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Title: Darker Than Darkness
Author: Second Last Herald Mage (http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1107492/)
Rating: PG-13
Category: Adventure, Suspense
Characters: Vader, Leia, Luke
Summary: The Empire only arrests Rebels . . . right? When Leia unwittingly invites an Imperial convict into the Alliance, she discovers that her safety may lie in the hands of her greatest enemy.

Disclaimer: I do not own the TV show Bones, nor do I own anything that has to do with Star Wars.

Author's Note: This fic is based on a Bones episode, where Brennan is stalked by a escaped psychokiller whom she helped put in jail. It's darker than any of my other stories; whereas most of my other ratings were precautionary, this one is completely serious, and may even go up, depending on how vivid and detailed I feel I need to be. So you have been warned.

Oh, and for anyone who's interested, the title suggests that my villain is even more evil than Vader, who personifies Darkness.

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, who art black as hell, and dark as night.” --William Shakespeare

Chapter One: Escape

He grinned madly as he ran away from the fearsome walls of the prison fortress. He knew that the alarms were probably already sounding, but he didn't care. He was free, in the fresh air and open fields of whichever planet this was. He didn't need to know what planet this was. He just needed to get away from here.

There must be a spaceport nearby. Although prisoners were delivered using a landing pad in the prison building itself, and there were no towns close by that were big enough to have a place he could hire a ship from, he wasn't worried. Looking back, he could see the stormtroopers pouring from the prison gates, looking for him.

His smile grew. They would never find him. Their bright white armour shone even in the darkest night. He could easily track their movements and evade their grasp before they even knew he was there.

He turned his gaze ahead again. He could see lights on the horizon. It looked like a fair-size city. It would be a good spot to look for transportation. He began to traipse in the direction of the shimmering horizon.

He knew that the stormtroopers would call in reinforcements once they realized they were too incompetent to find him themselves, but that would take awhile. He would be lost in the galaxy by then. Not even Darth Vader would be able to find him.

The realization that he would never have to set foot in that prison again filled him with joy. He never fit in there. The stormtroopers were exceptionally rough when they handled him, to his way of thinking. The Rebels turned up their noses at him, gave him disgusted looks when he passed by. He was no better than they were, in there. It was not for them to judge him. It was not for anyone to judge him.

The murderers and the traitors and the petty criminals didn't really mind him, but they all refused to share a cell with him. Afraid he'd do to them what he did to land himself in prison in the first place, probably. He smirked at that. They weren't his type.

The murderers may talk to him, but they were brainless, unfit company for a man of his intelligence. Now that he was back in the world, he could make friends with whom he chose, could relax among people worthy of him. He would have a good life.

He wondered where he would go, once he had a ship. He had been on Alderaan when he had been arrested, but he had since heard that Alderaan had been blown up. It had been the talk of the prison for nearly a month. Good riddance, in his opinion; Bail Organa did nothing to protect his people. He still remembered clearly the Viceroy's stony face when he had been dragged off to an Imperial vessel for trial and transport to the prison.

If Bail Organa hadn't already been dead, his first order of business would have been to go back and kill the Viceroy. Force-damned hypocrite; everybody knew he hated the Empire, but he had actually looked relieved when they took him away.

Oh, how he hated Bail Organa!

He wondered what had happened to Organa's little daughter. He remembered her, too. All big brown eyes and long brown hair, she was; a dainty child. Likely a child no longer. She had been eight when he had been arrested, clinging to her father fearfully, with his arm around her as he tried to hide her from his view. He remembered thinking that if she grew up to be as pretty as she was at eight, she would make a fine woman. Fit for a man like him.

He would have to look up little Princess Organa. He would find out where she was, and he would go visit her, see if his imagination was right.

The hours passed as he dreamed of the little princess, of what he would say to her, what he would do to her. If she had any smarts at all she would know better than to turn her back on him, as her daddy had.

The town was close now; so close he could see the speeders flying around as the citizens enjoyed the nightlife. He grinned. It was perfect.

He slunk around the lower part of the city, peeking into taverns and bars, looking for someone who could sell him a ship. Finally, after hours of looking, he had one, bought from a junkie who needed money for deathsticks. It was stolen, most likely, according to the very few credits he paid for it, but that was okay. He only had a few credits anyway, stuff he'd found lost on the streets, and a bit on the credit chips he had been smart enough to filch from the belts of the troopers. He would never let it be said he was a stupid man. He had planned his escape from prison – from this entire planet – very carefully.

He would not be caught again. He would never allow himself to be sent back to jail.

He was just taking off when the probable owner of his ship showed up with a trio of troopers. He grinned. They shot at him, but he was already too far away for their pitiful weapons to do him any harm.

As soon as he was out of atmosphere, he jumped to hyperspace.

At last, away, away! He leaned back in his pilot's chair. He had set a course for the Outer Rim, where the Empire would be hard pressed to even glimpse him. The Empire wasn't as strong in the Outer Rim as it was in the Core. He would be safe there.

He would head for Socorro, he decided. He had never been there before, so he would see if it was a good spot to stay. If not, he would keep looking. The Empire would never find him.

