up on me oh great, fearless warrior.
Blood rushing through his temples again. Panic, sheer panic, and... confusion. "Huh?"
Oh, good one. Way to go, hotshot.
The growling hiss of the breath mask choked the terrified thoughts. Vader got a vice-like grip on Biggs' bicep and squeezed harder, apparently ignorant of the gawking pilots. Half of them looked ready to bolt; the other half had on their faces that look of sick fascination of humans transfixed by the pain of another.
What? Did the Dark Lord think repeating Luke's name would make it any clearer exactly what the man was asking? Sithspit, if only Biggs wasn't looking like quite such a dazed fool right now. He strove for some sort of calm but all he got was a rush of adrenaline from deep in his gut that made him feel vaguely queasy.
Concentrate. Right Luke's name. Huh?
He shook his head around the grip on his flightsuit's collar. "I...I..." He was stuttering like a demented Jawa, feeling the bitter taste of fear rising with the bile from his stomach and choking off the words.
"I..." Get the other words out! He doesn't look very patient right now! "I don't understand, My Lord."
Well, it could have gone better. He could have managed to pronounce the words singularly instead of as one long stream of babble. Vader seemed to understand him anyway, and the death mask glowered down on him. The grip tightened further and his feet left the deck as he swallowed down the fear with a welcome gulp of air.
"Who is Luke Skywalker?"
It was only then that Biggs noticed the distinct lack of the Imperial's infamous calm. They said he could take on a legion of the Emperor's Royal Guards without so much as breaking a sweat (and how would they know that anyway?) but here he was, clearly disturbed and unsettled by the mention of Biggs' best friend, a lowly orphaned farmboy.
Unhinged more like, if the trembling in that arm is anything to go by.
He had to answer.
"My... my best friend from back home," he managed, really pretty impressed that the words were actually coherent. Maybe noticing the Dark Lord's weakness had given him some new strength. Maybe he'd make it out of this one alive.
The trembling got worse and Biggs wished he could see the emotions playing across the face under that mask. Why the interest in Luke anyway? Even in its mad scramble, his mind came nowhere near a realistic answer.
The fist tightened and he gagged under the pressure, sucking in shallow breaths as the pilots around them took an involuntary step backwards. What had he said?
A long, low feral moan escaped the Dark Lords mask, so quiet only Biggs could hear it. A sudden wash of cold broke over him as he realised just how affected the Sith was. It crawled up his spine on cat-claws and he suddenly felt a reluctance to tell the man any more.
"Where? Who does he live with? What of his parents? His mother? What does he do?"
The barrage of questions made Biggs reel backwards in surprise. The Sith was downgrading to the babble that had afflicted Biggs earlier. The grip caught him and stopped him going anywhere. Biggs sucked in another breath and wasn't sure how to answer, what to say first, or whether to say anything at all. This was important; even he, Tatooine farmboy, could see that. What kind of trouble was he getting his friend into? Or himself for that matter?
Vader felt another shiver of absolute certainty claw its way down through his stomach. His mind was still reeling from the revelation. There was no way, absolutely no chance, that this boy's best friend couldn't be his son. Maybe there were other people of the name 'Skywalker' in this galaxy; he would have to be exceptionally naive and egotistical not to acknowledge that, but this boy... it was like the Force was screaming at him. Accusingly, joyfully, triumphantly. It was deafening.
He had to get a grip. For a minute there was nothing in his world but himself, the pilot, and his unbeknown son trapped on that hutts-armpit of a world he himself had once called 'home'. The rage he felt at that indignation was like the cool rain on a ground already drenched by nearly two decades of betrayal and hate, and was nothing like the virtual monsoon of shock that coursed like glitterstem through his veins.
Get a grip! The whole bay was staring at him, and soon the whole ship was going to realise something was definitely wrong with the unshakable Darth Vader. And if that happened.... it would get back to the the Emperor.
The Emperor... if Vader was barely ready to accept the possibility that Padmé had been pregnant before she had disappeared, he was certainly not ready to let the Emperor know that little fact. He tried not to think too much about the feelings of nausea caused by a sudden barrage of images flying at lightspeed through his mind; images of finding a son, only to have him taken and twisted into the Emperor's pet. He didn't dwell on those images or their implications for him. He did, though, feel a sudden surge of emotion that could only be one thing the desire to know, understand and own this child of his. It wasn't like the desire for his own ship, or even for a prized pet, but it was a deeper sense of ownership, a truly righteous one where the father should be allowed to mold the life of his son as he saw fit.
The pilots were still gawking and he realised with some dismay that he was nearly choking his only link to the child, the boy he would find and bring to his side. The grip loosened with some difficulty, his hands tensed from the thoughts running frantically through his mind.
The Emperor he had to keep this from him, which meant not acting like a stunned mynock.
He let Darklighter's feet back onto the deck and the other rubbed at his throat, but wisely resisted the urge to turn and bolt.
"Follow me," Vader said, taking some effort to keep the voice as emotionless as was his norm. Darklighter paled even further, if that were possible, and looked about to complain. Vader fixed him with a stern glare and all words were lost to the deck as he quickly averted his eyes downwards, breathing in shallow rasps.
Vader turned on his heel, motioning for the aide to follow him, herding the dark haired Tatooine youth forwards.
Biggs resisted the urge to gag and cough as he followed the suddenly quiet dark giant through the Destroyer's stark corridors. He couldn't shake the distinct feeling that something extremely important had occurred, and for once he didn't like the idea that it centered around him. Or... not him, but Luke.
He bit his lip in confusion and the remnants of fear, a mannerism he had picked up from Luke in his moments of shy contemplation. What could be so important about the kid to give a Dark Lord the shakes? He'd looked like he was going to give himself a hernia back there if he didn't calm down. That, or choke the life out of him.
In one of the many turbolifts they would take before reaching their destination, he steadfastly ignored the heavy breathing of the Sith Lord, trying to use the pulse of blood in his ears to steady himself and his nerves. This was not good, this was definitely not good.
All right Darklighter, it's decision time.
Was he going space-crazy or was he talking to himself again?
He knew the inner voice was correct though; he doubted Vader was taking him on a personal tour of his ship; more like making a direct line for the interrogation 'suites'. Those last questions had gone unanswered and it was clear that Vader wanted them answering badly. Painfully clear. He rubbed his neck again and the the red marks beginning to form there.
Biggs liked to think himself a man of honour, no matter that he was hooked up with Imperials. When he got past some of the more childish aspects of his personality, inevitable given his age, his heart was set absolutely and irrevocably on the side of loyalty to his friends. That especially included Luke. Now he had two choices answer every question Vader asked about his friend and probably get him into far worse trouble than even Biggs was in right now, or admit that he'd already bitten off more than he could chew and clam up, refusing to answer anything more.
There really was no question at all.
And then they were out of the turbolift, walking swiftly, eagerly almost, down another bright utilitarian corridor, lead like a nerf to the slaughter.
A forced unclenching of his fists and several calming breaths later, and Darth Vader felt he could speak again without dragging his reputation for being the unshakable Dark Lord any further down into the garbage scow. Salvaging what was left of his composure from where he'd left it on the docking bay floor he turned to the aide still hovering silently by his side, notably paler than before. The shorter man was letting his mind think too much, and Vader had some regret at the knowledge that the aide would have to go lest the lackey thought it would be a wise career move to report Vader's momentary lack of composure to the Emperor. A job in the Imperial hierarchy included the inevitable danger of betrayal from all sides. Not something they'd put in the small print when he'd signed his former life over to his new Master.
I thought I was signing away everything connected to my past life. Yes I was running away, yes I was scared, yes I was bitter, and yes I wanted it all to just leave me alone. I suppose I should have known that was impossible.
He realised with a start that, for the first time in well over a decade, he was thinking of Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader again. The two were separate entities they had to be. How long had it been since he'd considered Anakin's past his own? He knew intellectually that acknowledging your roots could give you strength, but in Vader's case it only dredged up old weaknesses.
He also realised he was staring blankly at the aide.
"Leave us. Order a search of Darklighter's room and bring his belongings to me," he ordered the man in a heavy, mercifully calm tone. A strange, perplexed look crossed the man's unremarkable features before he bowed curtly, olive uniform rustling, and left him alone with the boy.
The boy... his son's friend. It looked like his elimination of his past life had not been quite as complete as he had once thought. That could be rectified.
Somehow, probably through a trained and well-tested will power, he managed to suppress concerns over whether he actually wanted to do that before they could find substance in his inner voice. He did not want to be audience to those thoughts. Not yet, anyway.
He turned to the youth standing in front of one of the large bay windows of Vader's personal quarters. The young man was attempting to give the air of someone calm and perfectly composed, but his presence in the Force was practically screaming his terror at being lead into this place. The only outwards appearance belying this fact was the wringing of his hands in an unconscious gesture of anxiety.
Vader stepped forward and Darklighter took an involuntary step backwards, silhouetted against the starscape.
"Sit." Vader gestured towards a plush black courtesy couch in the corner. The boy opened his mouth to say something but at the glare Vader gave him for his defiance he moved over and sat down heavily, subdued.
He had so many questions! So many things he wanted to ask, so many ways to know his son, to understand him through this child. They were tumbling around his mind, fighting to be asked first like a pack of very hungry, very desperate wampas.
Vader moved forwards and sat opposite the tanned young man, Tatooine evident in his skin and his accent, and the resilience sparkling in those eyes. He would have to tread carefully here, he knew. He could see the uncertainty there, the desire to protect his friend against Vader. Admirable qualities perhaps this was why his son chose him for a friend.
Or perhaps it just that Tatooine was such a barren planet that her few children naturally latched onto whoever they could get in contact with, regardless.
"Darklighter, you have by now realised that I have an interest in your friend." If you have not you must be incredibly stupid. Vader doubted that was so, somehow. "I will have my answers, now." A stubborn line creased Darklighter's forehead so Vader added for good measure, "One way another."
He was satisfied to see he'd read the boy right - Darklighter flinched in fear at the implications. More perfect would have been a sudden spilling of answers, but they could work on that. He would get his answers. A surge of adrenaline through his veins boosted his confidence and he launched into his first demand.
"How old is he?"
Vader's blind optimism was in for a rough surprise when Biggs stared back defiantly, arms crossed firmly across his chest, lips turned down in a definite I ain't answering your questions expression. The boy's chin lifted in an expression of pride and he attempted a glower at the Dark Lord, not quite inept.
"Why do you want to know?" he asked, and Vader was mildly surprised by the strength of the voice, never mind that Darklighter had actually managed to speak in defiance at all, a rare occurrence in itself. "What are you going to do with him?"
Vader considered for a few heartbeats. Tell the truth, drain the boy, and kill him when he had the answers? That would certainly meet his ends, but how could he know he had found out everything the young man had to offer about his son? At the other end of the spectrum was an outright lie, something elaborate to cover his tracks. Perfect. Except... the truth was so intense it was blinding him to any other possibilities.
"I have a certain interest in young Skywalker." The words were heavy and it wasn't only Vader who heard the barely concealed lust there. It made Darklighter's lips curl in disgust.
"What do you want with a common farmboy?"
Another rare moment of strength. Vader might have begun to admire his gall had it not been directed against him. The Tatooine youth's mind was working frantically, trying to piece together scant facts into the semblance of an explanation, and Vader felt in no danger of having the truth discovered. It was far too absurd for the boy to even begin to consider.
"That is of no concern. You will answer my questions, whether or not of your own free will. It makes no difference. Make your choice," he rumbled darkly, years of practice telling him threat was a powerful incentive in times such as this.
The boy in front of him licked his lips nervously and hunkered deeper into the folds of the sofa, but he still found his voice, although less self-assured. "It concerns me if you're going to hurt him," he said, eyes darting away as Vader tried to fix his gaze onto his own.
Ah, compassion. Here was something Vader could use as a rope to let Darklighter hang himself on. He didn't miss the opportunity. This was growing tiresome.
"I will give you my word I have no intention of hurting the child." The quickly averted look of confusion told Vader that the pilot hadn't expected that one. "But I need those answers."
Biggs swallowed hard around the cold lump of fear in his throat, far past any smart remarks against this dark angel leaning over him in the dim lighting of the personal quarters.
He felt his world spin around him lazily. It was the dizziness of a pair of six year olds standing in the unbroken desert wastes, arms held out as if in crucifixion, heads upturned to a brilliant blue sky, spinning around and laughing as the world rotated around them in streaks of blue and white, then staggering to stop and collapsing to the floor laughing, dizzy with their inner ears screaming at them for the abuse.
Luke, laughing in the hot sand as they stared at the sky, squinting eyes against twin suns, watching for the grey dots and drive tails of ships. And Biggs, benevolent protector 'older brother' Biggs, laughing with him, telling him not to get so caught up in fantasy, whilst all the time he relished his friend's thirst for life.
You going to deny him that life by breaking here?
He was thankful Vader had ordered him to sit otherwise he might have had to collapse to the deck. This was too much he was in the Krayt Dragons lair and just waiting to be shredded into small pieces and examined for some tasty morsals.
Only... that wasn't happening. If his common sense hadn't objected so loudly, he might have sworn the Dark Lord was trying to reason with him, trying to persuade him to talk instead of just laying into him and dragging it out. Not that he wouldn't, if necessary. Biggs was under no delusions in that respect. The situation was completely absurd, nothing a mere flight officer should find himself trapped in.
The cold sweat on his forehead was a welcome focus as he realised he had to say something to the Sith and memories of Tatooine faded from his mind.
"I won't answer your questions, My Lord." As if giving him that title would lessen his punishment for such defiance. "I won't betray Luke."
He wasn't even sure if it was him saying those things, he just knew something had gone terribly wrong the moment he had said Luke's last name and if he couldn't rectify that, he could at least try not to get him in any deeper.
Again, he wet parched lips.
Vader stood abruptly and turned away from Biggs, contemplative, black cloak snapping at his face. A sigh came from the Dark Lord's lips as he turned back to him, "Very well, we will do this the hard way." He sounded genuinely disappointed.
Probably just wanted to get the answers as fast as possible.
Without any forewarning, a black gloved hand shot out and grabbed Biggs around the neck, lifting him from the couch and throwing his head into a collision with the wall. He wailed in pain and slumped from the grip to the floor, dazed.
Through a muggy haze of shock and pain, he heard Vader's "Stay there," as he moved away. Biggs' hands shook and he couldn't stop them, fear seizing his heart, no longer caring if he was acting like the brave pilot he longed to be or not. He lifted his head from the cold floor, trying to plant his hands against it and push upwards but the blow hadn't left him with the strength to do that and he let his cheek rest against he deck, breathing heavily as stars continued to dance across his vision and the banthas continued to hold a truly wild party in his head.
What was he doing? Defying the Dark Lord was stupid, would only get him killed or worse, would only get Luke in more trouble-
Cut that out, Darklighter! What happened to your resolve?
He moaned inwardly as the inner voice chided him. Great, now his conscience was going to have a go at him too. Just what he really needed right now.
A shadow appeared to block his vision and he tried to claw his way backwards from the black booted feet of Darth Vader.
A choked cough and he was hauled to his feet by the iron grip, dragged moaning in protest to a far less comfortable seat than the sofa, and hands locked in restraints on the arms. Wonderful, looked like Vader was going to have some fun. What had he said earlier about his being a sadist?
The Dark Lord looked down at the boy and Biggs forced back a whimper of fear as his heart hit full throttle. Where was that iron will he used fighting in space? Maybe it was because here he didn't have even the protection of a durasteel cockpit, wasn't just fighting for his own life, but that of his best friend.
Well he wouldn't speak; his resolve was back, his head clearing. Biggs Darklighter would prove to this monster that you didn't mess with-
- the sting of a hypo and, too late, he realised the Dark Lord had no intention of having any fun, only getting the answers he so desperately sought.
Darklighter squirmed in the restraints as the drug began to exert its first unpleasant side effects. The so-called 'truth serum', as well as removing all inhibitions against answering, had a fairly drastic effect on the peripheral nervous system. The boy's eyelids twitched unnervingly and shivers ran up his arms as he tried to stare around in alarm, only to find the muscles in his neck spasming hard enough to lock him in position, fists clenched in terror. It wasn't pleasant, but Vader had seen it any number of times and knew it would only last for the few seconds it took to find a niche in his mind and begin to lower down those frustrating barriers.
He stood silently, waiting almost patiently.
A small cry, rage or terror?, and Darklighter finally sagged against the chair. Vader smiled grimly, never mind the pain it caused his scarred skin. Finally. The boy's head lolled to one side, eyes almost unseeing and he clumsily licked his lips, trying to find his voice. The neat, dark hair stuck to his scalp with sweat. Fingers twitched and strained stupidly against the restraints.
Darklighter would feel like he'd run the length of the Imperial Palace when this was over, but that should be all. As it was, he would barely be aware of what was happening to him, that being the whole point of the drug, and there should be very little real pain, only that imagined -
He frowned at the realisation that he was trying to justify his actions. As if he cared what the boy felt, all he was interested in was answers. "Tell me about Luke Skywalker."
It was a mistake to start with such an open question. The youth stared rather blankly at him, conflicting emotions running across his face and through the Force.
Of course! What a reasonable request!
Tell you? Tell you what?
I promised myself I wouldn't....
Vader circled the boy slowly, intentionally drawing away Darklighter's attention long enough for him to lose any grasp on those thoughts. "How old is he?" A better, simpler question.
"Eighteen." The voice was slurred by a numb mouth and tongue, but the word was still clear.
Eighteen, that would be about right. Absolutely right. "Where are his parents?" He already knew the answer, but what did Luke know? What did he tell his friends? He resisted the urge to hold his breath.
The head lolled further down and the eyes blinked blankly, "Dead. Father was..."
"Go on. His father was..."
A strained swallow against a rough throat. "Navigator. Spice freighter. Luke..."
He snorted in contempt. Could they have thought up a more degrading past? And who were 'they' anyway? "Who does he live with then?"
Darklighter never flinched. "Uncle and Aunt. Lars."
Vader felt his blood freeze in his veins at that name. Lars. That was almost as cruel as forcing him to have a childhood on that dust bowl Tatooine.
"Yes?" The boy squirmed under his gaze and it felt like he was asking for Basic from a Gungan. Trying to accomplish the nearly impossible.
"Owen isn't nice." Under the effects of the serum, the 'subject' often reverted to the most basic of mental patterns, and those associated with childhood would often be the only ones to survive the mental rape of the drug. Darklighter's speech had regressed ten years. "He tells Luke... too much like his father."
Vader stood very still, emotions dangerous. "What does Luke think of that?" he asked, trying to sound as neutral as possible.
Darklighter pursed his lips in the manner of a ten year old considering the latest model swoop bike. His eyes blinked a couple of times in thought. "I think he kinda likes being called his dad. He sorta... wants to be like him. Worships him." The boy grinned, giddy with the serum running through his mind, "Always dreaming..." he cut off wistfully.
His dangerous mood rose to another level and he slowly paced around the chair, hands gripping its edge until he swore his fingernails would dig right through with the pressure. He stopped behind Darklighter and leaned on the high seat edge, steadying his nerves before asking the next question, almost beyond hope that the unshakable Darth Vader would return anytime soon. The boy worshiped him. Why did that send such an intoxicating thrill through him?
"What does he look like?" The question spilled out unbidden. That, after all, wouldn't be important for his capture, but it seemed absolutely necessary that he ask it.
He couldn't see Bigg's face but the words seemed amused, "Short. He hates that. Ermm... blonde, got really really blue eyes." He sounded drunk."Cammie thinks he's cute." Vader nearly smirked at the childish jealousy. He sounded much like Anakin had been, with his mothers build. Even as he tried to picture the child, he knew he would never be able to get it right. Better to wait...
"What does he do?" This was incredibly intoxicating, he needed more. He circled back to face the Tatooine native.
"Helps on the farm. He hates it. Thinks he can be a pilot." Biggs grinned again.
Were the Lars still on the same farm? That was a fairly stupid place to hide the boy. Except you never bothered to look did you? Not so stupid.
Biggs tried to nod his head enthusiastically, but it was too numb and he only managed to look vaguely nauseous. "Can Raiders dance?" He didn't know, could they? "We raced, he always beat me. Always beat all of us. In Beggars canyon."
Memories of pod racing flashed through his mind. "Beggars Canyon." Nature, it seemed, had a sense of irony.
Biggs took the statement as a question. "He can thread the needle full throttle. I've never managed that."
"T-16. Skyhopper." His brow crumpled. "He wrecked it last time though. Windy cheated. Owen went ballistic, grounded him, gave him the 'you're not a pilot' lecture."
That sounded like the Owen he knew and hated. A skyhopper... damn site wider than a pod. That was impressive.
Darklighter's eyes were flickering and darting all over the place in completely random saccades, not focusing. The drug was probably wearing off. Now for the truly important question if those half-formed ideas were going to gain any substance. He came around the front of the chair and knelt on one knee as if truly talking to a child. "Have you noticed anything... unusual about him?" He thought he already knew the answer, especially with the Beggars Canyon revelation... but he needed to check.
Darklighter's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Ermm..." More hesitation; it really was wearing off. "Yeah, I guess. Owen is always shouting at him when he knows stuff he shouldn't... and fixes stuff. Oh, and there was that time he knocked Fixer out without even touching him. That was weird."
Vader felt a sly smile cross his lips as he stood and paced. That was it: his son did have the Force. And, by the sound of it, was completely untrained. Perfect. Ready to be moulded into his image, as it should have been from his birth. A burst of anger and Vader found his fist colliding with the wall, eyes staring out into space as thoughts of justice and revenge scrambled for recognition. Eighteen years! Separated for a whole lifetime Luke's lifetime. But no longer. This child, this Force-strong would-be pilot, his child had a meeting with a destiny long overdue
Whilst Vader submerged himself in the intoxicating thoughts of the future, Darklighter had descended into mindless mumbling; the start of his mind dragging itself back to reality, slowly rebuilding barriers. There was something about 'Anchorhead' and someone called 'Ben' that he didn't catch. No matter he had what he needed. The boy began to thrash in his restraints, mindlessly crying out in frustration and confusion, more spasms shivering up his body as sensation returned with the zing of blood pouring back into his muscles. Vader turned away from the recovering boy. He had a name, a description, and a place. Tatooine.
For the first time in a lifetime, he was going home.
The frozen touch of a hard floor against his cheek told him he must have rolled off the homespun-and-foam pallet Beru had given them to sleep on. It was extremely uncomfortable and icy cold, which was probably why his muscles ached so much. He felt like he must have run the length of the Lar's homestead yesterday, with a weighted pack and no water. Still in the grip of sleep, he couldn't push away from the floor and he lay there a little frustrated.
A few metres away lay the small, sleeping form of Luke Skywalker, and Biggs could see his breath crystallising in the air around them, wisps of blonde hair floating upwards with the small breaths.
This was dumb! He'd told Luke this was dumb! And it was cold too! "Bet you couldn't rough it, rich boy," he'd said, he'd taunted. "Bet you couldn't. Bet you'd be crying for your daddy." Grinning wide as his hands made mock sobbing noises. He was a fine one to talk, wasn't he always the one to moan about not having a dad? And more than that, the sly little womp rat had maneuvered him into this.