He laughed. Never, ever, ever.

Chapter Two: Manhunt

Twenty-three-year-old Leia Organa opened the door to the conference room where Mon Mothma, General Rieekan and Admiral Ackbar were waiting for her. “I'm sorry I kept you waiting,” she said, breathless from trying to make the appointment on time. “Lando and Chewie found more information on Han's whereabouts.”

“I thought he had been given to Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine,” Mon Mothma commented, knowing how much the smuggler meant to the youngest Alliance leader.

“He was. Lando says that now they have a pretty good idea of where in the Palace he is, though.”

“That is excellent news,” Ackbar agreed. “And we have some more for you, too, if you'd like to hear it.”

Leia looked at him curiously. “What is it?” she asked.

“One of our men has escaped Imperial prison,” Rieekan announced, showing her the HoloNet article.

Leia studied it. “It doesn't say he was one of us, and I don't recognize his name. Are you sure?”

Mon Mothma bit her lip. “Not entirely,” she admitted reluctantly. “But when have you ever heard of an arrest made that hasn't involved a Rebel?”

Leia nodded slowly. “Good point,” she agreed, “but let's not be too hasty. How about Luke and I go to meet him, and see if he is one of us? At least that way we'll know for sure. I mean, he could even be an Imperial plant, for all we know.”

Rieekan looked to his colleagues, then nodded consent. “Your argument is strong, Princess. We'll allow you and Commander Skywalker to go find him.” He paused, looking worried. “But Leia, do you really want to do this? I know you're worried about Captain Solo --”

“-- which is precisely why I have to do this, General. I can't just sit here, waiting for news --” She broke off and took a deep breath in order to maintain her composure.

Mon Mothma broke in. “Then go with our blessing.”

“Thank you,” Leia sighed, and fled to find Luke.

Vader was furious. How the stormtroopers could have allowed security so lax while guarding a rapist, he would never know or understand. He would have preferred they allow a Rebel to escape than a man like Torrin Gledn.

Gledn, according to his record, had raped at least thirty-six women, all on different worlds. About half of them had been damaged so badly by the experience that they could never have children. About half of those and slightly more than a quarter of the rest had entered religious service and took vows of chasity because of the psychological trama.

Which left less than a quarter to lead as normal a life as possible, after such an event.

And people called him a cold-blooded, merciless monster.

Vader cast his gaze over the 501st Legion. They had been with him since the beginning, even before this blasted suit. A little over a third of their previous size now, the legion called Vader's Fist was slowly regaining its numbers after being devastated when the Death Star was destroyed by Vader's son.

But only Vader knew about his son's involvement.

Well, Vader and --

“Hey! Uncle D! Slow down, would you?”

-- Jixton.

Vader paused and waited for his agent to catch up. “What, Jixton?”

“Nothing,” Jix replied. “Just wanted to walk with you. You know, companionship and comradeship and all that fun stuff.”

Vader snorted and strode off again. “Don't waste my time, Jix.”

Jix sighed and jogged after his boss. “Okay, fine, be that way. I wanted to know what you want me to do during this whole affair.”

Affair. Definitely not the right word to describe the manhunt being organized. Vader was certain Gledn's victims would agree.

“Is there something you think you should be doing?” Vader asked, knowing Jix too well to know he had already looked into it, probably deeper than Vader himself had. Jix was valuable that way.

“Well, I was going through some Rebel transmissions, and they were sending out a notice for anyone who sees this Gledn guy to let them know. They think he's a Rebel. I think.”

Vader gave Jix a strange look through the mask, slightly shocked. “Why the Force would they think that?”

“Well, considering that most of the people we've arrested over that past two decades or so have been Rebels . . .” Jix trailed off suggestively.

“This is just great,” Vader growled. “Not only do I have to find and catch a rapist, I also have terrorists wanting to help him out. What did I ever do to deserve this?” He stalked off angrily.

Jix followed. “So --”

“I want you to follow either him or the Rebels looking for him.”

“Luke Skywalker's one of them,” Jix felt compelled to point out, grinning at his superior. Ever since he had found out that Luke was Vader's son, he had made up a point to bring him up as often as humanly possible.

Vader groaned inwardly. Jix was going to have a field day with this case.

“Make sure he comes to no harm,” Vader replied. “I'm quite certain he hasn't gotten around to building another lightsaber yet.”

“He probably has a blaster,” Jix replied, slightly horrified that his attempt to rib Vader about Luke had backfired and he was being asked, in his opinion, to babysit. Vader waved the remark off.

“Blasters are no match for a lightsaber. Watch him, Jix. I don't want him doing anything foolish with this convict on the loose.”

Jix nodded. “I doubt he's Gledn's type, but sure thing, Uncle D. But – my primary assignment is to keep an eye on the rapist, right?”

Vader rolled his eyes and smiled at Jix's preference for espionage over being a bodyguard, thankful the mask hid the motions. “Come along, Jixton,” he ordered. “It's time to brief the troops.”

Torrin Gledn walked around the city of Vakeyya, capital of Socorro. He congratulated himself for choosing this world; he was enjoying himself immensely. This world was full of smugglers, gamblers and other petty criminals. No one would bother to look for a an escaped Imperial convict here, on a world where crime was overlooked on a daily basis. It was one of the best places he could have chosen.

He had landed his ship on the outskirts of the city and had walked into town. He had already gotten a job, and would live in his ship until he had enough credits to buy a place of his own. He would make this place his home, and he would live well. Smugglers all seemed to help each other out, and the prices weren't inflated too badly. It would be easy to survive here.

He hadn't seem many decent women around, but that was alright. He was sure there were some around somewhere. Every world had its share of beautiful humanoid females. And then his life here would be truly complete.

In the meantime, he would make good on his promise to search for the Organa girl. She could not evade him forever.

He walked into a cantina, to buy an drink and to study how the local people acted. If he could act like them, he would fit in better.

He glanced around, uninterested in the rowdy sabacc games and loud, boisterous drinking games. His eyes fell on a small HoloNet receiver hidden away in a corner. He made his way toward it. It would be in his best interest to keep up on the investigation that that no doubt followed his escape.

The report was a far different one from what he was expecting.

Gledn couldn't believe his eyes. The Rebels were looking for him. The Rebels! They had hated him in prison. Why were they being so friendly now?

He continued to read, his eyes widening when he reached the names of the people to contact if someone saw him. Luke Skywalker was totally meaningless to him, but Leia Organa was a name he knew well.

Grinning with venomous pleasure, he reached for his comlink.

“You volunteered us to what?” Luke demanded of Leia.

'Find and talk to the guy who just escaped Imperial prison,” Leia repeated. “Mon Mothma, Rieekan and Ackbar think he may be one of us, so I said we'd go see if he was.”

“Leia, he could be anywhere! The galaxy's not exactly small, you know.”

Leia rolled her eyes. “Really? I thought it was absolutely minuscule,” she shot back sarcastically. “We're doing everything we can to find him, Luke. Everybody's keeping an eye out for him. It won't be as hard as it sounds.”

Luke sighed, not quite believing her. “If you say so.”

“I do,” she informed him pertly, at the same moment her comlink beeped.

“See, Luke, I told you it would be too difficult!” Leia exclaimed happily as she finished speaking to Torrin Gledn himself.

“Get in, I'll set a course for Socorro,” was Luke's only reply.

Wrenga Jixton enjoyed being a spy. He didn't mind being an assassin, either, but espionage was his favourite job.

It was fun, poking his nose into other people's business without letting them know he knew what they were up to. Sometimes, if he did well and got close enough to the people involved, they would tell him outright what he needed to know and he didn't even have to go digging for it. That was the fun part.

However, digging did have its perks, as proved by his research on this Gledn guy. He had found the Rebels' HoloNet article entirely by accident, but it had opened floodgates in his investigatiion.

Jix gave a half-smile as he caught the message to Leia Organa's comlink. “Socorro,” he murmured. “Good choice.”

Jix had been to Socorro a time or two himself. He hadn't particularly enjoyed it – a bit to warm a climate for his tastes, and he didn't really care for the black sand the planet was famous for, either, but if he wanted to disappear into the galaxy, Socorro would be a good place to start. It was kind of like Tatooine, that way.

His grin widened as he punched Vader's number into his own comlink. “But not good enough.”

Immediately upon receiving Jix's message, Vader loaded the 501st onto the Executor and headed for Socorro.

“My lord, what are your orders upon reaching Socorro?” Admiral Piett asked Vader as the Sith Lord stared out of the window on the bridge.

“The 501st and I will shuttle down to the planet's surface and arrest Gledn. If the Rebels are there, we'll arrest them, too. If they have already left . . .” Vader paused, then continued firmly. “We will follow them across the galaxy if necessary.”

“Why don't we shoot them if we are in range? They are just Rebels; they aren't civilians,” Piett pointed out.

Vader glared dangerously. “I want them alive, Admiral. If they are in any other state when I receive them, there will be dire consequences for all involved.”

Piett swallowed nervously, taken aback by the force of the Dark Lord's threat. “Of course, my lord. I'll have the men keep the tractor beam in a state of perfect repair,” he offered, trying to appease his commander.

“See that you do,” Vader replied darkly.

“Hello,” Leia greeted Torrin warmly in a cantina in Vakeyya. “We're so glad you could meet with us.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Torrin replied sincerely, his gaze barely flicking to Luke before fastening on her face again.

Leia smiled. “Let's get down to business, shall we?” She and Luke sat across from Torrin.

The stranger smiled engagingly. “Of course, ma'am.”

Leia leaned forward, across the table. “You understand Commander Skywalker and I are with the Alliance to Restore the Republic.”

“Of course.” He nodded politely.

“We have lost many of our members to Imperial prisons. If I may be blunt, Mr Gledn, we would like to know if you are one of those members.”

Gledn leaned on the table too, his face just inches away from Leia's. “I was not a member or your Aliance,” he replied, “but I was wrongfully convicted, I assure you of that fact. And if you will have me, I would be honoured to serve in your Rebel Alliance.”