Cold and pain and breath crystallising in the air in sharp gasps around frozen lungs.
That little pint-sized runt! "I can, I can rough it! Don't call me 'rich boy'!" Biggs had whined almost as loudly as Luke often did, and the pout was definitely a mannerism he'd gotten from the smaller boy. He'd made Biggs sleep out here just to prove a point, and now Biggs was cold and hurting. He glared at the small sleeping form on the pallet opposite, seemingly perfectly contented under the loose coverlet.
And it really, really hurt.
"You don't know how! You haven't got the guts," he'd accused him. The little rat was clever; he knew Biggs could never take a poke at his courage. That had been all he needed to get Biggs to take up the challenge of a camp-out. Well, sort of; Beru had banned that idea, especially when the sand storm had blown up and hurled itself against the small, grubby homestead. But he wasn't a 'rich boy'. He could do this. Biggs could picture the pout of injustice on Luke's face as he tried to worm his way around his Aunt. That sly smile and dough-eyed plea when she seemed to be breaking.
"Boys, it's not safe. But you can set up in the garage. Will that do?"
Luke had complained but the woman had given a wise chuckle and refused any further concessions. So they had spent the afternoon in the dust and half-light of the garage, moving old pieces of equipment out of the way to make a clear spot for their camp, laughing and fooling in the dust motes shown up by the light of twin suns.
It was funny; Owen had taken the opportunity to bellow at his nephew for not having fixed the stuff they were hefting out of the way, but Biggs knew that as soon as he managed just that, Owen always got even angrier, especially when it seemed as if the thing had been unsalvageable. Biggs knew that upset his friend but they never mentioned it. Just like they never mentioned Bigg's dead mum. Never.
Biggs shivered in the cold.
So Luke and him had grabbed a roll of tatty and dusty synth and constructed posts from broken 'vapoator supports, Biggs dutifully not complaining about the material's condition. He was not a spoilt rich kid! Luke had tinkered with an old pocket luma until it was working, 'though it flickered on and off unless you whacked it hard.
"What now?" Biggs had asked, trying not to shiver. Luke had grinned back at him, seeing right through him.
"I got this picture of a Skyhopper-"
"Yeah, see?" Luke had searched his tattered pockets - though Biggs didn't mention their state and pulled out an old crumpled piece of flimsy with a picture of the little ship. Both boys grinned despite the cold, the torch light flickering again and throwing shadows against the 'tent' walls.
"Think we could model it?" Luke's voice held the enthusiasm that touched it whenever they talked about anything to do with flying. Luke bit his lower lip in contemplation and hope, hair afire in the reddish light.
"What with? Why don't you just buy-" Biggs had fallen over his own words, and then scowled at the realisation that he had slipped back into what his friend called his 'rich-mode'. "What have you got?"
He shifted uneasily on the cold floor.
The younger, smaller boy hadn't missed the slip, but for a miracle didn't mention it. He scrambled around on the floor out of the circle of light and came back, presenting a handful of shards of thin transparisteel and some unrecognisable pieces of durasteel that could pass for a T-16 cockpit. Maybe. Biggs had looked at him questionably as he produced a small, pocket welder and grinned, eyebrows raised.
Biggs lay on the cold floor, wishing he could get off it and back onto his pallet. Adult features screwed themselves up into a childish pout.
In the corner was the discarded, half-finished model they had worked on all night. Luke's face had been a picture of concentration as he delicately and expertly stuck the wings into a triangular array around the cockpit, the torch swinging from a piece of sythrope they had rigged to hold it roughly centrally under the 'tent', the complicated network of supports for the syth-and-duct-tape hut only shadows in the backgrounds. Luke had sat cross-legged, biting his lip, ever-so gently teasing the wing to stick to the cockpit.
The sandstorm was still going, though it sounded different to what he was used to. Sounded more like... well, voices really. And feet against hard decking. Maybe Owen and Beru were up already.
Luke had looked up from his work and given a toothy grin. "Your go," he'd said, brandishing welder and model in small tanned hands. Biggs had learnt throughout the evening that making the little ship actually meant quite a lot to the kid, and he stuttered when the boy offered him the chance to take part in its creation. Then it was his turn for a toothy grin and the moment passed between them quickly - respect, trust, friendship as Biggs affected a cocky 'I can do anything' glint in his eye and took the ship from his friends hands.
"You missed a bit, see?" he mumbled through numb lips.
He'd finished the final wing, and puffed his chest out in pride at his handiwork. Luke hadn't tried to compete, he'd just grinned and nodded sagely.
Biggs had understood then, somehow, that this was his best friend. That he would protect, be loyal to and poke fun at this diminutive boy as long as the two remained stranded in the sand wastes of Tatooine. And he promised himself that for Luke's next birthday he would get the credits out of his father to buy Luke a real model, though this toy would probably sit on his bedroom shelf for a long while.
The luma batteries had begun to fail then, despite Luke's best effort to keep the ancient device alive and -
- and the scene gradually faded into darkness.
Darth Vader had the Adamant return to fleet after her brief but entertaining - and enlightening - scuffle with the pirates.
It was a short jump and when they arrived he had Darklighter shuttled across to his flagship, the Devastator, whilst he flew his TIE Advanced into dock there. The boy, sedated after he had begun to hurt himself with the thrashing, was transferred to Vader's private quarters, to a small room accessed only through his apartment. It was a modification of the usual Officer's quarters, such as those he had 'interviewed' Darklighter in aboard the Adamant, that he had put to use many times upon receiving prisoners he took a more personal interest in. Not only was it more secure, but it prevented any mention of the prisoner appearing in Imperial records. That could be very useful at times, usually for interrogating prisoners that it would be better never made it into the Records; to get information for the Emperor. He had never dreamt that he would use it to keep information from the Emperor.
During the transfer he'd had time to think over what he had learnt, and his nerves were steadier now, the problems created by this strange and very welcome twist in plans evident. He had made efforts to prevent the knowledge of what had occurred in the Adamant's docking bay from traveling any further.
Darklighter's squadron has been reassigned to outer-rim duties; Darklighter's execution for treason was formerly recorded and used as a reason to demote the whole squad. Notification of his death was sent to next of kin, a father only; no mother. The troopers transferring Darklighter would know nothing other than that they were transferring an injured pilot to medical bay, where droids, whose memories could easily be purged, would deliver him still sedated to the cell.
All this was done by his aide who very soon should be meeting an unfortunate coolant leak accident in the shuttle transferring him over. Shame.
And the cogs of Imperial back-biting kept on turning.
Now, this accomplished and Darklighter still out cold beyond the Force-locked door, Vader sat in his meditation bubble, eyes staring blankly at the few possessions the boy had brought with him for a glorious career in the Imperial Navy.
For a Tatooine native, and friend of a moisture farmer, he was surprisingly rich. Or, his parents were surprisingly doting. Either way, it was unusual. The clothes were not homespun: they were well made, probably even offworld cottons, and not the usual Tatooine beige and whites. Interesting. Maybe Luke also lived in such relative luxury, although he doubted that. The Lars, in his opinion, never exactly screamed of a success waiting to happen.
Other small momentos of home also spoke of a rich upbringing including... a datapad? Why bother bringing a datapad? It was fairly average (although would have been a luxury on that Sith-forsaken planet) and there would be plenty at the Academy had he needed one.
Curious, maybe even getting a nudge from the Force, he switched it on and was greeted by the shaky, hand-held image of a blonde-haired young man backlight by a brilliant blue sky, the angle obscured due to the fact he was obviously holding the camera himself.
With a shiver of certainty settling deep in his gut, he knew that this was Luke Skywalker, and the grin on the grainy image made that conviction complete. That was Padmé's smile.
"Biggs, it just isn't going to be the same when you're gone."
The voice was like Bakuran fruit liqueur on a lazy summers evening, sweet and enticing and holding a world of hidden depths. His son had pale-golden skin and Biggs hadn't lied about his eyes; they were as blue as the distant skyline. Or perhaps Vader was just seeing what any parent would, not that he would ever admit it.
The camera shook as Luke began to walk, giving a brief view of a sand-and-sky landscape unbroken to the far jundland wastes that Vader remembered around the homestead.
Luke gave the camera a winning smile, "You're lucky, you know? Escaping this place." He seemed to sigh and Vader could imagine him kicking futilely at the sand that covered everything on Tatooine. There was a look in his eyes of being caged and desperately needing escape, a look Vader could readily understand. He had to get away.
"I'll be following one day, you know? Uncle Owen, he... well he just needs me for another couple of seasons, and then I'll be following you." He grinned sheepishly.
As he walked with the camera into the garage, the pickup went dark and the blurry outline of his son showed him adjusting something behind the view until the image returned, compensated for the change in lighting.
"Bet you're wondering how I got your dad to pay for this huh?" He smiled wickedly, "Wasn't so hard. He really cares for you, you know? You're like his... favoured son." Was that jealousy or did Vader just want to hear it? "I don't suppose fixing those hydro units for him hurt either."
He winked at the camera and then spun it around to show the interior of the garage. In a corner lay the half-repaired pieces of a skyhopper, then the pickup spun back to Luke looking sheepish. "Anyway, I just wanted you to know you were right," he said, "I burnt her out on the needle racing Windy." He shrugged. "He cheated! Flashed my stabiliser as I was Threading. I still beat him though, he had to bail." He lifted his chin in triumph, "So I guess you were right, I nearly did make a nasty stain on the canyon side."
He leaned in closer to the pickup as he set it atop a work surface to give a stable picture, then stepped backwards into where he presumed he would be centred in the pickup. He was nearly right.
The intense gaze tore straight through the supposedly unshakable Dark Lord. "Don't go copying me, okay Biggs? The city'll make you soft and... well, things really wouldn't be the same without you." He raked fingers through the blonde hair, "I guess what I'm saying is be careful. Oh, and watch out for me, I'll be on your wing some day." He grinned suddenly, "Hell, I'll still make Lieutenant before you do."
He gave a nod to the camera and reached to turn it off.
Vader sat very still for several long breaths as the screen went blank, not quite sure what would be proper for a Dark Lord of the Sith to be thinking right now. All he knew was that he had just seen his son, Luke Skywalker. How would you describe him? Enigmatic, certainly. Enthusiastic but naive: a farmboy both in dress and accent. But there was something else there too. Every movement he made was deliberate, behind every thought was a deep well of consideration and his eyes were wise beyond the age his young skin. Much like Anakin.
So eager, the boy, so needing to escape. Well, he wouldn't have to wait much longer.
Vader felt a frown pucker his skin at the brash statement. That wasn't true. He hadn't just taken great pains to rid the records of any evidence of his discovery, including sacrificing a good aide, just to order the whole fleet to Tatooine. That would be stupid. What possible reason would he have for going there? Why would he ever return to that damned place?
Enraptured by his thoughts, he hadn't heard the approach of his Aide aboard the Devastator, Daine Jir. He still grasped the datapad firmly in his hands like it might disappear if he let go, and he forced his tense fingers to set it aside,.
"I asked not to be disturbed," he growled.
"Quite so, My Lord, but we have received a communication from your contact on the Tantive IV with the destination of the consular ship." The man nodded gravely. Usually outspoken, he was for once holding his tongue.
Vader felt annoyance worm in his gut, this time directed at himself. Since this revelation that Anakin was not the last Skywalker, he had completely forgotten his priority mission chasing Leia Organa and the stolen Death Star plans. How had he forgotten something of that magnitude? Had he truly been so effected by this discovery? No, that couldn't be.
"Tatooine, My Lord."
Vader forced down the shock in case his aide picked up on it, remembering the secrecy he was attempting to hold together. But... it was perfect. A truly valid reason to go back to his homeworld, and fetch a certain Luke Skywalker from the surface whilst he was there.
"Very good, inform the Captain to set course and jump to a rendezvous with Princess Leia's ship, and instruct U-3PO to continue monitoring her actions in case she tries to hide the plans."
"Yes, My Lord," the Aide gave a formal and well-practiced nod.
He turned on his heal and left without a sound and Vader stared back down at the discarded datapad, Biggs' present from his best friend.
What was he doing calling the boy by his first name? He shook his head tiredly, no longer sure what was going on his mind anymore.
Biggs stirred on the floor of his cell again, but didn't wake when the medics arrived to inject nutrients and sedative into the restless young pilot. Images of Tatooine buzzed his mind, swoops racing through Beggars canyon, memories at full throttle and not sparing him any recovery on the emotional joyride.
And all the while there was the image of the kid he called 'best friend'.
And all the time there was a feeling of failure.
Luke Skywalker stripped the goggles from his face and tossed them into the back of his speeder, shortly followed by his hat and whatever was left of his courage. Luke needed to find strength right now, had to get his heart to stop clocking up the parsecs, but he couldn't. Even the sight of the Darklighter homestead was making his stomach churn, and the worst thing was he couldn't say why.
He'd been here many times before, mostly with his absent friend, and they'd explored every inch of the land. From staging mock blaster battles in the tall shoots of the hydroponics gardens, a green blur in the distance, to climbing all over the vehicles stationed in the spacious, well lit garage, the antithesis of the Lars own modest garage. Taking old speeders apart and putting them back together until long after the twin suns had set.
Usually, the homestead would bustle with droids, not managing to be as discreet as their manufacturers promised as they picked, processed and packaged the food for shipping to Mos Eisely and further. Another sharp contrast to Luke's home - Owen apparently believed in 'servant' labor rather than droid labor wherever possible. The rough calluses on his hands were testament to that.
Normally the reminder of being stuck in this place for yet another season would have made Luke's blood begin to boil like the quite gurgling of water in the irrigation pipes hidden in the sand at his feet. Now though, all he felt was a quite tug of loss pulling at his stomach, it seemed to demand he bow his head as he walked slowly to the rather grand front door, it seemed to want him to drag his feet in denial. If only he knew what he was denying.
Luke waited for the door to be answered, quietly noting the inordinate amount of time it took for Huff Darklighter to appear, face stony, expression deeply disturbing. It was what he saw in the mirror every time he thought of his lost father.
"Mr Darklighter, sir. You asked me to come over..." Luke found the words catching in his throat and wondered at that. Probably it was just a reflection of the somber mood of the homestead, probably he was being paranoid. Luke shuffled his feet uneasily.
Red-rimmed eyes averted from Luke's gaze and gestured for him to enter, not quite managing to keep the slump from his shoulders, certainly not managing a smile for the small farmboy. The suspicion was smothering Luke and he felt the desperate need to scream what's going on? But he kept his voice in check, following the broad man into the house, also shrouded a thick veil of misery and hopelessness. He really needed to scream.
"Sit down, Luke." The man never turned to look at him as Luke took a seat on one of the couches used to entertain visiting businessmen, conspicuous in their absence. He wondered why his fingernails were digging welts into the fabric. He felt like he was suffocating.
He reached down deep, trying again to find that strength and courage he hoped lay beneath the image of a naïve and disarming boy. Almost found it, too.
Huff turned back to him. Again, that look; that look that sent millions to their graves.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, Luke."
Clinging to the edge now, clinging like it was the only stable thing in his world, wishing the next words would never come, because he knew what they were. Of course he knew; he'd always known. In those timeless moments that shape your life and leave their marks whilst fate shrieks like a maniac at your tears, you always knew; had known; would know. No time, no life, only the here, the now; only this moment locked in time that was over so quickly but you never truly escaped.
"Biggs died several days ago."
He'd known. He was right. It didn't dampen the reaction. He felt his stomach recoil inwards like he'd been struck physically and the first words of denial never even made it to his lips. In the distance, beyond peripheral vision, his childhood waved goodbye as it stepped out the door.
Huff was refraining from tears, so would Luke.
"I'm... I..." He stopped, gathered the tatty remains of composure around himself like a cloak and burying his head in it, he finally continued. "The Empire executed him for treason."
The indignation, the disgust, the pity. It all came out in a choked gasp, not even a word. Treason? Biggs? Well... of course. Hadn't they promised each other not to be drafted in? But Biggs had been, and it sounded like he'd tried to escape, and gotten caught. He didn't know who to be more angry with, himself for that stupid pact, or Biggs for getting himself caught.
Knowing his friend, his dead, deceased, blasted-to-star-dust friend, he'd probably just mouthed off at the wrong moment. And it had gotten someone killed. Namely himself.
And just why did that feel wrong, somehow, some crucial point not quite right...?
It was a poor word to use, not coming within spitting distance of the depth of feeling the news brought to him. Not that anything ever could, so he supposed it didn't matter what he said, really. Biggs was dead, so who cared if he was being too colourful with his words? Not him, certainly.
Luke stood shakily and Huff tried to get him to sit down, platitudes about 'you've had a shock, you need to recover' falling on ears listening to nothing more than the self-recrimination for their stupid- damnfool idealist sithhell stupid! -pact.
He'd killed him. He had. He'd leached his naïve idealism into the older boy, tainted him by his childishness, gotten him killed. It turned his blood from red to grey.
"I... need to be alone."
No, not to cry, but to escape. To run fast through the desert, shedding his pain and guilt and hatred like heat to the desert night. Then to collapse in the sand and scream, because now he had a reason to scream. He really had a reason to curse every deity he had ever heard of, and them some. And still he wouldn't be done; maybe then he'd just lay out on the dunes. Even stare at the stars like the two best friends used to on lazy evenings with the sandstorms whispering of bright futures as star pilots in the distance, and just lay there. It was so incredibly tempting.
You're stronger than that, Luke Skywalker.
He proved it. He stood up straight, shoulders back out of the farmboy hunch, and he gazed sadly at the grieving father. He was so proud of his son, the boys mother's death had made him idolise Biggs. Dead Biggs. Dead fighter-pilot traitor Biggs.
You were so lucky, Biggs. What happened?
"Mr Darklighter, it was an honour to know your son, and I considered him a true friend. Believe me when I say I will miss him sorely, and I know you will miss him even more. I want to offer my sympathies, but I know right now they will sound contrite and preconceived. They are not. He will always have been the best friend I've ever had."
Did those words come out of his mouth? He was sure they held the tone of a deeper voice, a wiser voice.
To Luke's lasting surprise, the man managed a small smile, not in the least mocking, and then pulled the slight blonde-haired youth into a fierce hug. And when he felt the tears staining his back, Luke no longer felt the need to supress his sorrow.
The Devastator bore down on the Tantive IV, easily overpowering her with a few well-placed shots in a very brief firefight. The fight for the inside of the ship was more lengthy and satisfying, and Vader oversaw the boarding, ordering a search for the hiding Princess of Alderaan. He was growing ever more impatient, he needed to get this task out of the way, and with the Princess hiding and the Death Star plans nowhere in the ships computer, this quick, simple task was rapidly turning into something much more complicated.
And then there was Luke, down on that planet somewhere, probably sleeping since it was the middle of the night in the Anchorhead area. He felt his fingers flex as he thought of the delay he was enduring in order to not rouse the suspicions of the Emperor. He didn't trust sending crew down to collect his son without him along; that would only offer more chances of complications. And besides, as the boy had admitted himself, it wasn't like he was going anywhere.
The image from the datapad came back to him, Anakin's eyes sparkling mischievously. He needed to get down there.
In his frustration and the musing of his thoughts, he barely realised he had killed the Captain of the rebel covette.
In the dim red wash of lantern light, Luke sat gazing at the distant horizon. The craggy landscape, viewed from the edge of Beggars Canyon, was rapidly approaching dawn, a red streak in the low sky and a faint blue tinge to the air around him where the comforting presence of the lantern didn't reach. And one place it truly didn't come close to touching was the rift left in Luke's hopes and dreams from the death of his best friend.
A heavy sigh from the boy was the only sound on the precipice top, except for the occasional tumble of rocks down the steep walls where womp rats displaced them as they came out to meet the dawn. The ground was a dull grey colour, personifying his mood in the shadows lurking outside the lamp light. Beyond the circle of light sat the swoop he and Biggs had worked on up until he had left for the academy, after which it had sat in Huff's garage waiting for Biggs' return. It seemed only fitting that Luke brought the finely tuned raked speeder with him instead of his own battered speeder. It sat as silent as it's master now, although not nearly as contemplative.
This was all Luke could think to do to hold a very silent, very lonely vigil in the place he and Biggs had spent some of their more pleasant times, waiting for dawn and some sort of new hope.
He hugged his knees to his chest and knew that it probably wouldn't come.
Pain in his wrists, pain in his back, pain in his neck and... complete confusion. Biggs tried to move his head and felt the muscles there bunch and spasm and he found the energy to moan slightly in protest.
That did not have good consequences. A hand came into his blurred and erratic vision, grasping painfully at his chin and lifting it into the light source, making him protest hoarsely at the pain in his eyes. The light didn't help him to see either, only spotted shadows moving into his perception.
The black gloved hand dropped his head and he heard the distant rumbling of thunder, murmuring words like the Tatooine sandstorms whispered to lost travelers, sending them slowly mad as they wandered confused and in pain.
Confused and in pain; he understood that. His head lolled against his chest and he didn't really care, at least it wasn't shocking him with strained neck muscles. His broken vision made out his feet, a metal grill underneath them, and something in him that might have been his more logical reasoning finally awakening told him that if he his head was lolling against his chest, he had to be sitting or standing upright.
Sitting, he decided: the pain in his back centering around the base of his spine. He wanted to move a hand to brush the confusion from his brow but he found his hands held down. Restraints? Or just a result of the intense weariness settling over him like dusk falling.
Not dusk: dawn rising.
He ticked off the return of his senses on mental fingers. Touch first, cold metal against skin. Taste next, a bitter, sour sensation of citrus fruits and tannin. Then his vision made it's way back to something resembling normality, and as he lifted his head he saw, in a strangely muted world, the back of a lambda shuttle, filled with the white emotionless stormtroopers and, naturally, the owner of that hand Darth Vader.
His hearing came last, the thunder jumping suddenly into discernible words like a faulty holoprojector retuning itself -
" - droids. They can't have gone far. Check for Jawas."
Biggs licked parched lips before the Dark Lord deigned to notice the now awake young man. From his position on a bench in the back compartment, Biggs couldn't see far into the cockpit, and Vader stepped forward, occluding what little he could make out. Sand. Brilliant blue sky Tatooine?
The memories finally came in late and Biggs remembered his 'interview' not too many days ago. And with it, the disturbing reaction of Vader to his best friend.
You called it all right. Tatooine. Home sweet home.
Vader looked like he might speak then, but instead he turned briskly to the cockpit as the whine of repulsorlifts settled the shuttle to the familiar soft landing into sand. The cloak swept around him, shrouding a little of his agitated stance. Not too much though, not to Biggs who knew exactly what to look for after a prolonged stay in the Siths presence. The clenching of his fists, the slight lean forwards in his stance; the eager, fast movements. He didn't suppose any of the troopers would dare to notice such a thing.
Eager for Luke? Anger was boiling up inside him, writhing in his gut like a womp rat stuck in the blaster sights of his T-16. Inescapable doom, but still fighting. Still hoping.