Chapter Three: Base

Luke wasn't quite sure what it was about the new recruit that struck him as funny, but Torrin just seemed to rub him the wrong way.

Maybe he was just being paranoid because the man was an escaped convict, even though he insisted he was innocent and Luke sensed no deception from him. He was polite and cheerful, and downright courteous around the female Rebels, especially when it came to women of rank like Leia and Mon Mothma. There was nothing to complain about or be wary of.

And yet Luke was on edge all the same.

He didn't dare say anything to Leia; she seemed to enjoy Torrin's attentions immensely. Luke wished Han was still around. It was painfully clear to him, if not to Leia, that this Torrin character would dearly love to take the smuggler's place in Leia's life. Maybe that was why Luke didn't particularly like him. He was trying to protect Leia for Han, seeing as Han was halfway across the galaxy and frozen in carbonite.

At the orders of Luke's father.

Even now, nearly five months after the fact, Luke still got a chill down his spine when he thought of Vader and his relationship to the Sith Lord. He hadn't told anyone else about Vader's revelation at Bespin, not even Leia. He knew how much she hated Vader, and he didn't think he could handle her rejection right now, if that was what she chose to do. She probably wouldn't, if he knew her at all, but he still hurt too much to take the chance.

Sometimes, he'd catch Vader in his head, not prying, just checking up on him. It was kind of weird. And Vader always left his own mind open to Luke, though Luke had yet to scrape together the courage to initiate contact. He had grown increasingly cautious since Bespin, looking for a trap in everything and anything. He was constantly questioning Vader's motives in leaving his mind open to him; did he really just want to get to know his son, as Luke had felt a couple times when Vader let his shields down a little too far, or was it a ploy to get him to accept the dark side? He was second-guessing everything.

Like this Torrin Gledn. The man was probably harmless. Yet Luke, in his paranoia about Vader and the Dark Side, was jumping to conclusions.

Luke shook his head as he glanced at Gledn from across the mess hall. The man was chatting amiably with General Rieekan. He was being stupid. He turned back to his own meal, keeping his eyes on the plate as he shoved the food down.

Vader was fretting.

He paced the bridge of the Executor furiously. He had just finished speaking to the Emperor, who had officially placed him in command of the search for Torrin Gledn. Even the Rebels paled in light of the threat Gledn presented. Even Sidious's twisted mind could understand that.

Which just made the situation all the worse in Vader's eyes. If Sidious gave a damn, the galaxy was screwed, and once again it was up to Vader to fix it.

The Rebels had gotten to Gledn before the Executor had even entered orbit around Socorro. Vader hadn't passed anyone as he stormed to his quarters at this discovery, which was good, because anyone unfortunate to cross paths with him at that time would likely have died.

Piett had had every possible trajectory calculated, but Vader knew the Rebel method of operation too well to know it would do any good. The Rebels made a habit of making multiple jumps to completely random and irrelevant places in an effort to shake any Imperial tails that they might pick up. Much to Vader's chagrin, it usually worked.

Vader watched as Piett approached him. “My lord, what is your next course of action?”

The Sith Lord sighed. “I do not have one yet, Admiral. The Rebels are likely in the middle of their third jump to hyperspace by now; it will be impossible to track them a quickly as we need to.” He paused. “Send out probe droids. That worked once; perhaps we'll get lucky again.”

Piett bowed. “At once, my lord.”

Vader smiled slightly under his mask. He liked Piett – he was intelligent and efficient. He knew the admiral was struggling to prove his usefulness after losing the Rebels at Bespin, but he really had nothing to worry about. Vader didn't come across men like Piett every day. He didn't want to waste them.

Vader whirled and headed to his hyperbaric chamber. Maybe he would be able to pick up something on Gledn through a good, long session of meditation.

Gledn smiled into his cup of wine. He fit in quite well here at the Rebel base, he must say. With the pretty little Princess of Alderaan on one side (she had definitely lived up to his expectations, oh yes) and a general named Rieekan on the other, Gledn finally felt like he was where he belonged in the galaxy; surrounded by people of importance, dining on fine food – even if it was rationed – and wearing civilian clothes again. He would be issued a uniform as soon as he decided what he wanted to do in the Rebellion, but he didn't have to wear it all the time even then.

Not at all like the prison, where you were lucky to get a fresh uniform once a month, and even then it looked exactly the same as your old one. Gledn suspected they didn't even wash them properly, either, because they always retained an unpleasant odor, no matter what.

He gazed surreptitiously at the princess as she chatted with the woman on her other side. Mon Something-or-Other. He wasn't interested in her. It was the Princess, little Leia of Alderaan, who had him captivated.

Gledn smiled slightly. She liked him, too, he could tell. Maybe not as a lover quite yet, but that would come in time.

He nearly laughed out loud at the irony of it all. Bail Organa would be rolling his his grave, if he had one, over the fact that the man he had had arrested would spend the rest of his life at his daughter's side. It filled Gledn with a vicious kind of glee.

Across the room, Gledn caught a glimpse of the princess's pilot friend staring at him. He frowned to himself. He would have to watch that one. He just might have competition.

And that was unacceptable.

Wrenga Jixton hummed happily as he tapped into the Rebel transmission lines. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as he waited for a message to come through. He had decided to spend some time listening in on the Rebels' conversations, as it gave him a chance to relax and work at the same time. If he was lucky, he would get a hint as to the location of the Rebel base and Vader could go do his part of the job. If the Rebels were nice and handed Gledn over without a fuss, Vader may even let a few of them live.

The Sith Lord was pissed, Jix knew. Having the Rebels and Gledn slip right through his fingers (apparently he had arrived just in time to watch their taillights disappear in to hyperspace) had put him in a rather foul mood. Jix felt bad for him. The Sith was a perfectionist and he was impatient. He wanted everything done correctly and immediately, if not sooner. This whole Gledn thing was driving him up the wall – Jix hadn't thought it was possible for him to hate anyone more than the Rebels, but he downright loathed Gledn.

Jix listened as a couple of pilots practiced a drill, as a meeting was called among the higher-ups. He grinned when he heard Luke Skywalker's voice talking to Princess Leia. Once he had gotten over the shock of learning that Vader had a kid, he had to admit that the whole thing was pretty damn cute.

Well, except for the whole Rebel part.

No one said anything of importance, much to Jix's disappointment. He sighed and switched off the transmissions. He would have to do this the less fun way.

He hooked the transmission-interception machine to a small, spherical object that, after a few seconds, projected a 3-D image of the galaxy. Small spots of space around the planet of Arbra were highlighted every time a transmission was sent. Ships, most likely.

Jix grinned. “Gotcha.”

Leia wished Han were here. As much as she loved him, he could learn a few things from Torrin.

The ex-con was infinitely polite, opening doors and pulling out chairs for her. He listened attentively and even when he disagreed with her he was never scornful or condescending. He was the perfect gentleman.

However, she did have to admit that she missed her nerfherder's quick wit and sarcasm, and the fact that he let her loosen up a bit under the burdens of being a leader of the Alliance. With Torrin acting like such a gentleman, she felt pressured into acting like a genteel lady – which was not how she preferred to act at all.

She sighed, missing Han with every fiber of her being. She had received another comm from Lando and Chewbacca this morning. They had gotten a visual on Han, hanging frozen in carbonite on Jabba the Hutt's wall, but Jabba was still wary of his new prize and kept it heavily guarded. Lando didn't dare attempt a rescue until some of the security was lifted. He didn't think it would take more than a few months, but Leia was impatient. They had been so close! And now to wait another five or six months . . . .

She took a deep breath, holding back tears of frustration. If only she had something to occupy herself with until the time to rescue Han came. Force, she would even settle for reading and organizing supply reports for food, weapons and other necessities – and she hated sitting at a desk going through supply reports with a passion.

Military reports she didn't mind, but she doubted she could deal with those right now. She, Han and Luke used to sit together after battles and laugh at the crazy stunts that had saved lives, pointing out things that could have been done differently (and often more simply) and just generally enjoying being together.

Luke was still here, but without Han it just wouldn't be the same.

She excused herself from the dinner table and headed toward her rooms, so wrapped up in her thoughts that she did not noticed Torrin Gledn's eyes following her until she was out of sight.

Vader sat alone in his hyperbaric chamber, armour off and piled in against the side of the round room, behind him and out of his line of sight, though it didn't matter much, since his eyes were closed in meditation. Still, it was not exactly a pleasurable thing for him to open his eyes to.

He reached out through the Force, both Dark and Light sides of it, in an attempt to find something that would lead him to Gledn – a new target, perhaps, or even a planet. He thought he found a girl whom Gledn might go after an concentrated on bringing the image into focus.

He nearly fell out of his chair in shock. He hadn't thought about her in years; why was she popping up in his meditations all of a sudden? She wasn't still alive, he knew that for a fact; he had searched the Force for her after he had discovered his son, but her familiar presence was nowhere to be found, and he knew she wasn't being blocked from him. But there was no good reason for her to be invading his thoughts now.

He didn't need the distraction, either. Gledn was a priority case and he needed to find the man soon, before the could harm another woman. He couldn't afford to moon over his late wife.

Chapter Four: Attack

Leia moved around her room, getting ready of bed. She tossed her nightgown over her head, enjoying the feel of the cool cotton against her skin, then reached up to pull the pins out of her hair. It cascaded down her back and she shook her head to loosen it from its braid.

She went into her refresher to wash her face and brush her teeth, then grabbed her current novel and curled up in bed to read a chapter before going to sleep. She found that no matter how tired she was, if she read before turning out her light, she slept better.

She looked up when her bedroom door creaked open.

“Hello?” she called out in confusion. Who would actually come into her bedroom? If anyone needed her, they just knocked on the door.

Torrin Gledn entered. “Hello, Leia.”

“Torrin.” She turned off her datapad and sat up. “What brings you here?”