I'm sorry, Luke.
And then they were moving from the shuttle, down the ramp into the sunshine, both painful and comfortingly familiar. Vader at his side, guiding him with a firm hand on his shoulder. Almost immediately, the metal binders soaked up the combined heat of Tatoo1 and 2 greedily, despite it being only early morning. But that discomfort was nothing compared to the deep sense of dread he felt upon recognition of the shuttles choice of landing ground. The Lars homestead.
I'm so sorry, Kid.
A solemn dawn was breaking over the Lars homestead. The place hadn't changed much since the last time he'd stood on this spot, so long ago now, barely even a memory to trouble him anymore. The squat, domed buildings showed a little more wear from sandstorm and sun damage; the dunes had reshaped the horizon as they had crawled sluggishly onwards for the last twenty years like docile huttlings searching out grubs. But the sunken courtyard was the same; the garage still small and gaping open to the distant jundland wastes.
There was one small but very, very significant difference however; so slight that had he not known to look for it, he might have passed over it without a second thought. This place, from the dusty sunken courtyard to the distant figures of 'vaporators standing sentry on the farm perimeter, was washed with shadows of the Force, a light dusting over the sandy ground. In fact, this whole area of the planet incited a warm tingle to stir in the back of his mind, a feeling that could only be the Force trying to tell him something.
Something; it was such an open word, containing a wealth of information that really told you nothing at all. Much like the Imperial newsheets Palpatine was so fond of seeding misinformation in.
Something was going on; something had happened, something was about to happen. He could practically taste it. And if he hadn't known the answer, he was sure it would have been infuriating.
But he knew. It was Luke, the echoes of his sons presence. The feeling was both familiar and unique; intoxicating and demanding his complete attention. It was a favourite novel rediscovered, dust blown from the cover and seen with new light.
Try as he might though, he couldn't pinpoint any presence that might have been his son. And he had tried relentlessly; in the shuttle from the Devastator and now down on the farm as the troopers took up a tight fan formation and encircled the small home. There was something.... something he hadn't felt in a very long time, that wasn't Padme, wasn't Luke, wasn't Lars... Even as he tried to reach for it it skittered away like dustballs in a sandstorm, and he felt he could have chased them all day and gotten nowhere.
The present pulled him back from the past when the smaller figure of Biggs Darkligher stumbled at his side and gave the Dark Lord a hard but clumsy glare as Vader turned to the troop leader.
"Bring me the occupants, and set your weapons for stun."
"Got to... got to wake up... Owen!" Beru felt the panic rising as her husband tried to bat her hand away sleepily from his shoulder. "Owen, wake up!"
As clearly as she had heard the whine of repulsolifts landing a ship, she now heard nothing but a brooding silence.
Dreaming; she had thought she was dreaming that nightmare again. Where stormtroopers came to their house and took Luke. They turned him into... no she couldn't think about that. It was vile, it was disgusting, it was probably even destiny.
The dream was so familiar, like a recalcitrant relative you detested but endured because it was inept not to acknowledge their existence. So familiar that she hadn't stopped to think it might actually be real.
Her voice shrieked and she clamped a trembling hand over her mouth. Had they heard, were they coming, would they kill them in their beds, or drag them out to quarter them in the morning light of Tatooine?
Calm, Beru, be calm.
Kneeling, tangled in bed sheets, skin covered in a sheen of sweat despite the cool Tatooine morning, she was beyond being calm. She tried to force down sobs of terror and anguish by breathing deeply and failed utterly. Short dusty hair clung to her face with the tears.
Owen had shot upright in bed at her cry, legs getting tangled in the covers, an expression of anger and horror on his sleep-creased face. And he didn't even realise what was happening.
"Beru?" He reached a hand for her trembling shoulders, but before he got there his head snapped up at the sound of footsteps, many footsteps, in the hallway outside.
Was that recognition she saw on his features? Did she see the horror in the hard set of his jaw, the lunge for the blaster under the bed as the door blew inwards and pale morning light showed the death mask of a trooper in their doorway.
Was that terror in his angry cry?
She tried to make her muscles move but her hands only clawed at the coverlet over her body. So scared, so afraid, so utterly terrified that she couldn't make a sound other than a garbled cry at recognition of the blaster rifle in the troopers hands as it swung towards Owen.
He never stopped; he wasn't as weak as her, wasn't cowering on the bed like a two year old staring down the monster from her dreams given form, her greatest fears personified. His hand probably even made it around the grip of the weapon before the blue stun bolt entangled his body.
He fell over her then, heavy across her legs and finally she screamed. Terror, panic, horror, Oh Force help me!
Who was she calling to? She was hysterical, her hands clawing to pull her husband off her, but the trooper stepped forwards and took both her wrists into one gloved hand, yanking them up away and ignoring her cry to let go.
He continued the pull until her legs disentangled from the dead weight of the body and she fell from the bed to the floor, knees hitting the rough woven mat she had made. Had made with a two year old Luke gurgling on her lap.
She fought furiously against her captor as he made to drag her in her nightshift to the hallway, pulling on the hands that held her, desperate for her nephew and her husband but mostly, she was ashamed to acknowledge, terrified for herself. The trooper ignored her, maybe even laughed a little at her and her tear-stained cheeks.
Beru was a meek, mild woman. Kindly, but her greatest strengths were in compassion and empathy, not fighting. And she knew it; she didn't have the discipline of mind to block images of so many terrible futures running behind red eyes; cried because she couldn't fight back.
A sick thud behind her, then a dragging sound and Owen was being pulled along the floor.
She cried blindly, wondering what she said and if anyone was even hearing the pleas of a hysterical, petrified woman. No one appeared to rescue her; no relics of a long lost past jumping to her cries. She kicked her legs out but they slipped and she was falling again, this time to the stone hallway floor.
And still the trooper ignored her, continuing to drag her towards the light.
Breath Biggs, breath.
Beru Lars was dragged up the steps of the sunken courtyard, kicking and screaming. She had obviously been pulled from her bed, wearing nothing but a nightshift stained by tears. Behind her they dragged the stunned body of Owen Lars. No Luke.
Maybe he was putting up a fight somewhere, but there were no sounds of scuffles, only troopers booted feet on the hard ground and Beru's futile curses.
Vader seemed to notice the lack of Luke too, and Biggs had to fight not to turn around and smirk triumphantly in his face. Ha! Not so easy, huh?
Beru fell roughly to a sobbing heap at their feet and Biggs couldn't help but feel for her as she gathered the folds of her dress around herself protectively and adamantly refused to look up at the two figures. He made a move to offer comfort to the woman he had sometimes thought of as his own surrogate aunt, but Vader stepped forward towards her first.
Now move Darklighter. Now while no one is holding you back!
Shame he'd forgotten Vader could read minds. Or at least that was how it seemed sometimes, times such as now. Even as he began to spin on his back heel and reach for the blaster of a near trooper, he felt himself shoved in the side to a grazing landing in the sand. His breath came out in a gasp and he heard Beru's cry of "Biggs!" as he scrambled back to his feet, shaking the stars from his vision. Two troopers had grabbed his arms and pinned him into place, and he waited for some form of punishment from Vader.
The Dark Lord didn't seem inclined to be bothered with any though as he dismissed him with a look that might have been disdain before turning to the petite woman at his feet.
Her eyes were hard with disgust and fear and she couldn't make herself meet his gaze. Instead, she fixed it on the peaceful features of her stunned husband, appearing to sleep contentedly as destiny played out relentlessly around him. Vader stepped forward and took her roughly by the chin, much as he had done with Biggs on the shuttle down. Biggs wanted to help even as he bit back a comment he knew would be ineffectual and only get him punished. The worst he could do was hope the Dark Lord would boil to death in that suit.
That was childish and he knew it; it was the kind of hiding-under-the-duvet philosophy that got you killed when you curled up into it in the heat of battle. From Beru's distraught expression, he knew she was rapidly retreating to that place, to denial of the obvious. She was tense with fear, quivering as the Sith forced her gaze upwards. He spoke to her in those commanding bass tones.
"Where is he, Beru?"
He thought he might have seen some flicker of hope blown out by the words and she shook perceptibly. "Who...?"
Didn't she know it was foolish? Biggs wanted to tell her to just give him what he wanted, because he inevitably got it anyway.
Like a mental slap, he realised his mind was playing a cruel trick on him. Something Vader was doing with that damned Sith magic? What was he doing thinking like that? So defeatist. That wasn't Biggs Darklighter. He used to have defiance, he used to have a cause, he used to believe in Luke and some misplaced hope that this would turn out okay and-
"My patience wore thin many hours ago, Beru. Where is my son?"
Son? What was he talking about? Wasn't he after Luke, wasn't that what this was all about, some orphaned farmkid he-
The landscape shook in time to a racing heartbeat. He stumbled backwards against his guards, fighting off the realisation, parrying it with a fierce burst of denial.
But... he was a fighter, his father had always told him that; Luke had made him prove it, but sometimes, well sometimes there were some things you just couldn't fight. And the truth was one of them.
Beru didn't appear to be denying the fact; she was just still kneeling in the hot sand, tears on her cheeks, arms hugged around herself, but her expression was steely. "Not here Vader."
She all but spat the last word, vehemence clear in his voice. Hatred of this man, this monster responsible for the death of millions, this father to her nephew. What was he to her? Brother? Brother-in-law? Or no relation at all; was the designation of 'aunt' irrespective of family?
He saw Vader's fist curl and Beru gagged, clawing at her throat, choking against the sand under her at the Dark Lords feet.
"Beru... tell me." His voice was strangely compelling and she stopped trying wrestle his grip away from her to look up into the black mask, transfixed, mouth moving but no sound coming out.
"No...! Beru...!" Biggs tried to surge forward away from the troopers, but it was so much wasted energy. He might as well have tried to drag the Dark Lord away by his teeth. It did have some effect though; Beru's head snapped upwards in recognition and she growled angrily.
"Is this what you want him for him, Vader? To teach him how to kill and main and control? Is genocide and murder part of your Sith curriculum?" With one comment she reduced Vader's beliefs to childish teachings. Such sarcasm from so small a woman, and in such a state, impressed Biggs. "Well I don't know where Luke is. Go on, use that Force of yours, you know I'm telling you the truth. Go ahead if you want to take another rummage through my mind." She glared at him, fists curled in anger, suddenly shedding the image of a terrified farmer.
But only a for a second, before the windows shut down again and her eyes blinked more tears down her cheeks. Vader seemed to consider her for a moment and then turned from the scene, striding back towards Biggs and towards the homestead.
For a second, a wishful second where the impossible ruled, Biggs thought Vader might leave the farmers be; let them sit in the desert recovering, mourning even. That was not to be.
Beru's dying scream didn't touch him. He was angry, frustrated; desperate to find the boy, knowing every second he remained here gave the child chance to escape; gave the troopers chance to wonder at what exactly they were involved with. As he strode from the bodies of Owen and Beru Lars, not noticing the blood seeping into the sand at his feet or the gagging from the Darklighter boy, the troop Commander stepped closer. Vader turned to him.
"Send out speeder patrols to search the perimeter." He said, hearing the protests of Darklighter as the two troopers holding him down dragged him from the bodies of his friends guardians. "Work outwards for two hundred kilometres." He turned and pointed a finger at the troop commander, "And if you find anyone don't harm them. Set all weapons for stun. I will hold you personally responsible for any deviation from that order."
The trooper never even flinched, trained as he was to take in such statements as easily as he slaughtered jawas. "Yes, my Lord." He snapped to attention, turned and left. A heartbeat of consideration and Vader indicated that Darklighter should be brought forwards.
The boy finally got enough of a grip to turn a hateful glare on the Dark Lord. "Your son?!" He hissed through lips still stinging from throwing up. "Your son?!"
"Follow me." He growled, the last thing he needed to deal with here was a obstinate boy. He already had one to chase down.
How many times would he repeat it? Vader ignored the boys shocked babbling and entered the small garage. Inside, as expected, were the tattered pieces of skyhopper hull, an oil bath on the far side, and pieces of nondescript machinery in various stages of disrepair. And no speeder. Vader had been in this room before but somehow it was strangely disconcerting to walk in the footsteps of his son, following the route he had taken in the farewell recording to his best friend.
"Release him." Vader ordered the troopers. Darklighter shoved his guards away from him and stormed towards the Sith. There was shock and horror on his face, emotions Vader remembered well from experience in the Adamant's docking bay. Vader had a son?!
Darklighter had moved before actually thinking, and suddenly stopped as if considering his next actions. Now he was standing very still, furious, disgusted and in shock.
Apparently he intended to repeat it several times until Vader answered him. Fine. "Yes, thank you for enlightening me. I might never have known of his existence had you not been quite so liberal with your views."
Guilt washed his expression for a second before he pointed an angry finger at the Dark Lord, "You... you are..."
"What?" Vader challenged, "A sith-hell bastard? Well yes. A murderer? That too. Father of your best friend? Absolutely. Shall we continue or would you prefer to stand here bickering childishly?"
His tone was dangerous and Darklighter heard it. He subsided a little. "Continue what?" He asked bitterly, rubbing at the bruises forming on his biceps.
"You know Luke, where has he gone?" Vader asked.
Biggs scoffed, "As if I'd tell you! You-"
Vader finally snapped. He reached out and clamped a hand around his throat, cutting of the boys words, all pretense gone. "Be warned, my patience truly has run out. Watch your words."
Biggs blinked heavily, another sign that he might be going into shock. He was barely recovered from being sedated for nearly a week, after all. Unable to speak around the tightening hold, he nodded and Vader let him go, barely noticing the gasping for breath.
"I don't know."
"I am thinking!" He shouted, nerves obviously broken by the revelation. His eyes seemed to stray behind Vader and caught on something. Vader turned as Biggs walked past him to look ruefully at a small model ship sat on a shelf, a layer of dust marring her surface.
He didn't stop him when he lifted the crude model of a skyhopper into his hands. Biggs closed his eyes and sighed, shoulders slumping under an unbearable burden.
"I really don't know."
Luke snapped awake, hands searching blindly, covering his ears to stop the screaming, to quite the sobbing, to-
And then it stopped with an abruptness that made him lurch forward in confusion, released suddenly. He felt nausea in his stomach and he wiped his sweat-covered face with a hand.
He stood shakily, only then recognising the scene; on the ridge of Beggar's Canyon with twin suns rising in the sky, swoop bike behind him, lantern burning low by his side. He must have been dreaming, having yet more nightmares.
He must have fallen asleep on his vigil. Some friend.
Stretching, feeling strangely empty, he dusted the sand from his trousers. He thought he knew what had caused that gorge in his mind; Biggs. But even as the assumption settled, he knew there was something more, that yet again something had been lost...
His eyes lazily scanned the horizon, heat waves obscuring the dune sea in front of him, Tatooine loosing herself to the atmosphere the way he wanted to loose himself to grief. A shivering breath and he pushed down those thoughts, knowing that to remember his friend was honourable, but to wallow in his own self-pity was pointless and, in the end, self-destructive.
Blue eyes spotted something in the distance, something like the heatwaves only denser rising into the atmosphere. Frowning, the sick feeling returning, he went back to the swoop bike and unhitched the pouch he'd rigged onto it's side for his possessions. Unsheafing the macrobinoculars he lifted them to his eyes, his features still puckered by the concern and curiosity.
In the enhanced view of the macros he swept across the horizon, locating that point again. There it was; a thin curl of smoke rising into the morning sky, the flames at it's core not visible at this distance. The display told him it was a good two hundred kilometres from the ridge on which he stood and that feeling slowly began to claw its way from his gut and up his spine on cat-claws to nestle next to the deep concern forming in his mind.
He lowered the macros and whispered a denial, a hope.
"No." It couldn't be! That couldn't be his home his home. "NO!"
This was too much too much! The binoculars fell to the ground from his hand and he screamed across the desert towards his home, his burning home. "No!" His voice was already scratched by grief for his best friend, and now it was weighted by his anguish.
He had to get to them, he had to go, had to run to them, to help them, to die with them even. So he didn't have to loose any more.
He spun on his heel, face hot with indignation, all notion of caution gone. He had to go. He had to -
Even a naïve, grieving farmboy could recognise the clipped mechanical tones of a stormtrooper.
Luke turned around slowly.
"You're coming with us." The clipped tones of the stormtrooper were emotionless, but the stance was one of disdain, regarding the small youth with something akin to contempt.
Several troopers surrounded Luke, motionless, white armour stained by Tatooine's intrusive landscape. Their blaster rifles were held loosely in one hand, and Luke didn't fail to see the opportunity there.
Cocky. They would pay for that mistake.
Luke had seen stormtroopers before, on a few rare occasions. He never had liked those death masks, those down-turned expressions. He had never cared for the inhumanity, both in their actions and their uniforms.
He was sure that from their point of view Luke looked terrified, shaking and eyes blinking fast in time with his heartbeat. This was not exactly the usual assignment; they could only assume from his reaction that the boy was harmless and would easily submit to them. True, the boy was neither emotionless nor motionless, but it wasn't submission colouring his thoughts, and he could see, could feel the troopers make that assumption.
Mistake number two.
Shock, horror, desperation; all were running thick in his veins, boiling beneath his skin until he felt flushed red with emotions he had never had the need to name before. He was trembling, muscles that had been rallying for action dismayed at being forced into inaction. His cry at the loss of everything was still an echoing ghost in his ears. It tormented him, gaining volume and bluster from the remnants of his nightmare, of the screaming and the pleading and-
The trooper approached and Luke no longer cared what happened to him, no longer gave any thought to his own safety. The only ideas he gave audience to in that instant were the ones that instructed him to get away.
Farmboy-Luke might have frozen in shock at the horror of looking down the barrel of a blaster rifle, might even have obeyed the orders. But this Luke, this Renegade-Luke still cooling from his forging through fires of grief, loss and the bitter taste of failure didn't even bother to dwell on such feelings.
A black-gloved hand reached for him and revulsion finalised his decision. Luke pivoted on his foot and kicked out at the hand holding the blaster. He took no satisfaction in the crack of bone in the wrist as the blaster fell, not hesitating to scoop it up midair, rolling with it and firing blindly.
The strength he had searched for all night in his dreams and in stark reality was finally here, found in the midst of the fight. It was not the time he needed it most; he'd needed it last night, craved it, needed solace from it. But at least he'd found it now. He embraced it, letting it feed his determination.
Trooper armour flashed through the blaster sights and he fired, knowing the hit wouldn't be enough to kill the man, but strangely satisfied as the man clutched a hand over on his stomach, doubling over.
Luke rolled back to his feet smoothly, years of practicing blaster fights with Biggs in the hydroponics gardens finally finding a use. He scraped a foot out in front of him as the remaining blasters came up, kicking desert dust up into the air even as he cracked the weapon down across the face of the nearest trooper who was groping for a hold on the suddenly active boy.
He didn't stop to wonder how he knew what to do to ask himself where that naïve kid had gone. Maybe watching your life fall apart changed you a little. Maybe it had something to do with the thrill of power and knowledge filling him from blonde roots to feet skipping out of the way of crackling blue blaster bolts.
He felt like a spectator, watching and cheering on a small wiry kid as he kicked back another trooper with his foot, blasting another bolt into the gut of one further away as the dust screen settled back to the ground and the crack of the bolt echoed in the Tatooine morning air.
With a lurch, the scene became first-person again as the blasted trooper gave a guttural cry and, clutching a bleeding stomach where armour didn't reach, fell to his knees in the sand before collapsing. Dead.
Dead Biggs, dead Owen, dead Beru, dead dad, dead trooper. Who cared?
He cared. The sickness in his stomach might have been sympathetic to the fatal gut wound, or might have been disgust at what he had just done. He had killed; murdered. It didn't matter if the man was a stormtrooper Tank had left to be a stormtrooper - he had just taken a life that should never have been his to take. He wanted to choke and cough and cry, and yet all he did was run, legs stiff with the shock of his first kill. Blood, crimson in the bright sunshine, burned its memory into his mind as he turned and gagged, his stomach trying to empty at the sight.
You did that.
He ran, blindly almost, stumbling into the swoop; his swoop; dead Biggs' swoop. Clumsily, hands slippery like they were slicked with blood, he hauled his slight body onto the seat and shaking fingers gunned the engine with a practiced ease. He never would have managed it if he'd had to think about it.
His first kill; the first time he would see blood spilling between fingers desperately trying to hold tattered skin together, trying to stop the flow even if they knew it was impossible. Guttural, terrified cries as death smothered your enemy, cold and clammy like a wet blanket wrapped around your throat to strangle you and-
He hit the thrusters and the bike barreled forwards. There were angry cries behind him as the troopers tried to reassert control of the situation, as someone screamed into a commlink, as they clambered to their own speeders. He barely realised the whole scene had lasted just a few seconds, a brief fight before he ran to his bike.
Then the swoop was over the edge of the precipice, another barrier between the childhood and the manhood of Luke Skywalker breached with the bloody body spread out in the sand. The swoop skipped from the edge like a stone across the oceans Luke had never seen, and might never see now. She fell with no ground beneath her and the canyon walls were clawing past him, craggy and as deep in shadow as his emotions. He fumbled to readjust the thrusters, ticking down the seconds before impact, the logical part of his mind dismayed at his indecision.
Turn them on? Why bother?
Because I'm not ready to die yet.
The thrusters kicked in and a plume of sand and grit hit him as they displaced the loose ground underneath him, the bottom of the bike ringing with the sound of a grazing impact of metal against rock. He glanced upwards through a tunnel of sand and saw troopers appear on some sort of modified speeder bikes, white armour flashing in the sunlight. The bitter taste of inevitability soured his mouth. His thoughts were so confusing, so contradictory, that he barely managed to obey them, hands reflexively tightening around the handlebars.
And then he saw Biggs in his mind, grinning widely as they raced through the twisting channels of Beggars Canyon, and anger flared up inside him. The Empire had killed Biggs, murdered his best friend and he would be damned if they were going to get him too! Who cared if that was childish? Who cared if the farmboy was back, scared for his own life? He had to get away.
He hit full throttle at the same time as his heart tried to free itself from his ribcage with the first of many hot, red blaster bolts. The bike jumped forward as he grabbed the goggles from the handlebars and strapped them over his eyes, not ready to loose his sight to a mote of dust. The stolen blaster rifle dangled from the inside of the handlebars. A burst of acceleration matched his fiery determination, and the canyons walls were reaching for the bike. He had to concentrate, had to trust his instincts to take over the delicate controls.
He had her gunning around a first spire of rock as the loud groan of the speeder bikes settled on his tail, but he barely noticed it next to the thrill of the turn. Then he was leaning over to duck his head beneath another outcropping, trying to fasten the goggles with one hand whilst controlling the bike with his other.
Wind and sand and grit bit into him but stars! It was fun! His body was tingling like a live wire, blood rushing to his head as he kicked her forward again, taking great pleasure in the sand churning underneath the bike, the pull on his body, the pure adrenaline rush.