“You,” he replied, his eyes hooded.

“What --?” she gasped before he sealed her lips in a rough, violent kiss, forcing her to lie back on the bed. He pressed her down into the mattress, hard, and his hand fumbled at her nightgown, ripping the material as she fought him

LUKE! She screamed in her mind, praying he would hear as Gledn's hands closed over her bare skin. She lashed out at him, but he struck her across the face for doing so, knocking her head into the headboard and causing her to lose temporary control of her limbs. They went limp. Luke . . .

Vader resisted the urge to reel back in shock as he felt the fright and pain of the woman Gledn had attacked. So it has begun . . .

Jix came up to him. “Rebels are on Arbra,” he said.

Vader nodded. “Admiral, set a course of Arbra.”

“Of course, my lord.” Piett sketched a bow and went to give the order.

“So, any idea who he's after?” Jix asked conversationally.

“No. My meditations are not showing me anything.”


“Yes, really. They are mixed. There is no possible way the girl I am seeing is his victim.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because she has been dead for over twenty years. I have no doubt that he is a raving lunatic, but I do not think he is so far gone as to lust after decomposed corpses.”

Jix paused. “Good point. So who is she?”

Luke sat up in bed, gasping. Leia!

He raced out of his own room, stopping only long enough to grab his blaster, then burst into Leia's.

He was proud to see Leia fighting for all she was worth, but it obviously wasn't enough. Gladn had bound her hands to the headboard with strips of Leia's own nightgown, which lay in shreds on her body. She had bruises around her eye and her lips, and he could see some blooming on her arms and legs, too. He expected some on her torso, but Gledn's shadow was blocking his vision.

Gledn himself had forced Leia's legs apart and was kneeling between them, undoing his pants. Luke aimed carefully – he didn't want to hit Leia – and shot.

He caught Gledn in the bicep, the bolt going straight through his arm. It cauterized immediately, which Luke was thankful for, because it didn't bleed all over Leia. Gledn snarled viciously at Luke, but Luke was armed and he wasn't so, he climbed off the bed and allowed Luke to back him into the refresher, where the young Jedi locked him in.

Leia was sobbing. Luke cut her bonds and held her tightly against him. “Did he hurt you?” he asked. “Did he actually --”

She shook her head. “He just scared me.” Understatement of the millennium, Luke thought. He pulled a blanket loose from the bed and wrapped it around her. “Let's go see Mon Mothma. She'll know what to do.”

The Alliance didn't believe in execution -- the Empire did more than enough of that -- and because Gledn hadn't actually raped Leia, thanks to Luke, it was decided that he would be exiled.

He fought them the whole way as they dragged him to his ship, a small one-person cruiser preprogrammed to take him out of the system. “I'll get you, little princess,” he snarled at Leia, who was huddled against Luke's side. Her arm around his waist tightened. “Mark my words, you will be mine!”

“I think Leia and I should leave,” Luke told the members of the Alliance Council. “Gledn is fixated on Leia. He is going to try to come back, and she already has bad memories of this place. She doesn't feel safe here anymore. Until we are sure Gledn will not come after her again, Leia needs protection.”

“Wouldn't it be best if she stayed among us, where we can all look after her?” Rieekan asked.

“Maybe when we've settled a new base, but there is no point in abandoning a perfectly good base because of one person's bad memories. Once the time comes for the move, let us know and we will meet you on the new planet.”

“Have you spoken to Leia about this?” Mon Mothma asked.

Luke gave a rueful half-smile. “Truth to tell, it was her idea.”

The leaders all looked at each other. “Very well,” Mon Mothma said. “We'll allow it.”

“When will you leave?” Ackbar asked.

Luke's mouth set in a firm line. “As soon as possible.”

Leia watched Arbra fall away behind them and sighed. She turned to Luke. “Thank you,” she said softly.

Luke opened his arms, and she fell into them, grateful for his comfort. He kissed the top of her head in a brotherly fashion. “You're welcome,” he said. “If it's what you need, I'm all for it.”

She smiled into his shirt, then looked up at him. “So where are we going?”

“Well, we could go to Tatooine and help Lando and Chewie rescue Han. I've been wanting to go through Ben's things anyway, see if I can figure out how to get or make a new lightsaber.”

She shook her head. “Lando says they won't be ready to rescue Han for a while, and I don't think I could stand being that close and unable to do anything.”

“Alright . . . Naboo?”

She gave him a strange look. “Naboo? What in the world made you think of there?”

He gave an embarrassed shrug. “I'm not sure. I don't even know if I've ever heard of it. It just popped into my head.”

“That's odd.”

“Tell me about it.”

She smiled again. “Alright. Naboo it is.”

Vader blew open the door of the Rebel base with a very impressive display of Force power, if he did say so himself. All the Rebels behind it froze in shock and fear as he strode past them without so much as a backwards glance. Apparently the small vessel he had entered the shields in had not registered on their computers.

They must not consider small, one-man fighters to be much of a threat, Vader thought with a mental smirk, reminded of the Death Star fiasco. Filthy hypocrites. Not that I mind, or anything.