Suddenly constricted, he undid his tunic with the one hand, fumbling at the fastenings and holding on with his other hand. He let it flutter away as the speed built, the walls of Beggars Canyon Main Avenue approaching fast, the stormtroopers approaching faster.
And then he was only feeling, no longer thinking. Knowing the terrain through experience and something much more intimate, something that had only begun to take on a true form in the past two days. Something he gave immediate and unthinking trust to.
And then the chase was on.
Biggs followed in the Dark Lords shadow, head bowed.
No longer was it just the twin suns heat that scorched the desert air. Flames, crazed and twisted, beat at the subdued sky, dirty from the thick, sooty curls of smoke. Tatoo1 and 2 almost blazed brighter in recognition of the kindred spirit they found in the fires, and all three combined to make the air burn, oppressive in their collective rage.
Mid-morning winds danced across skin made sensitive by heat. Biggs shuddered. The breeze that for decades had brought precious moisture to the farm was spiteful now, fanning the inferno to new heights, lending no water to save what little was left of the broken home. Flames licked their way up the sides of the sunken courtyard. Berus meticulously swept floors curled and crackled; off-world plastic appliances hissed and melted.
He could not accept this mockery of reality. Could not accept that those blackened piles of flesh and bone were people were the bodies of the Lars couple, people he knew well. Bloody streaks congealed in the sand under his feet as Vader lead them onwards, never turning back to the burning farm.
One gnarled hand reached towards Biggs in supplication.
Im sorry. I couldnt save you. Im so sorry.
And the fire kept burning, burning
Biggs turned his eyes away from the gore.
Dead Uncle Owen and Dead Aunt Beru. What had they meant to him? He was no longer sure. Even during all those tedious days he and Luke had played in the desert, working and flying, laughing and arguing, they had never discussed the designations of aunt and uncle. Biggs had never stopped to consider what the words meant and Luke had never volunteered to share. In fact, his friend had rarely talked about Owen and Beru as if they were family.
Stumbling in the shadow of a Sith Lord was the perfect time and place to give substance to dark, disturbing thoughts ideas that might never have known existence in the clear, pleasant light of normality. And one managed to creep into his mind, seductive and radiant, like the heat waves around him.
Had Luke known? Known he was Sith-spawn and not said anything??
No, that couldnt be true. It wasnt. Biggs cheeks burned for even considering it, and he hoped it was the shock thinking, not him. That blonde tow-headed boy he had spent the better half of his childhood with was nothing less than good and honest, no matter who his father was.
His friends silence was one borne of frustration, not guilt.
Luke, who was always so frustrated by the Lars stubborn refusal to answer his questions. Luke, whose frosty attitude made it seem as though he didnt care what relation Owen and Beru were to him. Luke, who cared so much more than he would ever tell
In the early years of their friendship, Biggs had assumed Luke saw the Lars as nothing more than another obstacle to his future, to his getting away from this dustball planet. It was only later that Biggs had grown to realise there was more to his friend besides naïve idealism and a defiant streak. He had come to understand that Luke was afraid. Afraid that Owen and Beru saw him as nothing more than a charge, a burden.
Now, with Darth Vader, Luke's father, striding in front of him, Biggs saw another truth. Luke had been afraid of losing his last connection to the hero-father he so worshipped.
And now they were lost to him; Lukes last grasp on that dream-father lay in a crumpled heap in the hot Tatooine sand, mute testimony to the truth. The monster-father had seen to that.
Where Luke would be horrified by the carnage behind them, Vader was unaffected. Hopefully, the contrast between father and son continued beyond that.
Biggs glared at the Siths back, not particularly caring if the Dark Lord could feel his disgust. It was impossible to think of that thing as his best friend's father.
Oh, Luke. You wanted a father so badly. You said youd give anything to have one would take any father over none. But not Vader. Why did it have to be VADER?
The idea was so ludicrous that it didnt even bear thinking about. So contemptible it couldnt be true
But then, Vader wasn't the type to make outrageous lies and Beru wasn't the type to listen to them. And Beru had listened; she had answered the Dark Lords questions as if there wasnt anything at all strange about Darth Vader asking after his wayward son
Then there was that other thing, the thing that made this entire mess so bizarre... Vader wasn't exactly known for leaving everything to pursue orphaned farmboys grounded on backwater planets at the drop of a name.
Stupid, Biggs! How could you be so stupid! What, did fighting make you go space-crazy? You should have known something like this was going to happen from the very beginning! Should have seen how crazy it was for Vader to take such an interest in such an unremarkable boy. If you hadnt been so busy tripping over your own tongue, you might have stopped to think and realise there was so much more to this.
But he hadnt seen. He had been blind to the truth when it was there, right in front of him, all along. It was so simple, so clear, that he had never thought to look at it. Never thought to imagine that a man might lay behind the mask. He had assumed, just like everyone else, that families and sons were things that happened to ordinary people, not Dark Lords of the Sith not genocidal, heartless murderers who didnt deserve to be related to someone like Luke Skywalker.
Somehow, he knew Luke was about to pay for his mistake.
There was still a faint chance they might survive, might walk away from all of this. They could add this to the list of their wild adventures. One day, when they were old men, he and Luke could sit in a dusty cantina somewhere and laugh about that bad scrape theyd gotten into when they were kids
Then the Sith Lord had signalled for his troops and Biggs was being forced up the ramp of a lambda shuttle.
Somehow, he didnt think hed live that long.
Luke leaned hard right on the swoop, pushing the bike to go faster, skipping her off the side of the canyon walls to duck under the spines of rock above him. Past them now, straightening the bike out. More power, always more speed, eyes barely registering the land, trusting his experience to get him through this.
The bike was fast; well tuned from the hours of tinkering in the Darklighter's garage. But the troopers bikes were apparently faster they weren't gaining, but they weren't falling behind either.
A blaster bolt exploded to his right, and he jerked the bike over to the side, quickly bringing her back before she could start barrel rolling to the ground. The shot managed to graze him with splinters of rock from the exploding spine, but didn't come close to hitting him. So the rumours are true stormtooper aim is terrible.
Unless... well unless they didn't mean to kill him. Those had been stun bolts...
His jaw hardened in determination. If those troopers thought they were going to get him alive for that Imperial interrogation he had heard so much about, they had better think again. Dewbacks would fly before they managed that.
He gunned the bike forwards, rolling her through a narrow sequence of spires of rock; left, right, nose down but don't hit the ground. The troopers followed doggedly, although a little more cautiously, blasting at him when he skipped through their sights. The heat of the bolts never reached him, but he could feel the late morning suns burning his bare arms, and the vest-top clung to him with sweat. But this was nothing new he'd done this a thousand times. Except usually those following him weren't trying to blast him out of the air. This was no game. Not that it mattered. He whipped her around another spire and found himself grinning, grief forgotten.
Dead Man's Turn.
Here was the opportunity he'd waited for. It was too much to hope that all the troopers would be poor enough pilots that they would under-compensate for the turn and make pretty explosions on the canyon wall. Never mind. Luke knew a way to make some explosions anyway.
First, though, he had to get through the turn. He slew the swoop over, twisting her on her side and kicked her roughly around the corner, slowing her so she didn't slam into the side wall. She protested a little, engine growling, but he knew this bike. He knew she would take it.
Straighten her out; get her level, more power again. The terrain was relatively clear for a few heartbeats. He twisted in the seat then, stolen blaster back in hand, and aimed. A sharp spike of rock above the turn collapsed under the heavy volley of a blaster rifle at full power, crumbling and falling into the canyon.
He twisted back as it slammed into the canyon floor with a thunderous crack, so he didn't see the blooming explosion of speeder bikes crushed under the rock as fuel tanks exploded. But he felt the heat, saw the light flash outwards, and he couldn't keep a whoop of triumph from escaping his lips. He cheered and hurriedly got both hands back on the bars, the swoop jerking from his one-handed guidance.
More power! He had to go faster. He looked over his back, and frowned grimly as two bikes emerged from the fire, all that was left of the squad. He had never counted how many troopers there were, but the number had to have been large enough to be classed as 'a lot'. Now he could count his odds. Two to one. Childs play.
Wind snapped at his hair and his skin was cold with the draft against sweaty skin. He barely noticed it. This was his domain. He was truly in his element here, guiding the bike through the fastest, although probably not the safest, route to the infamous Needle. He allowed his breath to come evenly, feeling no terror at the obstacle that had dominated his childhood. He had faced this particular obstacle; drilled himself with practice until he could 'thread' it. The spire of rock jutting out across the canyon, making it impassable by any route other than straight through. He knew hed tried all the others and wound up fixing dents in his skyhopper for days.
But this was a swoop a lot different from the T-16. Not as big, but a hell of a lot more temperamental.
More blaster bolts sizzled over his shoulder as the troopers closed in and he juked her side to side, obeying his instincts when they told him to move.
More speed! More despite the fact that the landscape was now a blur sharp spikes that would skewer you deceptively softened by movement.
He knew this. He could do this with his eyes closed. Well... Maybe not, but the confidence didn't hurt any.
Just dont get too cocky, Skywalker!
One sun watched him through the eye of the Needle. His shoulder muscles tensed with his grip on the handlebars as the walls snatched at him. The bike scratched the sides, a high-pitched scream over the deep booming of the engine. He gritted his teeth, held on, trusting he could do it and he broke free of the structure with another cheer of victory.
Go Luke Skywalker! Anchorhead Ace!
In his mind, Biggs was rolling his eyes to the brilliant blue sky, so far above him. Behind him there was the sudden sound of an explosion, a fuel tank letting loose, and he knew at least one stormie hadn't been much of a seamstress.
He could always hope the troopers had been stupid enough to ride too close to each other. Maybe theyd both gotten blasted. A quick look over his shoulder and there was disappointment one was still following doggedly, his determination punctuated with blaster bolts.
Well, fine. Extreme danger of death be damned! This was what Luke Skywalker did best!
Meditation was a very personal thing. It wasnt something you couldn't teach a 'proper' method for, but something you had to let a student find for themselves.
Obi-Wan Kenobi had learnt that many, many years ago at about the same time he had learnt that his form of meditation often involved sinking into the sweet, warm flow of fleeting visions. Visions of the present weaving out a future; memories of the past, lessons for the present, adding a rich overtone of foreboding to the flow as it pooled around him. He rarely paid attention to the images around him, but only basked in them and strength and serenity of the Force.
Today, that rule was about to be broken.
Two dark figures stalked forwards, purposeful and shrouded in shadows. Both held an unlit saber in their black-gloved hands. Hate poured off each, as vile as the Emperors dark dreams.
Sabers lit as one, illuminating one man/machine he knew all too well, and another he barely recognised. Darth Vader, his failure taken form, spoke in those tortured tones, but the words might as well have been in bosche for all Kenobi could understand of them. Vader's hands, smeared and filthy, motioned the other figure forwards.
Luke Skywalker turned an intense and hateful blue gaze towards Kenobi's viewpoint and he only recognised the boy by the intense blue eyes. Nothing of the disarming young man remained in that shell, that soul overpowered by darkness. In the saber light, the black cloak was slippery and wet with blood. Palms too were doused in the thick crimson fluid, slick but the hands on the saber handle were sure and unrelenting. Everything covered in blood.
And the two figures continued their approach.
Green eyes flew open and Obi-Wan was immediately standing, disturbing the dust that invaded his small home. Shaken, he put a trembling hand to his forehead and tried to rid himself of the image. Was that the future? Or just a nightmare?
He closed his eyes and tried to force back his assumptions.
It felt like the future, but that meant little when it came to the Force and its perverse way of dealing with and shaping events. He reached out for Lukes presence, out beyond the dune sea to the Lars homestead
Again, green eyes flew open.
Vader. He had felt the unmistakable presence of Vader.
How was that possible? What was he doing here? And Luke Luke's emotions surged with the heady adrenaline of a fight. A fight not yet over.
Vader was here. Luke was fighting.
Ben Kenobi, eyes grey in horror, attached the lightsaber he hadn't used in decades to his belt and ran for the door.
This one was relentless, and pretty good too. Not like Biggs though; not like dead Biggs.
Luke hated to admit it, but he didn't know how much longer he could evade these blaster shots. The canyon walls flew past, ever decreasing in height and he knew that soon he would run out of canyon. And then, in the flat desert straights, with no cover to move behind, he wouldn't have a chance.
Sweat-covered hair plastering itself to his forehead, he risked another glance behind. The trooper was gaining on him. Luke throttled back a little, feeling inevitability taking his hands and tying them behind his back. The womp rat could only run from the dragon for so long before he gave in and just lay down to die.
Die? Die? Like Biggs? Like Owen and Beru?
The plan was forming in his mind, even as the logical part of his mind that sensible Lars-like part of him grimly reminded him of the scant odds of survival. Too late. His body was already in action. The muscles in his legs tensed, feet cramped against the hot foot-plates, hands rested lightly on the handlebars. He had to time this right; he had to get in closer, even if the blaster bolts became close enough for him to feel the heat.
He had to jump.
Sucking in the hot air, both from twin suns and the heat of the engine, he pushed off from the bike, hoping that he wouldn't get his legs caught in the handlebars at the last second. He didn't. His legs made it clear from the bike and he tucked them up against his stomach. Turning his head away, he wished he could have gotten more strength in his legs. He needed to get further away before-
The speeder behind him tried to evade the suddenly immobile bike. It couldn't.
The shock wave from the explosion barreled into his falling body, knocking it around like a grain of sand in a storm. The heat wave came next and he didn't look at the fireball; Tatooine natives knew all too well the consequences of looking into lights too bright.
The heat enveloped him, skin singing in pain, but only for a moment and then he was falling, tumbling, arms grasping to catch onto something, anything. When the mad tumbling began to slow, he saw the fireball above him as it fell back in on itself.
The canyon walls rushed past, his back to the ground. He tried to twist around, knowing a collision between his back and the canyon floor at this speed would be more than fatal. He succeeded a little too, starting a lazy turn towards the ground
He hit pain jarring him and blacking his vision for a moment. When it cleared he was still falling, tumbling down a scree slope and he rolled with it, head over heels over head. Fire blistering up his side, skin breaking under the poor protection of trousers and vest. The speed of the descent could only be slowed by hitting the rocks and debris around him.
A lazy slide along the ground and he stopped falling, sucking in hot, dry breath through parched lips.
For a whole minute he lay exactly as he had fallen, the beating of his heart like a countdown. When it passed one hundred he tried to flex his hands and found the bones mercifully unbroken. Two hundred and he managed to get his legs to move a little, although he felt the sting of bruised bones. Still no breaks. Luke Skywalker had always had this kind of luck. Four hundred and he realised the brash statement was not quite true. He tried to lift his chest and pain spiked in his abdomen. Looking down, the black and blue was already spreading across his stomach. A broken rib probably, although the farmboy was no medic.
It didn't matter; he had to get up. He pushed off from the ground, quickly crouching and hugging the injury. Blinking in the bright light, he looked up. And up and up and up. The canyon was so much taller when you were stuck at the bottom.To one side cinders and charred flecks drifted to the ground in wind current eddies through the channel. On the other the remains of one speeder and one swoop sat in a twisted crater of sand at the bottom of the scree slope. Beyond that only canyon walls and deep shadows in one of the few places on Tatooine where the light of Tatoo1 and 2 never reached.
Upwards. He had to go upwards.
Clutching his ribs, he hauled himself into a shaky kneeling position, wiping the first drops of blood from his knees where the grazing skid had broken his skin. He wondered why he bothered; it only got the crimson blood everywhere and it was not like it did any good. He pressed a palm against a deeper cut and looked around the canyon sides.
He had to climb upwards.
It was a strange compulsion he couldn't defy. To the side was a winding pathway up a shallower area of the canyon. Bantha track? The sandpeople certainly migrated through these areas.
One hand shading the light from his eyes, the other clutching the broken ribs in his side, he started a painful walk up the canyons sides, the sticky metallic scent of his own blood invading his numbed senses.
Darth Vader stepped forward, enveloping the Troop Commander in his shadow and his stern gaze. The Darklighter boy, sitting subdued and probably in shock in the back compartment, didn't appear to notice the stormtroopers slightly agitated tone. But Vader did, and he felt the growing sense of... something he couldnt identify. It felt like destiny but it tasted of death. It was a sour sting on his tongue and it shaped his voice into a clipped tone.
"What is it, Commander?"
The man jumped, clearly unnerved. "Lord Vader!" Who else had he expected? "We're getting a report in of a scuffle and-"
"A scuffle?" Vader was mildly displeased by the sudden lack of imperial discipline, but more annoyed by the lack of details in such an innocuous word. "What kind of 'scuffle'?"
"Group six reported finding a young man in their sector."
Vader felt his hope surge, felt his chest tighten in expectation. "And?"
"There was some sort of fight, My Lord." The man cringed. Apparently he wasn't completely stupid. He at least had the brains to realise this was no average mission.
"He escaped?" No don't tell me that. Don't tell me you found him, warned him that we are looking for him, and then let him escape. Don't.
"Momentarily, My Lord."
So few words! More time given to title than information. "And?" How many times would he have to ask?!
"There was some sort of chase underway, through a canyon." The mans voice was starting to shake. Too intelligent for his own good if he had realised this would displease his Lord.
Beggars Canyon? If so, they would never catch Luke. "'Was'?"
The man stuttered, then seemed to fall back on his Academy training. "We lost contact a few moments ago. It appears the group has... been disconnected."
Despite the anger, the frustration, the need to crush this imbeciles throat with a mere thought, Vader felt pride burning through him. His son had taken on half a squad, and won? A true Skywalker. It was the only thing that saved the Commander's life. He could thank Luke later.
"Commander, set course for the last transmission. I want-"
The man unwisely interrupted. "My Lord, that will take a few moment to calculate; given the nature of the signal."
"A hand held commlink, Lord Vader. We have to triangulate the signal with-"
Vader gave him a withering glance for even thinking he had to give Darth Vader a lecture on commlink transmission. This man would definitely be dead at the end of this mess. "I understand." He doubted the man understood the sarcasm. "Lift off as soon as we have it."
In the back, Darklighter's eyes widened in fear and Vader felt destiny squeeze a little tighter.
Halfway up the uneven track, after gaining several new and colourful bruises from tripping on loose rocks, Luke leaned against the canyon side and tried to breathe. It was getting harder. The broken ribs pressing against his lungs were causing him to gasp for breath rather than inhale deeply. He felt the lack of oxygen in the weakness in his muscles and in the dizzy, lazy spinning of the canyon sides a kaleidoscopic merry-go-round of pictures that wanted to trap him into sitting against the canyon side and waiting for the inevitable to take her toll.
He didn't. He couldn't, because the inevitable was on that cliff top. And whatever it was, he had to get up there, had to find out where this was taking him. Had to keep going.
He stumbled onwards a few yards, nearly to the top now. Still many kilometres from anything resembling 'help', but he was still nearly there.
He looked up, suns directly above him. Noon on Tatooine. The cliff was a dark bar across the sky, giving a stark contrast between dark and light. And against those two opposites, pushing them apart, there appeared the silhouette of a cloaked man, peering down at him with something resembling agitation.
Luke stared back, squinting, brushing flecks of blood from his hair.
"Ben?" Pain blossomed in his chest at the word and he gritted his teeth, pausing for breath. "Ben Kenobi?"
The man nodded once and Luke sighed in relief, despite the pain it caused. Struggling forward, scrambling towards destiny, he barely noticed the fire in his side. This man, this kindly but crazy old man, would be his help.
He had to be; there was no one else.
Ben offered his hand and hauled Luke over the edge of the canyon, noting the blue tinge to his skin; the blood, the shaking. Whatever the fight had been, whether or not those two wrecked speeders had any part in it, he had won. But at what cost?
This was a question which pervaded much of Obi-Wan's life. At what cost?
He had obeyed his Masters dying wish, but at what cost? He had ignored Yoda's warning, ignored Palpatine's greed, tried to protect the Queen of Naboo, but at what cost? He had hidden the Skywalker children rather than kill them or let him have them, in the hopes that they would one day be a threat to Vader, and not an ally. At what cost?
Luke looked up at him with pain and triumph shining in those intense blue eyes. Blue eyes of Anakin Skywalker; blue eyes of his vision. His hand trembled as he patted the boys back.
"Looks liked you've had quite an adventure, young Luke." The tone was kindly but Kenobi's mind was in chaos. Indecision coloured his vision as he helped the boy to stand.
Vader was here, now, on this planet. That had come for Luke was certain. The boy had escaped? No that wasn't right; he would never have escaped Vader. The mind of the child was so fragile, so pliable. Not weak, not in the least, but uneducated to what it was he was getting himself into. And you couldn't protect yourself from something you were completely ignorant of. There was definitely no time for a crash course in the last twenty years.
Luke sucked in a breath and Obi-Wan supported the injured boy, knowing that it was especially true that Luke didn't stand a chance whilst injured in this way. Whatever stunt he had pulled, it had lost him any chance at escape. Not that you could ever escape destiny.
Again the hand patted Luke's back, each strike another death knoll.
"Have you got..." He sucked in another breath, lips blue. He needed medical aid, and Ben had none to offer other than the Force, and that would only bring Vader swooping down on them all the faster. He at least wanted the time to apologise to the boy. "Got any... transport?"
No 'Hello', no 'Ben! Boy am I glad to see you!', no pointless greetings. Luke knew as well as he did the danger they were in, perhaps he even sensed it in the Force. He was so strong, the boy. So like his father had been and so unlike him.
Did Vader sense the boy? His own flesh and blood, replacing that burned away two decades ago?
His eyes strayed to the horizon and a thin column of smoke rising with the heat waves, knowing perfectly well what that signified.
He hugged a hand around Luke's waist, surreptitiously to help him walk, realistically to say sorry in his kindness before... well, before destiny decided enough was enough. Because despite the turbulent emotions crushing his spirit to fight back; to try and defeat destiny like he had for the past two decades, he knew that he had a promise to fulfill. A solemn promise to Padme as she laying dying to give the ultimate protection to her infant son. It was a terrible burden to carry for eighteen years, but one he couldn't and wouldn't abandon.
And perhaps using duty as an excuse might even make it easier.
"I'm afraid not, Luke." They struggled forward and he sensed in Luke the confusion at being lead nearer the cliff edge, Ben Kenobi drawn to the burning Lars homestead beyond a steep precipice. "I live up there, that small house, see it? I walked here when I heard the explosion."
Not quite true why was everything they told this boy not quite true? There was no time for regrets now though, only for action. A chill settled over him then, cold in the Tatooine noon, a clammy cloak to match the homespun he wore. Trying to shrug it off, Obi-Wan realised that he was afraid. It was a rare event for someone who chose to call themselves a Jedi Master, but it was a well-remembered feeling, an old friend come visiting.
He looked down at his friend's son as Luke spoke again, grittily determined despite the obvious pain. "Ben, do you..." Again, gasping for breath, clutching his side. Ben hugged him closer wishing the boy could at least look a little less like Anakin. "You... know what's... going on?"
They stopped and Ben regarded the blonde-headed youth, hair flecked now with blood and dirt. He looked so fragile, so like Padme had as she died, murdered by a broken heart.
Oh, Stars! He couldn't do this! He couldn't! He had two options; two very different options. Wait here for Vader to show up; wait for him to kill his old Master and take Luke?
And turn him into my vision? Corrupt the innocence and pure light of the boy?
Or... no, he couldn't even think of the other. It was sickening. It was something even a Jedi shouldn't have to do. Kill the boy to save him?
This wasn't in the job description! Qui Gon, you never said anything about this! What had happened to being benevolent protectors of peace and justice? When did it involve murdering your best friend's son?
As he tried to work past those thoughts, past the bitter taste of loathing in his mouth, he realised Luke had moved away from him. The boy stood at arms length, looking up at him suspiciously, and Obi-Wan knew the conflicting emotions were straying onto his normally disciplined face. Luke looked at him warily before stepping backwards again, suddenly and inexplicably scared. Those eyes pierced his soul, maybe even seeing right through him.
The eyes from his vision were the same... and completely different.
And Destiny was calling for retribution.
Luke moved his lips to speak and his eyes blinked red-blonde bangs of hair from his eyes, hands still hugging a broken chest.
Am I still nursing a broken heart? Padme, what would you have me do?
"Ben...?" The boy rasped.
That was enough; enough for Obi-Wan Kenobi, enough for old Ben. In that instant, the voice was a cruel imitation of his not-quite-dead father. He felt sick, violently sick; he wanted to turn and run.
Instead, his made to ruffle the boys hair. Luke looked at him in confusion and Obi-Wan felt Destiny cheer him on as he clamped the hand down on the boys head, pushing him to his knees without a sound.
His left hand held him down, knowing it was barely necessary given the boy's condition, but needing to feel close to this, his last tragedy. Because everyone had to be free to pursue their own tragedy. This was Obi-Wan's freedom; this was Luke's release. His right hand unhooked the saber from the belt.
"Luke, be still."
The boy couldn't. He tried to rise but his knees were beyond even that small strength. He had come so far; lost so much. The grief weighed him down as much as the bruised bones. Ben saw it.
"I... I don't... understand." The breaths were coming slower now. The injury was not fatal; a broken rib was easily repaired. A broken heart not so. But Obi-Wan knew he'd not live long enough to feel the pain he deserved for this, his failure completed.
And maybe this was just closure.
In the distance, a dark speck was appearing from behind the smoke and fire that was all that was left of Luke's childhood. He didn't need the Force to know what that signified.
Trembling, unable to fight anymore, he placed the saber against the boy's temple. "I'm sorry, Luke. You're father would have wanted it this way. There is no other way"
Luke squeezed sand-blown eyes shut and Ben felt the horror and pain of betrayal rip through him as fervently as if it had come from within him. Pain, horror... and confusion. Left ignorant yet again.
Vader tried in vain to still the turbulent emotions, trying to package them away and seal them behind a mask of steely confidence as the shuttle flew across the Dune Sea. He was so close, and so unnerved by the adrenaline rushing through his blood at the thought of seeing his son. It was a concept he had barely had time to adjust to, but it was so compelling and, if he could ever admit it, his feelings were no less heady and excited than they had been back on the Adamant, a lifetime ago.
The scene that grew through the forward viewport managed to break that seal and he felt the calm demeanor shredded as the two figures came into focus, both silhouettes against the sunlight. He found himself striding forward to stand between pilot and copilot, enraptured by the growing image.
Kilometres came and went, as did Vader's troubled thoughts until the two figures could be seen clearer. One kneeling, staring upwards. The other, larger and cloaked, was holding the smaller one down. Neither was moving. Neither could be clearly identified by any of the occupants of the shuttle. Except by Vader.
"Faster." It wasn't much of an order, but he was lucky to have gotten the word out.
"My Lord, we are at full speed already."
The tense atmosphere of the shuttle was broken as both men twitched at the sudden lack of sound from Vader's breather. Neither dared to turn and look, not even the pilot when he felt the back of his seat begin to buckle under the iron grip of Vader's fist.
Vader was transfixed by the approaching cliff top. The smaller figure was Luke. So close... he could feel his presence. It was burning brighter than the twin suns, but it was being smothered, covered up, hidden under the sands of Tatooine. By his old Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
That man, that man who had taken his trust, his friendship and his wife and destroyed them all. He was still alive, somehow escaping the purges.
The breather returned, this time a low growl escaping his lips. And now, now, he would take his son.
The image wasn't clear but the intent was.
Vader felt the Force rushing through him as the anger grew, engulfing him completely in energy so familiar and so desperate. The fear; fear for his son, fear that he would loose everything again, didn't hurt either.
They drew slowly closer. Luke was clearly visible now, hands trying to pry Kenobi's grip loose and Vader wanted to scream, wanted to physically urge the shuttle to go faster. He reached out for his son, the Force so warm and potent in the sudden chill of the cockpit.
Kenobi's gaze came up and stared at the shuttle, feeling Vader's probe and Vader let the hate flow, just like Palpatine commanded. He knew Kenobi felt the anger, the indignation, but the man didn't move. He looked back down at his son, speaking.
"Lower the ramp." Vader ordered, perfectly aware of the tone of his voice and the way the men cowered from it.
In the noon sunlight metal glinted in Kenobi's hand and Vader felt fear course up his body in recognition. He was going to kill his son, kill him with the weapon of a Jedi; in the name of the Jedi.
The hand quivered a little as the shuttle began a rapid descent over the two figures locked on the ridge. If he was going to kill Luke, why didn't he just do it? Did the old man still have a shred of conscience left? That would cost him.
And why didn't Vader just reach out and stop him?
Cursing his stupidity, he tried, but although the teachings of the Jedi held very few truths, the fact that dark was no stronger than light was one of them. Kenobi had built well-trained barriers around himself and the boy, fully expecting Vader to try and pry them apart. Given just a couple of minutes he would certainly have broken them. But he barely had a single minute; a single moment to act.
He took that moment and ran for the boarding ramp.
The saber was in his hand, already lit as he found the strength, dark and true, to move. Still working on the barriers, finding chinks in the armour Obi-Wan sought to project, he ran down the extending ramp, feeling them crumble as Kenobi finally made the move to light the saber.
It was the first time in his life that Luke Skywalker had heard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber being lit. It could also be the last. His eyes were blinded by a blue light, and a pain so brilliant he thought he must be burning, swimming in the fires on the surface of Tatoo1.
But he wasn't dead. He was falling, he was trying to force a gasp of pain from his lungs, he was fumbling to cover the wound in his shoulder. He was dying, maybe. But he wasn't dead. Not yet.
The fall was slow and his vision crept in fits of blood and sunshine. When he hit the ground sand was churning around him, booted feet skidding across the precipice. There was angry buzzing above him, something he couldn't even begin to identify, and a black cape snapped at his face as he lay on the ground, as a dark shadow passed close by.
Feeling began to converge from a sheet of pain to something more defined. Legs, ribs, shoulder. Stars, it burned.
His mouth tasted blood and his cheek felt the grit of sand against it. The cloak swirled over him, almost protectively, and bit at his face again as he tried to rise.
Vader whipped the blade around and down on the old Jedi, doubled-handed, incensed. The old man was forced to back up, away from the collapsed figure huddled on the ground and Vader kept pressing him back; back, away, further from his son. Get back!
The blue blade disengaged and Kenobi stepped backwards. Vader cocked his wrist, blade working in the outer ring of attack. He cut it in a wide sweep, edging Kenobi further away as Luke cried out, suddenly finding his voice.
Why did the first sound he heard from his son have to be a cry of pain? Destiny could be so cruel.
Obi-Wan brought his foot in a wide arc over the ground to kick up a screen of sand. Vader almost snorted in contempt at the trick, but he was too immersed in the Force, livid with anger and concern. He had only just managed to break Kenobi's control as he lit the blade against his sons temple; had pulled him backwards, the blade tip only singeing the flesh on Luke's shoulder. Only.
Another blow and Obi-Wan almost stumbled under the assault. Vader never stopped. This man - this Jedi had tried to take his son from him. Tried to take from him the one thing, one person Vader was capable of caring about any more. And this man, the last of the Jedi, had tried to murder him.
And they dared to call him a cold blooded killer.
Blade brought high again, cutting at him from high right. Obi-Wan parried hastily, trying to keep control of that infamous Jedi calm. He saw the grit and determination on the old Jedi and knew he was far from finished. Eyes locked on Vader, he whipped his blade in a spiral that twisted Vaders grip out to the side.
Kenobi attempted to jump past him, back towards Luke. The boy was trying to lever himself off the ground with his one free hand, the other clutching his shoulder, eyes squinting, shaking visibly. He was trying to back away from the fight and Vader was glad to see that he at least had the presence of mind to know to get away if he could. He no longer cared whether these emotions were proper for the Lord Darth Vader: he craved them, needed them, couldn't understand how his life had existed without such passion for well over a decade. That would not be taken from him now, so close...
Obi-Wan never got to Luke, Vader scissor-stepping backwards and kicking out a leg into the old mans side, connecting with a satisfying crunch and sending him to the ground. Kenobi had always been a good fighter, but he was old and slow and he knew it.
Luke had managed to stand on shaky feet and was staring at the two older men locked in mortal combat. Vader turned back to the old Jedi as he felt a tendril of the Force reach out towards him. He stalked closer, saber extending towards the man's throat.
He felt the intent a bare second before Kenobi unlocked his gaze from Vader and snapped his head around to Luke.
Luke felt his legs beginning to give way again and he tried to breathe, but his lungs weren't working. He gagged at the attempt, clutching his ribs, the other hand over the burn on his shoulder from the saber blade, trying to force back the pain with pressure on the wound. And he couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe.
The dark clad figure knocked Ben down and Luke saw the old man turn and lock his gaze on him.
Something slammed into his gut, what little air left in his lungs escaping in a strangled cry of surprise. Then he was moving backwards, flying away from the two figures, feet grazing along the sand before there was no cliff left to stand on. The dark figure looked at him, shocked, and reached a hand out as if to try and catch him, but he was metres away; lightyears too far.
The shock gave Luke the energy to suck in another breath as the Dune Sea opened up below his feet. Then he was falling, the last moments before a sharp, smothering blackness showing him Ben Kenobi attacking again.
"No!" Vader tried to reach out and stop the fall as Luke flew from the cliff top, legs skidding in the sand to try and stop his momentum. But, too late, he realised that Force tendril was a crude barrier between himself and his son, hastily erected by Kenobi. The man used Vaders distraction and flipped, tiredly but surely, to his feet, saber back in hand and humming angrily.
"You'll never have him, Darth. That boy is good. You'll never corrupt him." The voice was deceptively calm and Vader had to force himself to keep fighting through the sounds of a falling body tumbling down the cliff face.
He hadn't thought his anger could be any more potent. He was wrong.
"NOOOO!" He lunged at the Jedi. "That is my SON!" He bellowed at the man, voice booming and echoing along canyon walls on one side, down the precipice on the other, and even Obi-Wan Kenobi flinched, suddenly uncertain.
That moment of weakness or not, nothing could have stopped Vader then. The attack was furious, blindingly fast, and ended with Obi-Wan kneeling in the hot sand, clutching the stump of his right hand, saber flying to Vader's furious grip. His leg snapped out before the elder man could react, catching him on the jaw and knocking him to the sand, stunned. Vader glowered over him, victory ringing in his ears. Kenobi closed his eyes. "You cannot win Darth -"
Vader was going to come back with something scathing, until he saw the small figure of Biggs Darklighter fleeing the shuttle. No not fleeing, running for a shallower incline of the cliff, calling Luke's name.
"You will pay very dearly for this, Kenobi. You will pay." He spat. Before Obi-Wan could offer any resistance, another severe kick to the temple knocked him out. Even Jedi were human; even they had to submit to the bodies frailties, just as even Sith could know and be victim to gut-wrenching dread.
His muscles trembled, singing with exhaustion and fear. The voice of Darklighter rose up from the desert floor, still calling his son's name and the Tatooine morning air was tainted with the twin smells blood and burnt skin. It was strikingly similar to the last time he had fought his 'man' at his feet.
He turned on his heel and ran for the edge, so tempted to just leap off after the boy. Feet skidded down the slope, rocks tumbling under him, trying to drop him to the floor, and suddenly he felt like that desert kid again, running after Qui Gon in the deserts outside Mos Espa.
There. A hundred metres down the cliff side and the dark figure of Darklighter was skidding to a stop over a smaller figure prone in the sand. And there was so much blood. It was staining the sand beneath him, a thin trail leading down the cliff side. The sight of blood had never bothered Darth Vader in the least, but there was something about this that made his stomach turn. Darklighter was reaching for the neck of an inert Luke Skywalker, searching for a pulse and Vader was running faster.
Searching out for the Force he nearly stopped in his tracks; nearly fell to the ground in shock. The Force- it was so strong in the boy. That small blonde figure was a light burning so bright, Corusca going nova how had he missed it?
Kenobi. The man had completed his treachery by hiding the boy, hiding his potential.
It was stunning, so bright, so bold, so... No. Darth Vader would never use the word beautiful. But he wanted to.
He skidded to stop by Luke's side, pushing Biggs roughly away as the boy tried to start CPR.
"He's not breathing!" Biggs cried indignantly, but Vader knew that from a fall like that, no conventional field medicine would help; the body was too frail. The Force was not limited to such things.
"Quite." He warned, tone surprisingly shaky.
Black gloved hands searched the face of his son for any sign of consciousness and Vader was suddenly made aware of the fact that his heart was real, no machine substitute, as he assessed the extent of injury. Broken ribs, broken leg, a deep cut in his side bleeding badly, a grazing lightsaber wound on his shoulder, a big, black bruise forming on the side of his head. So clinical it didn't even begin to touch the stark reality of the situation.
In the heat of a Tatooine noon, the hot metallic sting of blood was coarse and nauseating.
The Force could heal; he could do this, but he needed to calm those fears. No matter how much the darkside relished fear, it would break his concentration now.
Biggs- first name basis now, Vader? -was by Luke's side again now, calling his name over and over, trying to get some form of recognition out off the still boy. Good, it was the right thing to do. For himself, he calmed, and reached out with the Force, healing all he could; forcing the lungs to breath again, the blood to flow again.
"Biggs....?" The chocked voice brought Vader back out and he looked at his son, really looked at him for the first time. Saw Anakin, saw Amidala, saw the individual that was his son as he blinked blindly at the dark haired man trying to soothe him, hands on his shoulders, keeping him down.
Luke blinked again and let out a heavy sigh, sweet and metallic with the scent blood. "I must be dead then." He didn't sound disappointed.
"No, Luke. You're alive. Hang in there kid. Please."
Luke didn't appear to hear him. He was trying to breathe, forcing gasps around crushed lungs and broken ribs. Vader's hands rested on his stomach and he numbed the pain in any way he could think of as the dark shadow of the shuttle swept across the three figures and began to settle a few metres away. Troopers ran down the extending ramp towards them but none of the three noticed their approach.
He thought Luke might have slumped back to the ground then, body broken like a childs rag doll, so small and fragile and... and Kenobi was really going to pay for this.
But Luke's eyes snapped open, intense blue not lost despite the pained expression.
Luke locked his gaze on him, and father and son looked at each other for the first time. Truly looked; Luke uncomprehending, Vader trying unsuccessfully to control his emotions.
Stars, he wanted to tell him! Wanted to tell him it all. Tell this child he was so proud of, who'd demolished a group of elite troopers in Beggars Canyon, who gained such unquestioning loyalty and love from his friends without any conscious thought, that he was his father.
But he couldn't; not yet. He saw Biggs look up sharply, afraid Vader would tell him and destroy the boy who was in no shape to take such news.
"I'm Darth Vader." He didn't know how to react when the boy flinched in recognition, already tainted by rumors and they'd never even met. "I'm here to rescue you."
The words were from a more naïve person, a lifetime ago, but they didn't feel wrong.
"Still now, be still." He tried to soothe him, but the breather wasn't designed to make Vaders voice kindly. Luke barely seemed to notice that, and just captured the Dark Lord with a gaze filled with wisdom beyond his years. Then he nodded, ignoring the pains shooting up his neck. Eyes blinked progressively slowly and he started to slump down into the crimson sand.
Vader knelt by his side and scooped the light frame into his arms, trying to be gentle but feeling the sharp pains assault him through his unconscious connection to the boy. Luke never mentioned them.
"Rest now." Force persuasion and exhaustion worked against Luke Skywalker and he let his head rest against the breast plate of Darth Vader, eyes blinking shut at last and he sank into sleep, warm and mercifully silent.
"Keep the compress down."
Biggs nodded numbly as he shifted his knee against the metal bunk, leaning further over the inert form as he pressed both hands down with his full weight over the gauze. Blood was starting to come through the between the tight webbing, making his fingers stick to the fabric. He found himself biting his lip, hands shifting to get better coverage over the wound in Luke's side as the Dark Lord shoved past him hard.
Vader attacked the top compartment above the bunk, spilling field first-aid kits as he unlocked it, searching. The black cloak smothered Biggs as Vader leant over his head to get at the synthflesh and adrenaline, and the salty sting of saline on his skin told him at least one of the de-hyd packs had burst when the compartment emptied itself.
Who would have thought it, Biggs Darklighter working at Darth Vaders side to save his son?
His hands slipped off the gauze and he leaned harder onto the wound, pushing against the heavy beat of Luke's heart trying to empty the small body. Wet, black cloth covered his vision and he was choking in the Siths presence, his mind not entirely sure what was happening anymore. Because this couldn't be happening.
I've got to be dreaming. That could never be real! That was Luke's voice, giddy with the nine-year-old's adrenaline rush; threading the Needle for that first time, denying what couldn't have been more obvious if they'd put it in lights over Tosche Station.
Maybe his was another sort of denial; maybe it was desperation taken the form of voices in his head. Or maybe he really was just living out a surreal dream sequence. A Nightmare sequence.
One of those special kinds of dreams where you never wake up. It's called reality, I think. It wears a black cloak and mask and calls itself 'father'.
The cloth receded as Vader came back with the patches, the shots; the meagre emergency kit the Empire kept for her disposable troops.
"Lift your hands."
Biggs did so, quietly noting the troubled tone of the voice to which he was strangely becoming accustomed. Vader removed the bloody gauze from the wound in Luke's side and more blood, even more despite the thick train on sand and shuttle deck, started to spill before he could get the new compress down. Biggs's hands pressed down harder as Vader retreated, trying to avoid the deep blue of what had to be broken ribs, knowing if he pressed those in the wrong place... well it was a lot harder to stop internal bleeding than external.
With the practiced ease of someone accustomed to administering interrogation drugs, which Biggs himself could testify to, Vader injected a shot into the thick vein in Luke's arm.
Blue eyes flickered, unseeing, and that was all.
"Lord Vader?" The tentative, nervous tones of the stormtrooper somehow didn't fit their image. "Should we - "
Vader interrupted him before time could be wasted on pointless speech. Time was everything here. "Get us back to the Devastator. Have a second crew pick up Kenobi's body and - No." Biggs didn't think he'd ever heard the Dark Lord contradict himself, or rescind an order. "Stop and pick him up here. Quickly. Keep a guard on him at all times."
The small form had begun to thrash a little, lips moving but saying nothing. A black gloved hand reached past Biggs' sand-grazed cheek and rested on Luke's forehead. Stars... he was almost gentle.
Again, Biggs fought not to let his hands slip down onto the broken ribs. Again, he tried to think of something more they could do for Luke. He knew little of first aid, only able to draw upon what a harsh life on Tatooine and the Academy had tutored him in. And pilots didn't need to know too much; if you were shot down, you died; anything else was rare. Why learn what happens when you fall two hundred metres down a Tatooine cliff? Why learn how to stop bleeding whilst trying to be gentle on cracked ribs?
The black-clad fingers strayed across Luke's temples and he quieted a little, fingers grasping the edge of the bunk.
"And have another group strip Kenobi's house." Vader continued over the whine of repulsors kicking the shuttle off Tatooine's scorched ground. They were good - they had taken the Dark Lord at his word.
Get a move on! Blood had again begun to form around the gauze and Biggs founding himself fighting trembling arm muscles and frustration about equally. They couldn't put sythflesh on this - the blood would force it away before it bonded to the skin, already slick and sticky.
He gave Vader a look that conveyed his concern that the boy would simply bleed out on them, here on the small med bunk. The look Vader returned to him showed complete understanding and empathy with Bigg's own turbulent feelings, despite the mask.
Never, not even in the darkest corners of the nightmares his teenage mind had conjured, had he ever envisaged having an empathy with Darth Vader.
He looked over at the large dark form next to him as Vader hastily patched the smaller grazes to prevent compounding the problem. As he placed a cold snap-pack against the angry black streak on Luke's shoulder, Biggs suddenly felt completely disconcerted, as if the deck had started to tilt under him. He was staring at the Vader, but it was like he couldn't focus on the Dark Lord. The man was clear to see, knelt next to him with a proximity that was choking, but his understanding of him was completely askew.
You just called him a man, too.
The realisation was like the storms that sometimes raged on this planet; unpredicted, relentless, and almost mocking. The Sith was defying classification right now, man or Dark Lord or simply... what...? A father? He didn't know how he was supposed to think or feel about that, but when he looked down at the forlorn form of his friend all he felt was pity, for them both.
What did that mean? His ability to think those things through to any kind of conclusion was like too little moisture over too much planet and the means for collecting it into something resembling a coherent explanation eluded him.
He pressed harder.
"Can't you..." He didn't know how to describe it and, more than that, his throat was as dry as parchment from a Raiders tomb. "Use your... " Sith-magic?
Vader understood anyway. "I cannot bring together skin that no longer exists." He said, and there was something in his tone. Bitterness? Was that bitterness? Would the Dark Lord ever stop defying his two dimensional, unemotional, mindless killer's image?
The ship jolted a little as she made a quick stop-and-bounce off the cliff top, troopers in his periphery hauling the inert body of that crazy old wizard up the ramp even as the ground receded swiftly below them. Soon even the red streaks of blood were no longer visible. They really had taken Vader at his word. Wind whistled around the cabin, hot and frozen and as confused as Bigg's thoughts, before the ramp shut.
Hands pressed down on the gauze, he wondered if gaining understanding was worth what he'd lost.
Oh yes, he understood now; understood that Luke was Vader's hidden, unbeknownst son. The truth that had been playing hide-and-seek with him for the past month had been thrust bloodied-face-first into his comprehension.
But that didn't mean he understood Vader any better, and it meant he understood Luke a little less. And himself... well he wasn't even sure it was him kneeling here by the bunk, hands a disgusting crimson with his friends blood.
They had to do something to stop this.
Even as he acknowledged the thought, he saw Vader take his hands from the gauze, again removing it, and press black gloves against the flow.
What good is that going to do? You can't stop a herd of dewbacks with a single stun panel.