He told himself not to get his hopes up about seeing Luke, but he was still disappointed when he reached out for the boy and found him to be too far away for him to still be on the base. Or even within the system.

Skilfully turning the disappointment into anger, he headed for the control room, which was being locked down just as he arrived. He blew the doors open much the same way he had upon entering the base, and tore them off their hinges for good measure.

With sadistic delight he noted that Mon Mothma was overseeing this particular operation. He tossed all the workers away from their stations as if they were rag dolls, then killed them all while he pinned Mothma to a wall, all without lifting a finger. It was much more impressive that way.

He walked lazily up to her, until her nose was only centimeters away from his mask. “Mon Mothma. What an unexpected pleasure.”

“Luke isn't here,” she informed him, still managing to sound like she was in charge despite the hold he had on her windpipe.

“I'm not looking for L--Skywalker,” he replied, slightly shaken by the sound of his son's name on her lips. Did she know of their relationship? Or did she simply assume he was still hunting him as the Rebel who had destroyed the Death Star? Force, Vader hated questions he couldn't find answers to without incriminating himself!

“As much as I look forward to meeting him again in the future, today is dedicated to Torrin Gledn.” he watched her eyes widen. “I see you recognize his name. Tell me where the bastard is, and I'll grant you a quick death.”

“I don't know!” She struggled in his hold. “After the attack – we exiled him.”

“Who did he attack?”

She paused. “Leia.”

The Princess? “Where is she?”



“I don't know.”

Vader growled. “Do you do this on purpose?” he snarled. “Not collect information so that I cannot put a serial rapist back in prison?”

Her eyes widened even further. “We didn't know --”

He let her drop, disgusted. “Jixton!” he called, feeling his agent enter the base with the 501st.

“I'm right here, Uncle D,” Jix replied, irritated, as he walked in the door. “You don't have to yell.”

By now, Vader thought Mon Mothma's eyes were going to fall out of her head. She had never heard anyone speak so disrespectfully to Vader in her life.

Vader couldn't really blame her for that, though. He hadn't, either, before Jix had come along.

He turned to leave with Jix, reaching back with the Force to choke the life out the the Alliance leader. He wished he could stop and enjoy the moment properly, but there was too much to do. Damn Gledn!

He was just tightening his mental fingers when she spoke. “Anakin – we didn't know.”

He didn't pause in his stride, but she knew he was shocked when she felt the pressure on her throat ease.

He left, and she scrambled for her ship.

Vader strode furiously through the Rebel base with Jix on his heels. The agent was recalling all the troops to the Executor, now that it was clear that Gledn was gone and no one knew where he was. But that wasn't Vader's main concern at the moment.

She knows! How can she know? Why hasn't she mentioned that she knows before now? Has she told anyone else? How did she find out? How long as she known? Does she know everything? She must; she knows about Luke and I . . . But does she know who his mother is? They were quite close, for friends who met through politics. She can't know about Obi-Wan and the Jedi and my dreams – why I turned. Nobody knows about that. Except Sidious, anyway.

How can she know!?

Vader climbed into his ship and headed back to the Executor. Upon landing in his private docking bay, he snarled out orders not to be disturbed and managed to slam the door of his private suite behind him – not an easy feat, considering the door was on a sliding track.

Of course, Jix disturbed him half an hour later.

“Hey, Uncle D!” the saucy Corellian greeted his boss cheerfully. “So I've been thinking.”

“Always a dangerous occupation,” Vader shot back, no small amount of venom in his tone. Jix ignored it.

“Be nice. Yeah, I've been thinking about this whole situation. And I think you should send me out to tail the Princess.”

Vader considered it. Sending Jix meant that he could easily monitor Leia's (and Luke's) actions without rousing their suspicions. Jix was charismatic; he could charm his way into anybody's good graces. He could not only protect them, but he could contact Vader more quickly than most Imperial agents. Once Gledn showed up – and he surely would, unwilling to let the Princess slip through his fingers – Vader could kill him before he knew what had hit him.

It was worth a try, at the very least.

“Alright,” Vader conceded. “Go find them. Be their friend. Protect them. And when Gledn shows up --”

“He's all yours,” Jix promised.

“Good.” Vader smiled.

Jix cocked his head to one side. “Hey, Uncle D?”

“Yes, Jixton?”

“Does the Princess look like the girl you saw in your vision?”

Vader blinked. “Yes, I suppose she does. Extraordinarily like her, in fact. Odd, considered they are not related.”

“Do you suppose that's why you saw her and not the Princess? Or was it the Princess, and you just thought it was what's-her-name?”

Vader shook his head, confused. “I don't know.”

Chapter Five: Naboo

Gledn fumed as his spacecraft tore through hyperspace. How dare they! Didn't they know what they were losing by sending him away? And the Princess, little Leia Organa --

The wench. He would have her; he was even more determined of that now that she had spurned him.

When the ship finally allowed him to take control, he set a course for the nearest civilized planet – Fistrem. Perfect. He needed tools to find Leia – he could get them here, he knew, on the black market. He had contacts here that would help him.