He barely realised his cheeks were hot with annoyance and concern. Had the Dark Lord been anyone else, he probably would have snapped at him. As it was, he managed a confused glare. Then, slowly, the wound began to cease spilling blood over Vader's large hands. Biggs stared, uncomprehending, until Vader removed his hands and revealed the sythflesh underneath, a little crimson around the edges but firm over the wound. He'd patched the cut forcefully with the uniform skin patch, holding tattered skin together like breached hull plates sealed with hope and duct tape.
Sith-magic? And you just called him a man?
Biggs rocked back on his heels as the light of Tatooine was replaced by the starlight both he and the unconscious boy on the bunk had dreamed so long of touching.
Vader turned momentarily from the two Tatooine youths to look out the cockpit viewport, Devastator growing rapidly as the pilots spared no speed to obey their commander. Good.
Darklighter was sat back on the grated deck, looking stunned. He was staring at the blood on his hands and Vader recognised the signs of a first combat experience. This must have shaken him, even more so given he had just helped stabilise his best friend.
'Stabilise' is a little over optimistic, don't you think?
For not the first nor the last time, Vader cursed his stupidity for not bringing a medic with the crew. He had never thought this would be anything more than a quick retrieval mission, and look at the disorganised, bloody mess it had turned into.
Luke stirred again, clearly in pain though not conscious enough to tell anyone. The wound in his side was no longer bleeding, which left only broken bones and that hit to the temple to deal with. He again brushed his son's mind with the Force, pushing away the pain with the ease of twenty years of practice. The simple stim patches that came with the paltry med kit were not enough, and he knew it. Combat experience and the Force combined to scream loudly in his ears that he had to get to real medical help, and soon.
He continued to brush the pain away from the tow-headed boy on the bunk. And... somehow it didn't displease him that he had to touch Luke's mind this much. It was so vibrant, so potent... Again he tried to push away the emotional link; again he was bulldozered by his feelings.
The shuttle rocked as it broke through the magnetic shield of the Devastator's main docking bay and Vader moved to stand and take the boy in his arms and rush him, run with him even, to the infirmary.
No; stop. Think.
Lord Darth Vader, running from a shuttle with a bloody Tatooine youth in his arms, troopers dragging an aged, cloaked man behind him, would attract more than a little attention. And hadn't he been trying to keep this discreet? He had to stop; to think. What possible reason did he have for bringing this farmboy back from the surface in such a mad rush?
You can pretend they know where the droids are. You need to interrogate them. You need them alive.
"Commander," He turned swiftly to the trooper as the repulsors whined and died. "Take Kenobi down to the detention centre, keep him unconscious. Drug him." He moved to lift Luke into his arms again, then realised that no matter who he pretended his son was, he should never be seen carrying him.
He was saved the indecision when an emergency med unit burst up the boarding ramp in a bustle of med packs and paramedics uniforms. Wisely, Darklighter moved, or rather stumbled, out of their way as they pushed quickly to Luke's side. Some medical jargon passed quickly between them before lifting him to a stretcher under a net of monitors and saline drip feeds.
Vader had to force his legs to walk down the ramp ahead of them; somehow he managed not to look backwards as they hustled behind him.
But he never relinquished his connection to Luke in the Force; still fascinated, still absorbed by the presence, still flicking back to the nine year old kid feeling the enticing, vibrant presence of another Force presence in the venerable Qui-Gon.
His palm touched the panel for the turbolift doorway and left a red handprint on the release. He didn't notice. Inside, the medic crew hastily assembled behind him, ever aware of Darth Vader's infinitely higher status despite the situation. The lift rose, stopped, and deposited them on the level of the main medical wing. Only one stop - sensible to rush injured troopers from dock to bacta. He stepped aside as they reached to main doors and the medic crew rushed past without a second look, calling out more technical jargon at the medic stationed within. Belatedly, Vader realised he had neglected Darklighter. If the boy had managed to keep his wits together and realised he was unguarded.
Either he hadn't or he was as devoted to his friend as he claimed, because he rushed past Vader and after the medics, a shaking red hand raking fingers through his hair. Vader's hand snapped out and hauled him backwards from the door.
"Let them do their job," he warned.
Biggs looked between him and the medical bay and blinked, forcibly relaxing tight muscles. Vader had a little more trouble obeying his own order.
Vader turned from his inspection of the starscape to his aide as he walked through the entranceway, steps as neat as his uniforms creases.
"What is it, Jir?" He asked into the relative darkness of his quarters main chamber.
Daine Jir stepped a little into the light before speaking again. "We have reports from the surface that the droids jettisoned by the Princess have been found."
Princess Organa. Once again, he had forgotten his current 'mission' when swamped by more... personal problems. Once again, he was reminding himself to get a grip on the situation.
"Good, have them collected and brought here."
"Should I have their memories wiped?" The Aide inclined his head formally and Vader knew this was an opinion, not a question.
"No, have them brought to me. We will ascertain that theirs is the only copy of the plans."
Jir opened his mouth to speak, but presumably he saw Vader's barely contained knife-edge frustration and took it for impatience. He closed it again and bowed. "Yes, My Lord. The Emperor requests that you contact him immediately."
That threw Vader. What did Palpatine want; why contact him now? Unless... No. There was no way he could know. Vader had been thoroughly meticulous in clearing up all possible clues to Luke's identity in the past few hours whilst he swam in the bacta tank. He had even gone as far as to remove all stormtroopers witness to... well, any of that debacle and randomly reassigned them after a few mental suggestions. It was fortunate troopers had weak minds considering the number that had amounted to.
So what was left...?
Daine Jir for one. He realised the man was waiting for a reply, head inclined even further to one side, studying him.
"Very good. Have the rebel prisoners revealed anything?"
There was a slight twitch of the lips at the change of subject, but nothing more. "No, My Lord. Nothing we didn't already have on file."
As to be expected. "Understood. Dismissed." Vader turned back to the viewport and Tatooine turning at Devastators feet, knowing Jir had left by the smooth hiss of hydraulics in the doorframe. Tatooine. Home. Luke's home and... well, his home. It didn't matter how you tried to run away from it, how far you climbed or how fast, your home always pulled you back with a tug on the heartstrings. Tatooine - that place he'd lived his childhood in slavery and where Obi-Wan had chosen to hide his son, and then kill him.
Now Obi-Wan Kenobi lay sedated below decks. For a Jedi that wouldn't mean too much, but with Vader as mental guardian there was really very little danger. Twenty years of hunting Jedi had told him something of their weaknesses, and this particular Jedi he knew all too well. The man was old, sick, and nowhere near up to facing his wrath. As they had seen out in the Dune Sea.
As much as was possible, Vader let a shallow breath sigh through the breather, feeling images of that cliff top rush through his brain again.
A quick retrieval mission indeed.
Obi-Wan looked up as he felt a familiar presence approaching. He gathered dusty robes around himself and attempted to look dignified and confident as the door to his cell moved aside. Red light of an Imperial detention level flooded into the small space. Obi-Wan had yet to start missing arid, open Tatooine; twenty years on that dustball had not improved his opinion of it, but perhaps a few more days of living in this dark cell would make him miss the wretched planet.
As expected, Vader stepped slowly into the room and didn't speak as the door shut. He didn't bother to bring the lights up.
Any normal prisoner under the personal scrutiny of Lord Darth Vader would have begun squirming by now. Obi-Wan just sat on the hard pallet and stared sadly at the thing that had replaced one of his best friends. Two decades on that dustball: two decades since his last meeting with Vader. He didn't appear to have changed much, nor to have lost his fighting skill; the sting of an amputated right hand was testament to that.
"Obi-Wan." Vader was struggling not to spit the name. "I knew you were foolish, but this is beyond even your usual incompetence."
Kenobi didn't feel much like disagreeing with him. He avoided the obvious question. "We do what we have to, Vader." He tried to keep regret from his voice and succeeded, mostly. Vader stepped forward until the red light played like fire over his helmet, matching the anger clear in his stance. Obi-Wan remained seated.
"Even when it means murdering children?"
Obi-Wan smirked at that. Was Vader going to try to lecture him on methods? "I'm sure you have plenty of experience with that." Even on Tatooine he had heard the stories, and of course before his hiding he had been witness to far too many of Vader's achievements.
"Even after two decades, you still don't understand." Vader shook his head disgustedly. "You are as blind to the truth as ever."
Ah, here it was. Completely predictable. The old argument - the old difference of opinion on the most fundamental aspects of the Force. Obi-Wan knew Vader was mired in the dark side; beyond redemption. Vader knew exactly what he was doing, he probably even knew those things were wrong, but the thing was that he didn't care, because Darth Vader was incapable of caring. Obi-Wan had solidified that idea into an absolute truth on their last encounter, and knew nothing could change that.
Anakin was gone. Anakin was dead. Darth Vader had killed him. But to Vader, the Dark Side doesn't destroy, it restructured. The Jedi knew better, and Anakin had known better than to try to defeat the Dark Side from within. Maybe he was even still clinging to that hope. Or rather, Vader was. Anakin was dead. How many times had Obi-Wan repeated that to himself in the last twenty years until he could accept it?
"And you are as grounded in your own naïve perspective as ever, Darth." His voice was calmer than Vader's had been. "I couldn't let you have the boy."
He had failed Anakin terribly. And the cost of that - the cost was stood in front of him now and dared to think itself a father. That was a twisted perspective even Obi-Wan would never be able to see; not after witnessing it all in graphic, bloody detail.
"The boy? So emotionless, Obi-Wan. Why not kill him as soon as he was born if he means so little?" Vader rumbled, stepping closer.
"I think you know the answer to that, Vader." Go on, Darth. Admit that I cared for Anakin enough to risking letting his son live. Doesn't that go against everything you've told yourself in these long, lonely twenty years? There was nothing but silence and Obi-Wan carried on, "You don't need my instruction anymore."
"At least you have realised something, old man." His hands clenched in anger and Kenobi knew the memories that were playing through what remained of that twisted mind.
"I have. I realised Anakin would never have wanted Luke to fall into your hands." Obi-Wan gazed into the mask but it was unreadable.
The expression in Vader's voice was clear, though. "He is my son."
The emotion shocked Obi-Wan, the deep throaty rasp disturbing something in the old Jedi Master. "He is Anakin's son." Vader growled in frustration at that. "You have no claim to him, Vader. You killed any link to him."
Obi-Wan watched the dark mask as Vader turned fractionally away from him. Anakin no longer existed: he knew that, had learnt it years ago. But... if that were true, why did Vader appear to care so much about what happened to Luke? How could he claim a connection to him when he absolved himself from the boys father? It meant... well, it meant he acknowledged who he had been. But that was impossible. Everything Obi-Wan had told himself for the past twenty years went against it; the dark, black figure that stood in front of him now, more machine than it was man, couldnt bear any connection to Anakin. Probably it was just lust for ownership over Anakin's son.
Then why did he suddenly feel so uncertain of his convictions?
"You presume too much, Obi-Wan."
A jolt of adrenaline rushed through him at that and suddenly a dark world turned murky grey around Obi-Wan. Had he just said... no. He had simply meant... what? What else could he mean other than that he still claimed a part of Anakin as himself? Obi-Wan's breath caught in his throat and he was glad Vader continued and saved him from having to answer.
"Anakin is dead, but he is mine."
"Are you wallowing in contradictions as well as lies now?" Obi-Wan asked. That had sounded far too much like back tracking. Was this a chance to save his student? Was Anakin still screaming for release under that suffocating armour? Did he even want help? The idea that there could still be a chance for Anakin was a withered hope given new breath. But was it the phoenix or just ashes stirring in the wind of Obi-Wan's desperation?
Adrenaline was shooting through him and for a minute Kenobi thought Vader's intense gazed hummed, but it was only the blood rushing in his ears.
"It is not a contradiction. He is mine now."
You old fool, it's only ownership he's after. To control the last link to the man he destroyed.
The thought mocked him for a moment before running back to the dark confines of the cell. He suddenly felt a very deep pity for Luke, and a deeper regret at not hitting the activation panel sooner and preventing this. Compassion had always been his weakness, as it had been when he had prevented Vader from dying along with Anakin so many years ago now. And yet again there was a price, but this time it would be Luke who paid. Luke Skywalker, so completely innocent of his Destiny, so strong and ready to be moulded.
"Will he live?"
The words were out before he could stop them, and Vader turned to him, stance heavy with indignation. "Yes." It was not a statement of fact, but of intent, and Obi-Wan heard it, those thoughts of the possibility that he was wrong about Vader skittering back into the light before he shoved them away. He couldn't allow himself to wallow in foolish hopes that could never be true.
But if Vader totally shunned Anakin, it meant giving the boy up, which he plainly did not want. And if he wanted Luke... he had to take Anakin as well. That had to hurt. Either way he lost something, and he had never known Vader not get what he wanted.
"You cannot win, Darth."
Vader misinterpreted his words. "So all the Jedi I have destroyed told me. And now there is no one to stop me. The Rebellion is all but crushed, Kenobi." He couldn't help but gloat, Ben saw. So unlike Anakin. Those earlier thoughts had to have been wrong. "We have recaptured the Death Star plans, and I'm sure the Princess will be most co-operative in giving me the location of the Rebel base."
Ben found his eyes closing in horror, and was thankful when Vader clearly took it as despair at having the rebellion destroyed, and not at the realisation that he had both children now. But... he obviously didn't know. Even though she was likely to suffer interrogation, Leia was probably in a far better position than her twin.
His eyes opened, red in the cell light. "And now you would like to exact some revenge on me?"
He clearly saw it in Vader's stance but the Dark Lord slowly shook his head. "Yes, but not that way." He had leaned in close to his old Master and Kenobi had no doubts about the Sith's anger; this close to him it was as potent as Bantha stench in the Tatooine noon.
"You're going to train Luke? And then parade him in front of me?" Even his normally calm voice sounded sickened, though not nearly as much as his thoughts.
"And what will the Emperor say to this, do you think? There can only ever be two..." The sarcasm was uncharacteristic of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but then if Darth Vader was going to start defying his character by claiming a part of Anakin, why shouldn't he? He had the small satisfaction of a pause in the breathing masks hiss. Obi-Wan managed a small smile. "Do you really think he'll chose a sick old man in an iron mask over a young, extremely strong and pliable child? What do you suppose he'll do to Luke to turn him?"
He left the question hanging in the air as Vader's head snapped up. Don't want your toy taken off you? Or don't want your son hurt? Obi-Wan was no longer sure at all.
Vader turned on his heel and headed for the cell door, having no answer and clearly disturbed by the question. "If that is his destiny."
The door shut to silence and complete darkness again as Obi-Wan let Vader consider those words.
In the medical wing aboard the Devastator, Darth Vader slowly, cautiously approached the main bay. Devastator hummed through hyperspace at full speed, throwing herself towards a reunion with the now-operational Death Star. The ship almost appeared eager to get back to that metal monstrosity, but her Commander was not. Vader disliked the very idea of a Death Star intently, and disliked Palpatine's weakness for brawn over brains even more. As a Senator, as Chancellor, he had appeared devious and clever. As an Emperor he was increasingly appearing as an ailing old man with too much power.
Vader didn't know if Palpatine knew of these growing feelings of disrespect, and he hoped his Master hadn't felt them blossom in the past month. He was really not looking forward to conversing with that 'old man'. It was perverse that someone so frail and vulnerable-looking could be so deadly at times. Would Luke feel the sting of his anger if he revealed the boys presence?
Vader looked into the main bay, to the darkness that indicated it was the middle of the night by Coruscant time. A little illumination came from the banks of monitors in the bay, and the pale blue light above his son's bed.
His son. It was rolling of the tongue so easily now. He barely even marvelled to think it. He didn't want to consider not having a need for it in the future.
No, Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and some-time brutal killing machine, did not fancy calling Palpatine. Perhaps that was why he insisted that the Devastator stay at her current speed and not drop out of hyperspace to make a quick call to Coruscant.
In the cool air of the med bay, Luke shivered under a net of breathing apparatus and monitor wires. It was a cruel imitation of his father's own, rather more permanent, condition and it was not lost on Darth Vader.
A coverlet concealed tanned skin, although it would probably be pale from the blood loss and the swim in bacta. It had barely been a day, after all. Luke would need a lot more time to recover yet, but soon... soon he would be conscious. Another day; perhaps less. The eagerness in his heart both concerned and thrilled him and as Luke shivered again in the cold, Vader suddenly had a very un-Dark-Lord-like urge to comfort him, remembering all those years ago when he had left Tatooine and realised just how cold space is.
But... he couldn't. He couldn't go forward and hug the child (young man really... but still his child.) Couldn't try and comfort him. Because that would be another step down a road he wasn't sure he was ready to take. When there was no danger he could fight, no intent to lay action against, Vader was left with a truth as cold as the med bay to a Tatooine native: the boy was Anakin's son. And yet here he was; Darth Vader, who had tried so hard to eradicate that man, seizing this child as his own with little hesitation or thought for the consequences to himself. Consequences to Luke, yes; consequences to Vader, no. And to Anakin...
He didn't like to consider that particular line of thought too closely. And yet, now he had to; there was little choice but to decide whether Anakin still had a role in this or not, and the implications of that. What would happen if he took this further and confessed to boy that he was his father? Hadn't he longed to do that on Tatooine, hadn't 'something' screamed at him to tell Luke? But that would be an admission of... what? Guilt? Hope? His previous existence as Anakin Skywalker?
Could he do that?
He didn't know. He didn't like to ask.
Luke mumbled something in his sleep, tossing like he was fighting a nightmare, and Vader nearly, nearly stepped forwards through the med bay door.
But he didn't. He turned on his heel and walked hastily from the room, running from an ugly past trying to sneak into the present.
Waking was more than a little painful, so it was understandable that he would try and put it off for as long as possible. The medic, however, had other ideas.
For a while there was nothing but the soft hiss and whirr of machinery and clean, bright but artificial light. It was enough for him to dismiss any delusions of hoping that he was anywhere on Tatooine, and he knew for sure that he was a long way from home when the caustic sting of disinfectant and cleansers reached his dulled senses along with Basic in an accent he didn't recognise.
Luke didn't feel the hypo, be he felt the light beginning to burn a little brighter in his eyes and tried to move his palms to cover them. His heart skipped in blind panic as he felt the tug of wires or leads restricting his arms and he came awake with an abrupt start, kicking the coverlet to the floor.
A distinctly frustrated sigh came from across the room and Luke looked up, alarmed and wide-eyed.
"Lay down. It's just the saline feeds, lay back down." There might have been a touch of amusement in the soft female voice, but it was quickly quashed. Firm, soft hands convinced him to comply as they pushed on his shoulders and he allowed himself to be pushed back to the mattress.
She moved away from him, nothing more than a dark blur in a bright, white world.
"How are you feeling?" There really wasn't any concern there, just boredom.
She chuckled lightly and quickly stopped as if laughter wasn't allowed in the stark white med bay. "Headache?"
"Yeah." He rubbed the nape of his neck with a hand sluggish from too much sleep. His voice was similarly handicapped, slurring a little at the edges. "Who are you?"
She had begun to move away and had retrieved something from a store cupboard, but she turned back around at his question and regarded him slowly before allowing a small laugh. "That wasn't the question I expected to hear." She said, deftly sidestepping it. Or not so deftly if even a just-woken-up farmboy could see it.
She injected the hypo into the IV in his arm. '"How about 'Where am I?', or 'What happened?' even? Head any better now?"
The throb in his head receded a little to nothing more than the dull thump of bantha feet against his skull, and his vision swam lazily back to him. The medic, sporting a severe blonde bun, wide green eyes and worry lines stretching her cheeks, had her eyebrows raised questionably.
"Yeah, thanks." He watched as she pulled the IV from his arm and moved back to the far side of the room. He rubbed at the small red pin-pricks ruefully. Those were better questions than the one he'd asked.
"You're not from Tatooine," he explained.
"You're not on Tatooine." She joked before her faced turned serious and clammed up as she turned briskly away.
"What's wrong?" His soft blue eyes searched out her green ones but she refused the gaze. He didn't recognise her turning her back on him as a dismissal of anymore questions. "What did I say?"
She didn't answer and busied herself with a small med bag.
"Okay then, where am I?" He tried. All things considered, he would like to know. This wasn't Tatooine, and it wasn't low-tech either... in fact, what were those strange banks of machinery near the back wall? And-
- and what was he doing in nothing but a black wrap?
Suddenly conscious of his lack of clothing, he felt a blush turning his cheeks ruddy as she turned back to him at last.
"Save me from a recalcitrant boy." She shook her head. "You're in an Imperial medical facility. I don't have the authority to tell you what happened even if I knew, sorry. And I don't want to know either. It's better that way, otherwise..."
She finished the sentence with a sad nod of her head. Luke felt his frustration building.
"I.. I don't really remember anything... " He admitted, as much to himself as to the strangely distant medic, trying to run back through what had happened after he had woken on that cliff top... it was like trying to track raiders through the Wastes and he almost gave up until he remembered something... Something like a warm touch against his cheek and his mind, something comforting but confused and a little scared. That was disconcerting and he didn't understand nor like it.
"Please, don't ask me any more. I really can't tell you."
Why did everything in his life seem to rest on what he didn't know these days?
He sighed in frustration and began to stand from the bed when the far door whisked open to a small group of stormtroopers. He stiffened and froze in place, muscles entering a now-familiar state of tension and readiness. As if sensing his fear, the medic turned to him and shot a warning glance.
"He's almost ready." She said as she turned to the approaching troopers and Luke felt fear worming in his gut. Stromtroopers... like on Tatooine. Like on Tatooine in Beggars Canyon where -
He gasped as the images flooded his mind and stumbled backwards into the bed he had just left. "Ben!" The troopers looked up alarmed at his outburst, one of them leveling a blaster at him. Luke couldn't ignore that, but suddenly his mind was filled with confusing and painful memories.
Ben Kenobi, saber pressed against his temple, grey eyes betraying a deep well of grief. And a dark figure fighting him, his swirling black cloak above batting away the burnt sunshine. A sudden, sharp fall and a dull, draining pain in his side.
Now the colour drained from his face at the memories and he wished they hadn't resurfaced. He had thought he was dead.
Wide-eyed, he stared up at the medic who would offer him no answers and felt panic rising again. Imperial medical facility. Imperial. What did that mean; what did it mean? Was it connected to the troopers in Beggars Canyon? To the anonymous dark figure who had fought old Ben?
"Who was that?" He blurted, but she just looked as shocked as the troopers at his sudden shaking. She gripped the top of his biceps and held him upright, but with annoyance, not concern.
"Come on, lets get you dressed before they escort you out of here."
More immediate concerns than the identity of that huge, dark figure presented themselves at those words. It was probably by design. "Escort?" The word was oh-so cold in his mouth. It tasted sour and foreboding and he shook his head furiously, getting a little dizzy. "I don't want-"
"They'll drag you out of here naked if you don't hurry up." She warned, and one look at the blank white masks told him it wasn't an idle threat.
His mouth worked uselessly as he gaped around himself, feeling foolish for not immediately realising his situation. Silently, he allowed the aloof medic to dress him, modesty bruising only a little underneath the robe. All the time he re-ran the confused images of Tatooine back through his mind, trying to figure out where amongst all that mess the clue to the Imperial connection lay. All he remembered, though, was the metallic sting of blood and burning sunshine and it overlaid all his memories, distorting them.
Dressed and steadier on his feet, the troopers grabbed his wrists and cuffed them in front of him.
"Hey!" He protested and struggled, got rewarded by a clip around the back of his head. He reeled against one of them as the medic spoke up angrily.
"Stop that!" Was she talking to the troopers or their diminutive captive? "He's already half-concust, I don't need you making it worse." She turned to address him and green eyes blazed with a fury and... sadness. Regret. "If you don't comply, I'll have to sedate you again. That's not a good thing after all the sleeping you've done already. But they can either drag you through the corridors or let you walk. Make no difference to them." He noticed both the bitterness and her apparent ignorance that 'they' were stood right in front of her.
He swallowed hard around the fear forming a lump in his throat, not liking his alternatives. "Okay," he mumbled.
She eyed him for a moment, and then indicated that the troopers could start walking. Without preamble they pushed him in front of them and the medic followed behind, hypo ready in case he tried anything.
Vader wondered how long the Emperor would keep him kneeling here. Not only was it annoying and a waste of time, but it was a good indictor of his Master's present disposition. Judging from the time already spent on his knee, the Emperor was not in a good mood.
"Rise, Lord Vader." The voice was grating, throaty with years of misuse. Vader stood and looked into the rough home-spun hood of the Emperor, wondering, as he always did, why the Leader of the Galaxy choose such... un-regal clothing. The eyes were crinkled and putrid, showing decay sat snugly alongside a keen mind. The mouth showed deep furrows of laughter lines, none of them excavated by any pleasant form of humour. "Your report?"
Vader inclined his head, "My Master, we have retrieved the droid with the stolen Death Star plans and Princess Organa is detained aboard the station." Miles from where he now stood, in fact. Closer than Luke, on the other side of the Death Star.
Stop that. Now is not the time to think about your son.
His feet shifted uncomfortably at his minds apparent ease at accepting that part of Anakin back again. It was a war Vader had been fighting all night since he had left the boy alone in the medical centre, and he wasn't certain which side was winning yet.
Now is not the time.
"Tarkin wishes to test the facility." He added, drawing the Emperors attention away from digging into him with those rotten yellow eyes. "I feel that would be... unwise." It would undoubtedly give support to the fledgeling Alliance. Never mind 'unwise'; it was a plain stupid course of action.
"Your concern is noted, my friend." Friend? You don't trust me as far as you can throw me without the Force. "But the project must go ahead and we must have a suitable test."
Vader sighed, knowing this was a battle he would never win. Palpatine so loved his little toys. Just as he will toy with your son if you let him take-
He cut of the thought viciously but it was too late. The Emperor saw. "Lord Vader, something displeases you?"
"No, my Master." Let him believe it was distaste for this metal monstrosity.
"Good." The crinkled brow wrinkled further. "Something distracts you then."
"No, my Master." Such an open, multi-purpose answer that. So easy. Palpatine saw that, too. "It is not my place to question your judgement."
"Indeed." Silence hung uneasily for a few seconds filled only with the spinning movement of blue static over the holofield. "Best to keep your mind on your current mission, Lord Vader. Discover the Rebels hidden base through the Princess."
Ah yes, that damned mission he so wanted to throw in the garbage compactor. As if the Alliance was any threat. Especially with your strong, resilient, brilliant son at your side.
Palpatine looked entirely unconvinced. "It would be best you remember the extent of my displeasure at failure."
Oh, yes, Vader remembered. Had suffered it for twenty years, and not just in failure but for the slightest disapproval. Palpatine was certainly a disturbed old man.
"Yes, my Master." New twist on an old answer. He nearly smiled.
"Consult with Tarkin about the Princess, I'm sure he can offer a few ideas." Palpatine looked at him thoughtfully and let out a cackling laugh. "Indeed, he can be most inspirational at times."
Vader had long since schooled himself against shivering at that sound. He didn't offer any reply.
"Report back to me when you have the base identified. There are lessons to be learned here, from the rebels." Vader nodded as Palpatine reached a crackled old hand for the comm unit. "And be wary of your past."
Vader started as the pickup shut off with the abruptness customary of the Emperor's communications. He looked around almost nervously as adrenaline flooded his body from that last remark. Be wary of your past. YOUR. He shivered at the implications. A slip of the tongue or something more? Did Palpatine know?!
No. If he knew Luke would already be long dead by some assassin; but perhaps he suspected something was wrong. Perhaps he sensed something in Vader, something of the stirrings of old emotions he had dusted off and stacked back in their appropriate place over the last month.
Or perhaps it was a mere coincidence.
Unnerved, rising from muscles cramping from kneeling too long, Vader turned from the room and headed for his meeting with the various generals and moffs about the testing of this monstrosity of a weapon. It was going to be a long evening.
The question died on his lips as they entered the luxurious quarters, draped in black silks and sunken with deep, plush carpets. Luke nearly stumbled forwards at the surprising existence of such a place on this seemingly drab, utilitarian place.
He still couldn't give it any designation other than a 'place'. Wherever he was - ship, planet, station - it was immediately clear that it was definitely not Tatooine. Or anywhere like it. It was teeming with Imperials, droids, and troopers running around on the Empire's errands.
Luke had stumbled along the way here, gaping at the 'place' that was so unlike his home, and had received a hit to his back hard enough to make him see stars in return. Stormtroopers, no matter where they were stationed, appeared to have fairly uniform orders.
If the prisoner runs; hit it. If prisoner complains; hit it. If the prisoner dawdles; hit it.
Such a simple philosophy. He wondered if Tank was amongst this bunch of clones because the obstinate young man would certainly have fitted in with these mindless troopers.
"Wow..." He breathed as they moved further into the room. His feet sank wonderfully into the deep pile carpets, and the air was cool and clean, not filled with the acrid smells of a working garrison. Soft lighting completed the atmosphere of luxury and Luke had never, never seen anything like it, nor dreamt it.
He turned his head to question the medic, but she was striding past a small conversation area with soft-skinned sofas and a low table in front of huge viewports. She thumbed open a barely visible door and motioned the troopers to bring their prisoner in.
Luke complied, not wanting to be hit again, and stumbled at the threshold. Beyond was a large room; a bedroom with a large, deep bed unlike anything he'd experienced back home, and similarly plush furnishings. Wow.
If this was what Imperial detainment was like, he now knew why the Rebel Alliance was growing in size so rapidly.
"Sit." The medic indicated the large bed and when Luke's legs refused to obey the troopers practically lifted him off his feet and dropped him unceremoniously onto the bed. Luke glowered but it lacked any real animosity as he stared in bewilderment. This was so weird... so confusing... so not like he'd imagined it.
"What's going on?" He looked from blank troopers to unhelpful medic and felt like screaming. Will someone please tell me what's going on here!!! Just a name, a place, a date!
She filled the hypo in the soft starlight, eyes blank and emotionless. Luke wondered where the amused woman from the med bay had gone and who this stern, bitter woman was that had taken her form. Gloved hands pressed him down to silky-soft black sheets when he didn't comply absolutely immediately and he bit back a retort. The stormtroopers appeared to really enjoy bullying the smaller boy and he didn't need to experience any more of their pay-backs.
The needle only stung a little as it slipped into his forearm and she began stripping him, much to his consternation. "Hey! No wait! Don't do that!"
Troopers hands held him down and the sedative started to make him sluggish again, muscles refusing to fight back hard enough as the medic continued to do her job. His eyes began to droop under the drugs effects. More sleep: just what he didn't want!
"I thought... you said it was... dangerous." He slurred as expertly as Fixer after a night in the cantina.
She looked at him ruefully and that quick smiled returned briefly. Luke was glad for the compassion."I lied. Thought you might like the walk."
Hmm... compassion? Imperial detainment included the luxuries reserved for royalty and genuine compassion. Huh?
Well, if he wanted it to continue, he might as well try and strike up a companionship here. That meant having names to call each other, not just 'the medic' and 'the farmboy'.
"I'm... my name... is...-"
She looked up suddenly and snapped at him. "No!"
Luke's vision took on a dark blur at the edge and he expressed his understanding of her expression. "Huh?"
"I- Don't tell me your name. I don't want to know." He felt a little tang of rejection at that.
She hastily packed a small medical bag and finished dressing him in loose pajamas, black naturally, before covering him in the silky coverlet. He felt his last awareness slipping away as she walked briskly for the door, running almost, the troopers following.
Before she was through the door frame she turned slowly on her heel and look at his confused, hurt expression. He thought he heard a grumble of 'oh for the love of...' before she approached him again and whispered in his ear so the troopers couldn't eavesdrop.
"I'm sorry. I've just learnt that... sometimes... it's better not to get too close. It's just easier than dealing with the loss later on."
She turned and left, leaving Luke alarmed, a little scared and oh, so sleepy.
Vader entered his quarters latter that night, after long talks with numerous obnoxious Imperial officials, military men most of them but all having a certain knack for the inept side of the Force. The lights were dimmed in the spacious entranceway, and he found it merciful after to the painfully bright egotism of those men.
He stalked across the room towards the room containing his mediation pod, reveling in his ire. The Death Star provided the second in the command with luxurious quarters fit for the Emperor, but it was hardly worth having to stay aboard this thing that should never have been conceived, in his mind anyway. It was, if nothing else, a mockery of Palpatine's Force powers when he chose brute strength over the subtleties of the Sith. Idiot.
Such strong animosity towards Palpatine... stronger even than yesterday. Where had that come from? He shouldn't even have to ask it had been born in the communication earlier. That small statement - Be wary of your past - had unnerved him.
And indeed he would watch his past carefully, even if it meant allowing it a small niche in his mind.
He stopped his stalk to look over at the open door to the room containing his son, wincing again at the designation. Drawn to it, he walked closer until he stood in the door frame, marveling at the sleeping figure on the bed, tousled blonde hair sprayed out on the black pillows.
Irony touched his mind with nervous little fingers as he realised that as much as he would hardly shed a tear if Palpatine's brain-child were destroyed, Palpatine would care little about Luke's destruction. Such irony again reminded him that nature did indeed had a deliciously wicked sense of humour.
Luke shivered, as he had in the med bay only last night. Vader watched him clutch the sheets closer to try and hide from the creeping cold of space travel.
Last night he had left him alone. Tonight though.... he had been fighting himself all day, fighting those urges that came from that parent-place he couldn't deny, and he hadn't won. Hadn't even come close, in fact.
Be wary of your past.
Why? Because it will be my undoing? Or because it will be Palpatine's undoing? Even if he accepted this part of Anakin Skywalker that he had tried so long to eradicate, what would it matter? As it was, he was only pushing it barely beneath the surface only to have it keep re-emerging when he least wanted it to. At least if he accepted it, he could learn to cope with it, mould it, shape it into something more acceptable for a Dark Lord.
As if you could ever have any part in the design of your emotions.
Luke shivered again, skin puckering into goosebumps in the cold air. Tatooine was a warm planet, too warm as his mother had noted so many years ago. Vader barely even tried to resist the call of his feet to walk to the bedside.
He drew the covers closer over his son. His son.
The acceptance was delicious. Never mind Palpatine, never mind prudence, never mind Vader; he couldn't keep this back any longer. And he didn't want to. Seating himself amid the deep pillows, he lifted the light body into his arms and hugged the shivering child, sending waves of heat through the Force and, more practically, turning up the heating in the room.
Luke cooed a little and mumbled in his sleep, eyelids batting with turbulent dreams. Vader's fingers brushed the tears running down Luke's cheeks and instinctively knew he was re-enacting Tatooine in his mind. It was a small matter to dispel the nightmare. The soft skin enraptured him, reminding him of Padme and he held onto his son tighter.
"Sleep now. I'll keep you warm." The words were soft with both Force persuasion and compassion. Fatherly compassion. He accepted the fact and hugged it as close to him as he did his son.
Luke murmured, smiled and leaned against the stroking hand, falling into a blissfully silent, warm sleep.
Luke nudged back the black covers from his head uncertainly, not really sure what he would find when his vision cleared, but having the nagging feeling it would be neither a dark Tatooine bedroom nor a white med bay. And he was right. The room he had thought only a dream was the same, except perhaps the lights were burning a little brighter. Morning?
The soft bed lined rustled against his skin as he pushed it away reluctantly. It was warm in here, warm like you never wanted to move again from the deep bed. Warm like distant Tatooine. In here everything was doused shades of black and silver, but it wasn't cold or stark for it. It was just close, and close meant comfort right now when he felt so... alone.
He slipped the covers back completely and sat on the edge of the bed. If he moved slowly, he barely felt the aching remnants of Tatooine in his muscles. Tatooine... whenever he thought of his last look on that planet it sent nasty little shivers up his spine, the insanity of it threatening to overwhelm him. The memories were not pleasant, but were still not distinct either. He couldn't think about it without getting himself wrapped up in confusion, but he couldn't not think of it either. All in all, it made for quite a headache.
He slipped his feet into the dark pile of the carpet and wiggled his toes appreciatively. Wherever he was, it didn't seem so bad. Not nearly as bad as a bloody cliff-top beyond the Dune Sea. He frowned, pushing unruly blonde hair back from his eyes with his fingertips. This black... the ominous sense of darkness, it reminded him of... something.
'Something.' Yeah, great one Skywalker. Real useful.
He sighed and walked for the door, steps slow and deliberate. The simple black pajamas were soft and comfortable, much better than anything he had had back home. Surely he had been wrong - this couldn't be Imperial detainment, could it? Detainment that gave him a bed big enough to swallow Tosche Station and a carpet deeper than the dunes outside his homestead? His burnt out, smoking homestead.
He reached the doorway and it opened to his approach. Tentatively, he placed a hand on the frame and moved into the shadows beyond.
It was like moving through a lair; he felt he should be pushing cobwebs from his eyes or tripping over discarded bones. But all he saw here was the quite blinking of a few consoles, the silent conversation area, a wide expanse of stars winking at him encouragingly from beyond the viewport and-
"I see you're awake."
His blood froze and his head snapped around to the sound as his mind struggled to keep up. The dark shadow in a far doorway stepped forward and Luke knew; he remembered Tatooine now. Tatooine and Darth Vader. He shook his head in annoyance at his memories apparent lack of ability to fill him in on those little details a little sooner.
His feet compelled him forward, more mindless action than courage. It didn't give him the nerve to speak yet, though.
The dark form... Darth Vader. In the Tatooine sunshine he had seemed huge, avenging, powerful. Here he seemed... well, just as huge, but less angry. Nervous, almost; inviting, almost. Luke shivered.
"Yes... I... thank you." The strangest thing was that he meant it. Really. Darth Vader... the stories he'd heard were horrendous, and yet here he was, skulking in a doorway like... like he was almost as apprehensive as Luke. But that was ridiculous.
"You're quite welcome." The deep bass tones rumbled, brought memories breaking into his mind as a dark tide of memories and he found his legs wavering. There was almost a step forward by the dark giant, but it never got beyond an idea and Luke braced himself on the wall.
"What happened?" He asked, remembering the medics joke about asking the right questions if you really wanted the right answers. But what was he supposed to ask here? He felt there was something important he should ask. His uncle always threw a red-raged fit whenever Luke proclaimed he 'felt' something and Luke quickly, automatically, rescinded the thought. But then, his uncle was dead, body ashes by now, so what did it matter?
"You don't remember?" He rumbled.
"Well, yes, but I don't understand." He admitted. The small breaks in speech were little silences that seemed to tear at him in the quite dark of the room and Luke cautiously approached further, not 'feeling' in any danger. After all, why would the man heal him and give him shelter just to kill him now?
"It is rather... complicated. Sit."
The figure moved into the light and indicated the plush sofas. Luke could do nothing but obey, swamped by the soft material and the stars. He pushed at his hair again in what he knew was a nervous gesture as Vader seated himself opposite Luke. The Tatooine farmboy had a funny, creeping feeling that this wasn't the usual way for someone like himself to be greeted by the second in command of the Empire and he bit his lip in apprehension. Realising the childish gesture, he quickly set the his jaw into something resembling determination and waited for the dark figure to continue. Vader was... strangely compelling and Luke had to resist the urge to lean in conspiratorially, fascinated. After a while, Vader spoke, but not before carefully studying the boy in front of him. Luke gripped the edge of the seat and held on.
"When you fly, what do you feel?"
The question made him blink and he stuttered for words. This was not what he'd expected. But... what had the medic said about asking the right questions? Perhaps Vader was better at that than he was...
"I.. I don't feel anything." He said, hearing the lie. Well, no not lie: more like voicing his confusion.
"Your Uncle is no longer here to chastise you for your words. What do you feel?" The deep voice cut through him and Luke gave a defiant glare as the memories swam back up.
"You killed him." He realised he was ignoring the question. Youth told him that was not important; Vader's growl told him it was.
Luke trembled a little and relented, having enough sense to know not to push that tone of voice. He had heard it often enough from his uncle, if not quite so... dangerous. "I feel... I feel like I could close my eyes and still fly. Like... it's all laid out for me. That I don't have to think, just to act on it. I-" He blushed furiously, "That sounds ridiculous." He leaned back into the sofa, as far from the dark image as he could get, and looked away.
He risked a glance at Vader, saw nothing of the laughter he expected there. "No?"
"You're very strong in the Force, Luke. Easily as strong as your father."
His head snapped around and he couldn't help but lean forward intently, falling neatly into the trap. "You knew my father?" This dark menace, this henchman, could he have known lowly Luke Skywalker's father?
"I did. You are much like him."
He blew out a breath through pursed lips, trying desperately not to grin. Hadn't he always wanted someone to tell him that? It made an unfamiliar warmth glow inside him and he thought it might have been pride.
"What's the Force?"
Vader never faltered. Had he finally asked the right question...? No, it felt more like he'd asked completely the wrong question. He sighed.
"The Force is... an energy field which those sensitive to can manipulate and use. It binds all living things together so that nothing is beyond your reach or influence, if you are powerful enough. And you, Luke Skywalker, have the potential to be very powerful indeed."
That stopped him in his tracks, stopped the question that was on his lips about his father. Instead, he turned to gape at the Dark Lord. "Me?" The word was quite and small, almost not daring to be voiced. "But I've... I've never heard of it before." He admitted, somewhat ashamedly.
"That is... not surprising."
Luke looked up from studying his hands and stared straight into the black mask across from him, deeply earnest. Pleading for answers. "Why?"
To his surprise, the answer came. For the first time in too long someone was finally replying to him. "Because your Aunt and Uncle feared you would be a threat if you knew. And Obi-Wan wished to keep you from me."
Luke looked puzzled, his brow wrinkling in confusion. In the quite dark of the room there was no sound except the respirator of Vader's suit. It reminded him of... something. Something comforting and warm. Great; another memory to try and rediscover.
"Kenobi." Vader said, the word dripping with hatred.
"Old Ben." Luke nodded in understanding, and then faltered. "And he tried..." He paled, wished his voice would continue working but it refused point-blank as the memories reappeared.
Vader watched him silently until Luke shuck the fear from him like a dirty cloak. "Why? Why did he do that." He was on his feet before he knew it, fists balling. He barely managed to stop himself from stalking towards Vader.
Vader seemed unalarmed, maybe even a little amused, a little pleased. Then it was wiped from his voice as he spoke. "He feared you and the power you could wield."
"Feared me? Power? I can't I can't do that. I'm just-"
"You're are Luke Skywalker, the hidden son of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. You can do that and much, much more." There was little room for argument, only for... what was that? Pride, maybe?
Luke kept a calm demeanor, to his own wonderment, and gazed down at the Dark Lord. "I can?" he asked quietly.
There was still a question here he needed to ask... what was it? It tickled the edges of his mind, frustrating and elusive. He tried to ignore it. "How?" It was almost a whisper and the Dark Lord leaned in closer to him. Luke didn't flinch when he took his arm.
Luke obeyed, sitting on the low table directly in front of Vader, his eyes wide and his mind gaping. Vader touched a cool black glove to his temple and Luke stared uncomprehending. "What...?" The words faltered as he felt another elusive question fragment as he stared into the dark mask.
The starlight fell across them both, the only light in the room, and the air was signing in anticipation. His lips were suddenly dry at the seriousness of Vader's voice. "Remember when you're flying?"
"Can you... imagine what that feels like? To know what to do, instinctively."
"I.." He didn't really understand, but the words sounded so sincere, so gentle and insistent...
He let his eyes flutter shut, seeing Vader through his lashes.
All right... remember what it's like to fly. He let his mind wander back to those moments, those blissful, far away moments on Tatooine when there was nothing but the skyhopper and The Needle. It all seemed so simple now. The hand on his temple tightened a little as he felt the awareness flood him and he gasped.
"What... what is that? It's like..."
It was like... like storm rains on his home planet, like snow on the dunes and water in the canyons. Like nothing he'd ever experienced and yet something he knew anyway. A smile, trembling and obedient to his wonder, spread across his face and he heard rather than felt the sharp intake of air as he laughed at the feeling. There was a sound from the man opposite, a little gleeful sound that seemed like it never could have come from the Dark Lord. And yet it had. He laughed louder.
Instinctively, he reached deeper for that warm and ebb and flow, drinking it like fine wine he never would have had on Tatooine; like something both alien and completely natural. It was... like a dream.
He reached too deep and was suddenly panicking, power rushing through him uncontrolled and he stopped breathing, started drowning-
The voice was tentative, gentle, worried. He snapped his eyes fully open and sucked in a breath, wanting to both choke and laugh at the same time.
"Slowly." Vader warned him and he nodded, gasping and grinning.
Vader laughed actually laughed and nodded. "Indeed."
Luke felt a little foolish, but he meant it. Wow. That was nothing he'd ever felt and yet it tasted of home; was as soft as the deep bed in the other room and as warm as the thick carpets. Absolutely natural.
"Was that... was that the Force?" He turned bright, blinding blue eyes on the Dark Lord and the other nodded sagely, his presence beaming even if the mask betrayed no emotion. The Dark Lord was overwhelmed as he was. He felt it.
"That was... amazing."
The gloved-hand left his temple. Vader leaned back from him, as if to study the small farmboy. "You have much potential in you, Luke. That didn't even scrape the surface."
"I..." He didn't know what to say. It was all too much.
"I can show you more, how to tame it to your will, how to use it and understand it." It was more than an offer, it was a statement.
Luke looked curiously at the dark figure, skin crawling and he wasn't sure why. It sounded wonderful. It felt even better. But... there was something else there. Something he didn't have a hope of naming, something dark he was refusing to see in the light of this new, wonderful, delicious discovery. Before he could ask what it might be, before he could question Vader's statement or object with all the rumours he'd heard of this Dark Lord's reputation, Vader spoke again.
"I have to leave now, there is important business I must attend to." There was sincere regret in his voice. Luke's expression fell and he wondered why.
"I must." The word was as much to convince Vader as it was for Luke. "The Death Star-"
"Death Star?" Luke bit his tongue at interrupting the Dark Lord, expecting a punishment. None came.
"Look out the viewport, Luke."
The Dark Lord stood, towering over the seated boy and the starlight made patterns on his mask. He whisked around with a last look at Luke as he glanced out the window and gasped. There was... it was... indescribable. Huge swathes of metal structures and pinnacles rising from a steel-grey surface that stretched to a distant horizon. Like the view on a planet, only metal and in space...
He turned in askance to the Dark Lord, but Vader was already gone from the suite, the door shutting with the hiss of a lock.
"I didn't ask the right question..." He murmured, playing with the edge of the sofa with his fingers.
Vader had been gone some time now, and although lavishly furnished, there was little to do in these rooms. He supposed Vader intended him to sleep, but he had done entirely too much of that lately. He plucked at the black fabric and it came loose in little peaks from the cushion before he smoothed it back down again. He was laying stretched out on the soft material but his feet still didn't reach the other end. He wiggled his toes against the soft material, luxuriating in the feeling.
But... even this comfort was nothing compared to what he'd felt earlier. That heat that didn't burn. The cool that didn't freeze. The comforting that didn't choke and the understanding that didn't overwhelm. It was... delicious. Utterly. There was no better word for it. Delicious.
He played with the sofa edge again, trying to take his mind off of that feeling, away from the temptation to reach out again. Because now he knew there was a way through to that... whatever it was - energy field? - he wanted more.
But... he shouldn't, because he knew it was foolish to act when you didn't truly understand something. And the Force was something he definitely didn't understand. Yet. And, more than that, he didn't truly understand how he had come from Tatooine farmstead to Darth Vader's personal quarters. That was a huge leap, and Luke was definitely missing something here... what was it? It nibbled the edge of his mind like a ravenous womp rat and reaching for that cool energy would at least give something to think about other than his unnerving predicament.
But... Vader wasn't here, and he knew somehow that it was implicit that he not try to do that on his own. He didn't think it was dangerous... just not allowed. And angering the infamous Darth Vader was not wise, that much he did know.
He pushed up off the sofa and sat on it's edge, chin in his hands, elbows resting on the soft black pajama fabric. Well, why not? Who was it going to hurt just to repeat the experience? He was insanely curious about it, needing to discover and understand it, desperate for more. More.
He was sure it couldn't hurt...
He let his mind drift back to Vader's instruction and, quicker than he really expected, that warmth was there for him again. It wrapped around him as he leant back against the sofa; as he leant into the strong, warm arms of it's embrace. It was... yes; delicious. How had he not seen it before?
He lay out flat on the material, staring at the stars but seeing nothing. Purely feeling. He held a hand out in front of his face, and it felt fuzzy, removed from reality. He was sure there were little tendrils twirling like cobwebs around his fingers, splayed against the star-scape. He smiled at that, at coming back to the analogy of a predators lair.
"Caught in the web now, I suppose? And I still haven't asked the right question." He murmured, dropping the hand from view.
Experimentally, he tried to think his awareness out beyond himself and was suddenly aware of bright, brilliant emotions clambering for recognition. He gasped and felt his fingernails clutching onto the fabric of his seat, eyes completely unseeing now past the white sheet of turbulent feelings. He trembled and stretched further, searching, searching... for what? For-
Senses jumped back to him like a vid screen finding its focus and they plagued him with information.
His arms hurt, little pinpricks running up and down his skin. His eyes were sore with tears; his mouth stung with the taste of blood and citrus fruit. His skin burned and his lips were speaking without his permission.
His panic didn't bring him back out; it only pulled him deeper into the sensations as a jolt of electricity ran up his spine on sharp little claws and started scratching away at his mind. He yelped; screamed; pleaded. Soft white skin bled red under the needles of the serums they injected him with.
Him? No her.
He tried to pull away from the presence but it shrieked at him and clutched closer, desperate for solace from the pain and the endless questions. And he cried with it, embracing it because there was nothing else he could do, murmuring soothing little thoughts and feeling tears bleeding down his cheeks.
Then Vader appeared, dark mask demanding he/she answer, and Luke felt the resolve of the little, frightened presence and tried to help her. Tried to push away the feeling that she had to answer. They both cried; they both howled; they both swore at the dark figure in front of them.
Panic and pain took them in a black tide and they drifted through the torture, together, clutching so tight they could never have been snapped apart. She buried herself in him and he sought freedom from the lancing pain in her soft thoughts, in her long, long chestnut hair and sad brown eyes. Mentally, he saw her, beautiful and radiant and bleeding. And she saw him, blue eyes swirling in confusion. He clasped her petaled hand close in his and screamed as the pain ripped through him, shredding his control and leaving him abandoned to the Force and this strange, familiar presence.
In his muddy, false-vision, Vader's head snapped upwards. Up and up and up, and in his starry true-vision he felt darkness envelop him in sudden wash of fear and confusion that was not his own.
He cried out, felt the strange girl's mental hand slip from his own, and drowned.
Vader paced. He had tried to gather his wits as he ran to his quarters, and failed. He had tried to gather his fears and stow them away someplace where they couldnt bite, and failed. He had tried to understand how his son had formed such a sudden connection to Princess Organa. And failed. Perhaps it had been Vader's presence the boy had been seeking, and he had found hers by mistake. Perhaps the torture had reeled him in to her instead. That didnt... feel right.
The stars winked undisturbed by his foul mood. Sian also didn't flinch. "I don't know," she admitted.
Had it been anyone else, she might have signed her death warrant with those words. But his personal medic would not have admitted defeat without truly meaning it. She pushed little blonde swirls from her eyes as she pocketed the blood sample and turned to Vader. "He's not showing any signs of damage, internal or external."
Damage. Sian still kept the semantics of her more technical days of biotechnology; still went back to the language of robotics when she was puzzled. It was hardly fitting for the son of Darth Vader, laid out cold with his eyes forced shut on the sofa.
"He was fine earlier." The words sounded hollow even to him.
"I know. I don't understand it. You said he was... contacting someone else?"
Vader nodded. Sian was used to his referring to the Force, used to treating the injuries it could inflict. "The Princess."
She frowned. "He does... he is showing some of the same signs of injury she is." She admitted, jade eyes showing confusion.
Vader's blood began to run cold and he passed into the shade of understanding. Luke had contacted the Princess, suffered with her and taken on the injuries. His heart froze at the thought, partly through a strange, new emotion he tentatively identified as pity, but mostly through guilt. Why hadn't he sensed his son's presence?
- Because he had been too concerned with getting the information out of the Princess quickly so he could return to his now-unconscious son.
"Take him to the med bay and treat him as best you can."
She nodded and the troopers stepped in to lift Luke up. "Yes, My Lord. I'm... not certain there is a lot we can do, however."
Vader felt his heart cool a little more, "I understand."
It was all he could say. In a bare few hours he had come so close to the boy. Talked with him, taught him, just listened to him for a few scant minutes. To have that ripped away now...
He shook his head, sudden feelings of protectiveness swarming in his mind. Never again.
It wasn't painful, and it wasn't painless. It was just numb, and unfamiliar.
Even through closed lids, the white light burned with a fury, and even through the confusion her world was listing and spinning underneath her. She blinked open her eyes to meet Jade green ones, the owner of them removing a saline feed from her arm. There was no greeting, no explanations, just a sad, stern but not unkindly face that was stonily silent. She worked moisture across her lips before trying to speak.
"Princess Organa. Yes, I know."
Leia frowned but the woman swept from the room, apparently indifferent to her patients confusion, and with the click of a lock, Leia was alone.
Well... not quite. Her eyes roamed the room and rested on the other occupant of the Imperial med bay; a slight, blonde-headed boy who couldn't be any older than she was. He was sleeping, or perhaps unconscious, with similar IVs in his arm to those the medic had removed from her own.
Slipping to a floor cold against her bare feet, she walked across to his bedside and studied the sleeping boy. Dressed in plain black, his lips were pale and his face strangely restful, eyes closed. His features had an aristocratic gentleness that was rare in Imperial stations, but with a more provincial mop of naturally unruly blonde hair and a sun-kissed tan that belied an existence spent more in the outdoors than the one she had known growing up on Alderaan. He was strangely compelling, everything from the little nick of a cleft chin to delicate blonde lashes bled something into her, and she felt familiarity despite being sure she had never seen him before.
Gathering the less than pristine white material of her senatorial gown, she hopped onto the bed beside him and rested her chin on her hands, watching him sleep. Snatching the medics report from beside his bed, she frowned as she scrolled through it, realising from reading around the jargon clogging up the small datapad that he was in some sort of coma.
She almost felt a strange sadness at that as she reached for a lock of blonde hair that had fallen to the pillow. Her fingers brushed his brow and she jumped as electricity shot down her arm. She snatched her fingers back, looking at them in wonder, when there was a gasp of inhaled air and she looked back to the boy; back into startlingly blue eyes. Some coma...
"Hi." She tried a smile but her tired lips found it hard to form one after Vader's ministrations. It was replaced by an ill-timed grimace at the fuzzy memories and he blinked in confusion at the contradiction of her friendly greeting and her sour expression.
"Uh... hi." He said. He brought a tanned hand up to rub his eyes, and frowned to himself when it caught on the IV leads.
"Here, let me help." She hopped back to the cold white floor and belatedly wondered if her shoes were around here if she still wore her senatorial dress.
She slipped her fingers around the needle into his arm and pulled it out slowly, feeling that same tingling when she touched his skin. It bled only a little as he sat up and rubbed his hands through his hair, creating little spikes and curls that were strangely charming.
"I'm Leia." She smiled, managing it this time. His eyes narrowed on her before he grinned with a winning smile that she felt could melt any heart.
"Luke. Luke Skywalker." He offered his hand and she shook it, a grin of her own plastering her face. She wondered at not immediately telling him who she was, but pushed it aside. For once, a little anonymity might be nice. He pushed up to a sitting position and looked around the med bay before groaning and rubbing the nape of his neck.
She opened her lips to ask if her was okay but he waved her off, "I think I'm going to have to get used to waking up in here." He groaned, lips curling into a smile. Yes, she could understand that statement; it was something she was beginning to wonder about herself.
He looked at her quizzically, eyes sparkling. "Do I know you?" He asked.
He breath caught and she shrugged. "I was going to ask you the same thing. You seem... familiar." It sounded foolish, and Princess-Senator Organa rarely allowed herself to be heard saying anything that could be called as foolish. Still, he was so disarming.
He stared at her, blue eyes ripping right through her, taking in her loose chestnut hair and wide brown eyes. Suddenly, he sucked in a breath that made her shiver. "It's you." He whispered, breath against her skin as he leant closer to her, looking intently into her eyes.
Shocked by his reaction she stepped away until she backed into the bed behind her, frowning. "Excuse me?" She said in her most regal voice. He was completely unfazed, despite the blush turning his cheeks ruddy.
"You... I saw you. In a dream, or a vision maybe. You were being... "
She hissed in recognition and remembrance and he stopped as if burnt, hopping from the bed and reaching a hand to steady her. "Leia?"
"You!" She said. "You were there, in the cell. I thought... I thought it was just a dream, or a delusion."
Blonde hair; blue eyes you could sink into; infinite compassion... could it have been real? She re-ran the memories quickly, not certain what was real and what was her imagination playing tricks on her. He was there, that she remembered. But...
"... how?" She whispered.
A frown puckered smooth skin and he walked thoughtfully away from her, movements a little stiff and belying further a more provincial background than her own. He shrugged his shoulders, the black fabric shifting across the muscles there. Those muscles... a delicately formed waist... slim hips and -
She shook her head fiercely, glad he wasn't looking at her as she was sure she must have flushed bright red. What was she doing, Princess of Alderaan eyeing up a man boy she had barely known five minutes? Why was he so damn attractive?
"I don't know. Maybe it was the Force." He almost looked embarrassed as he turned back to her and she hurriedly looked away, studying a chart on his vacated bedside in an attempt to hide her own embarrassment. If only those blue eyes weren't so compelling, hiding behind lowered blond lashes. She struggled to reconstruct her quiet dignity from whatever was left after her jaunt through examining his blonde, tanned, firm body -
Stop it Leia! He doesn't even know your last name!
"The Force?" She gave a sceptical elevation of her eyebrows, regal composure intact still despite the conspiracies of her hormones. She sat back on the bed and concentrated furiously at the problem at hand, not the boy in front of her.
"Yeah, you're right. That sounds stupid." He shrugged again.
"No, I didn't mean that. It's just, how could it be the Force?" She asked, tongue not as sharp as usual. Normally she would have snapped at him, but she felt a strange gratitude that he had been there through her interrogation. Gratitude, and a compelling connection to him. He roamed the room, pursing his lips. She smiled at the childish expression and quickly hid it as he turned back to her, expression serious.
"Well... Vader said I could use the Force, so I guess I might have done something. Uncle Owen was always moaning about me doing that." He gave an odd little grin, then focused behind her, eyes lit up. "Hey look, fruit."
"Huh?" She chuckled. She'd had a chastising remark ready for him, but she looked on in wonder as he rushed past her and reached for a small bowl of fruit. He lifted a piece and studied it with great interest. She felt another smile cross her lips and wondered at how this boy could make her smile so much without ever really cracking a joke.
"Its just a piece of fruit," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Oh, well, yeah. But we didn't really get fruit on Tatooine." He bit into it and smiled appreciatively before backing up to his bed again. Beneath her own vacated bed lay a pair of white boots. Hers, she realised. She snagged them and put them on as he ate, shaking her head in bemusement as his words suddenly caught up with her.
"Youre from Tatooine?" Tatooine, where the Tantive IV had been captured. Was he a local? From the moisture farms, perhaps, by his tanned skin and firm-
Stop it, Leia!
"Yeah," he mumbled around eating.
"Do you know General Kenobi? Did he get the droids?" she asked, feeling feverish. There was really no reason for this boy to know Kenobi from a whole planet full of people, or to know if Artoo had found him and he had gotten away.
She had hoped for a reaction, but not the one she received. His expression soured and he looked down at the half-eaten fruit in disgust before throwing it to the trash. "Old Ben? Yeah, I know Ben," he said, expression sad and angry.
Confused, concerned, she crossed the distance to him. "Hey, what's wrong?" She put a tentative hand on his shoulder at the hurt in those blue, blue eyes and he jumped as if burnt.
"Nothing." He hissed, backing rapidly away.
She frowned and found her regal bearing planting hands on her hips. "What is it?" She asked, voice of authority. He flinched, then glared, but it lacked vehemence.
"Ben tried to kill me." He fixed her with a soul-shattering gaze and she felt her composure falter just a little.
"He tried to kill me." He repeated, offering no explanation. Looking into those eyes, she thought perhaps it was because he didn't have one to give. Still, she moved forwards again, trying to get him to stop moving away from her. His presence was comforting; the only thing offering her any sanity during her Imperial imprisonment.
His jaw set in a hard line and he suddenly looked much older. "I don't really know, I'm just a desert farmboy. No one special Vader said it was because I can use the Force. But... I don't really know." His words were as sour as his expression, and she saw the resentment.
"Vader?" She asked gently. "Youre Vader's prisoner too?" Well, of course he was they were in Darth Vader's personal med bay. He could be little else.
He nodded his head but his eyes glazed over a little. She touched his arm, feeling that spark and seeing his head shoot up at the contact. So it wasn't just her.
"I guess so. I don't really know. I mean... I'm not in a cell, not like you were and..." He stopped and shivered; the room cooled a few degrees. She saw memories there that she shared.
She frowned, swiping at dark hair falling in her eyes and feeling the aches from her session with the Dark Lord begin to burn again. "Where is he keeping you then?" She asked, voice dusky and honey-dipped.
He gave a little nervous shrug, full of provincial embarrassment and uncertainty, not at all like the men she knew from Alderaani court, all cheap-silk charm and mile-wide smiles. "His quarters."
His quarters? That meant Her hand left his reflexively and she inhaled sharply.
"What? What is it?" He asked, earnest.
"So, you're Darth Vader's new pet, huh?" She hissed, "Something to play with in-between torture sessions and murdering?" The words were small, cruel, and hit well on the mark. He flinched.
"'Pet'?" He whispered, eyes glazing again.
She strode away from him, then whirled when a thought struck her, "Or are you a plant?" She hissed, all caustic and trembling with anger. "Couldn't get it out of me through torture so you'll try a little friendly persuasion?"
She pointed a finger at him, incensed, "Well, crawl back to your master, little pet. If I'm not betraying the rebels after a few hours of torture, I'm certainly not going to for some callow farmboy."
She realised she was talking to the air, almost as if there were camera watching, recording. And perhaps there were.
She focused on Luke again and felt her steely hatred start to crumble. He was pale, shaking, hurt. Just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I... no! I never..." He choked and turned his back on her. "I don't know why Vader is keeping me." He said, words solid, dispassionate, "Maybe you're right, maybe I'm just some idle pastime for him." He sounded truly hurt, abandoned, rejected. "But I'm not working for him! I wouldn't... couldn't help him do that."
She saw those black-draped shoulders shake and felt guilt hammer at her stomach. Leia had jumped to the conclusion yet again, and been horribly wrong. He wasn't an agent. They would have picked someone far more convincing. "I'm... sorry, Luke. I wasn't thinking." She bit her lip when he refused to turn back to her. "I guess... I just can't think of any other reason for Vader to keep you."
There was a silence broken only by the humm of air-conditioning and medical equipment. Finally he turned back to her, eyes softening. "He said... he said he wants to teach me to use the Force."
"Why? He destroyed all the Jedi, why try and train someone new?" She was thinking out loud and he shook his head.
"I really don't know about any of that.... no one ever told me." He said. She looked at him sadly, realising the predicament. At least she understood why she was a prisoner. "He said my father was a Jedi. Anakin Skywalker."
She smiled, "Yes, I remember my father talking about a Jedi called Anakin Skywalker." He looked up, startled. "I think he might have been quite famous."
He opened his mouth to ask more, a wide grin spreading across it, but suddenly looked to the far door before it opened and a terribly familiar presence swept into the room. Luke's Master and her nemesis; Darth Vader. Hate swelled and the track lines of hypodermics stung in sympathy.
"Darth Vader." She hissed. "How kind of you to honour us with a visit-"
He gave her a cursory glance, then brushed past her to Luke's side, towering above them both. She gaped in astonishment as he placed a hand on Luke's forehead and Luke backed hurriedly away to collide with a wall.
"You're awake." He said, clearly addressing Skywalker with a little twinge of astonishment.
Luke stood his ground and gazed up into the mask. "Yes..."
"You seem surprised Vader, what did you do to him?" Leia interjected between the two, trying to protect her newfound friend.
Vader turned to her, exasperated already. "I am. He was in a coma. What did you do?"
She glared, not letting the confusion over this suddenly-concerned Vader phase her, "Nothing, he just woke up." Which wasn't quite true; Luke had woken when she touched him, but she wasn't inclined to be interrogated in any way by the Dark Lord.
"What happened to me?" Luke asked Vader, voice surprisingly strong and demanding. His eyes flicked to Leia.
"That, child, is what I intend to find out." Vader said, surprisingly affectionate. There was something between these two that chilled her blood. "But not now." He turned to Leia and now her breath definitely did freeze. "Princess, you must accompany me to the bridge." Luke jumped when he addressed her as Princess, shock clear on his face.
Her eyes narrowed to bare slits, voice as frosty as the ground on the Alderaani royal mountain retreats, "Why should I do that, Lord Vader?"
In answer he grabbed her arm and she winced when his fingers enclosed on the needle points there. He started to drag her towards the door, obviously in a foul mood. Whether that was from his confusion at Luke's awakening or her own defiance she couldnt say.
Luke leapt forward then and pulled her from Vader's grasp with surprising strength. "Leave her alone." He hissed. Leia just gaped.
Luke planted himself between them, and shook his head, sending blonde bangs over his eyes. "You tortured her! I felt it!" The words were harsh but the voice barely audible, shivering with hatred Leia was sure didn't belong to that soft voice.
Vader reached for her again and Luke stepped between them again. With surprising urgency, Vader backhanded Luke across the face and sent him sprawling to the floor before grabbing her arm again, squeezing even harder. Luke sat down heavily on the floor from the blow, dazed. Vader stilled suddenly and turned to the boy, his breath coming out in a rush. For long, torturous seconds Master and pet looked at each other and the air was shattered only when Luke raised a hand gingerly to his bloodless cheek.
Vader started for him and this time it was Leia's turn to haul the Dark Lord back. "Leave him alone!" She spat. "He hasn't done anything!"
Not true; he had just defended her despite her cruel words earlier. There was a deep, enticing side to this boy that went far beyond the farmboy good looks and naïve allure.
Vader stopped, very still, and let Leia's hand go. She wished she knew what was rampaging through that dark mind as she bent and helped Luke up, glaring at the Dark Lord all the time. Luke gave her a weak smile, but looked shocked, but she didn't know why he should be surprised; Vader was hardly known for his compassion.
Finally, Vader broke out of his reverie and spoke, "Princess, you must accompany me to the bridge." He said, words soft, sad. He was talking to her but his gaze was on the boy beside her. "Governor Tarkin wishes to talk with you. Do not make me force you anymore."
At that Luke's jaw set hard and his hand squeezed hers, and she thought she understood a little of those masked thoughts. Dont make me force you I dont mind fighting you, but I don't want to hurt Luke any more.
She shivered and nodded her head.
"I'm coming too." Luke said. Leia looked at him with twin feelings of astonishment and gratitude. Never, never before had she formed such a firm connection so quickly. But there was something there, and they both felt it. And now he wanted to try and protect her any way he could. He glared at Vader, little thunderbolts of determination in his eyes. His blue, blue eyes.
Vader must have seen it too. "Very well, follow me." He turned swiftly, hurriedly, nervously from the room and strode through the door. Leia looked nervously at her would-be bodyguard and shrugged as troopers entered to escort them to the bridge. Luke tried not to stare in wonderment at the corridors; Vader occasionally looked back at the defiant children following reluctantly.
It was a short walk, but it would be the longest day of her life.
watched as Tarkin addressed the little Princess, her
stance full of determination and guile. He kept a
restraining hand on his son's shoulder, holding him in
check, knowing that he would leap to her rescue if he
could do. Such naïve idealism; the farmboy saving the
Princess was it in the Skywalker blood?
stormed through the quarters, a thunderstorm of confusion
and anxiety. The door whispered shut and clicked with a
lock, and he was alone, Vader rushing to some business
elsewhere, promising that he would be back soon.
The blue glare coming from the
little-used doorway was stinging his eyes, but it was
nothing next to the fireworks that were going off inside
his head. Emotions came rough and turbulent, tumbling
over each other like a pack of Tatooine farmboys brawling
in the summer heat. You couldnt dissect one from
the other, relief from wonder or dread from absolute,
mind-numbing hope. All of it bounced around his
sleep-muffled head as he struggled to make his brain
start functioning properly and dismiss the shadowy figure
in the backlit entrance as an illusion.
"How did you find me
"Master Luke, sir!"
Continued in 'Nova'....