And then, the pretty little Princess had better watch her back. He didn't take kindly to being turned down and then publicly humiliated.

Naboo was a beautiful planet, Luke had to admit two days after they had landed. All brightly coloured flora, clear blue water with spectacular waterfalls and lovingly sculpted buildings, it was very nearly what Luke imagined paradise to look like.

However, it was creating some bad memories for Leia.

“Alderaan had streets like this, in the older parts of Aldera,” she would say, or comment on some other similarity, with a mournful sigh every hour or so. When they passed the memorial the people of Theed had erected in memory of Alderaan, right next to the tomb of Queen/Senator Amidala, Luke thought she was going to break down into tears.

He had never seen her like this.

It's a reaction to the attack, he told himself. Just let her get it out of her system.

She also insisted on visiting the tomb. “She's my idol,” she had told Luke, along with a long string of the woman's accomplishments, which included titles and names Luke had never heard of before.

So they had gone into the crypt and looked at the lady's coffin, inscribed with Old Nubian. “I think it says Caring Queen, Commanding Senator, Beloved Daughter, Sister, Mother-To-Be.” Leia frowned. “That's odd. I never hear about a pregnancy.”

“It also doesn't say Wife,” Luke pointed out. “They're probably keeping it quiet so they don't sully her name, if she was a great as you say.”

“She was,” Leia insisted, then eyed a shadow that moved along the edge of the crypt. “Let's go.”

Luke followed her out of the crypt and back into the sunny, crowded street. “Isn't this the Emperor's homeworld?” he asked.

Leia nodded in disgust. “He was elected Chancellor during the reign of Queen Amidala. A lot of people blame her for his takeover of the galaxy because she was the one who called for the Vote of No Confidence in Chancellor Valorum, but that's ridiculous, because she was fourteen at the time, and her wise old Senator told her to do it because Valorum wasn't giving her what she wanted.”

“What did she want?”

“To free her people from the Trade Federation. They had blockaded Naboo and nearly took her prisoner. It was actually Obi-Wan Kenobi who helped her escape,” she added with a quick grin in his direction.

He smiled back. “When was this?”

“Ten years before the Clone Wars began.”


They walked in companionable silence for a while as the people milled about, talking and shopping. Street vendors had set up tables and blankets in the city square and children were playing games in the park. This, Luke thought, is how a life should be lived, when there are no power-hungry Emperor and evil Sith Lord fathers. He sighed. Right, Skywalker. Keep dreaming.

“Leia!” a female voice suddenly shrieked.

They turned to see a brown-haired, brown-eyed woman dash across the square. “Pooja!” Leia squealed back, and took off to meet the woman halfway.

After a round of hugs and excited greetings, Leia remembered Luke. “Pooja, this is Luke Skywalker. Luke, Pooja Naberrie. She was the Senator of Naboo before the Emperor dissolved the Senate.”

Luke gave a slight bow. “Pleasure.”

Pooja gave him a calculating look. “Skywalker? Any relation to Anakin Skywalker?”

Luke's mouth went dry. Anakin Skywalker or – no. “Yes, milady. He was my father.”

She laughed. “You even sound like him. He was always calling every woman he met milady.” She sighed. “But I guess that busts our theory.”

Leia gave her a look. “What theory?”

Pooja waved a hand. “Oh, we just always thought he and Aunt Padmé were in love. But she died pregnant, so --”

“Wait a minute,” Leia interrupted. “Aunt Padmé? I never knew you had an aunt.”

“Um . . .” Pooja blushed. “You'd probably know her as Queen Amidala.”

“She's your aunt?” Leia shrieked. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“Sorry! But it's common knowledge around here – it never crossed my mind to tell you!”

“You knew my father?” Luke interrupted.

“Oh – yes. He was assigned to protect Aunt Padmé during the attempts on her life, and they came to visit. I was only four, mind, but I remember him quite clearly.” She giggled. “I believe I told him that if Aunt Padmé didn't want to marry him, I would.”

Luke smiled longingly; it was hard to imagine Darth Vader ever being so likable. “What did he say?”

“He laughed and gave me a hug and told me he was honoured. I do believe I've had a bit of a case of hero-worship ever since.”

Wow. Definitely un-Vader-like.

“What did he look like?”

She studied him. “Like you – only taller. A lot taller. And his hair was slightly curly.”

“So Pooja --” Leia grabbed her friend's attention once again, and Luke followed them up the street, hoping to talk to her about Anakin Skywalker again before they parted ways.

Vader paced around his suite, impatiently waiting for Jix to comm and say he'd found Luke and the Princess, that they were fine and that Gledn was tucked up in a hole across the street waiting for Vader to come and haul him away in chains.

Or hack him into tiny little pieces. It didn't matter which.

Although the hacking would be much more satisfying.

Thoughts of his son slipped into his mind, as they so often did these days. He reached out to brush the surface of the boy's mind – he found himself doing this as often as twice a day. It was unnerving, how much he wanted the child to accept him, like him, even. He would never tell anyone, but the boy's rejection at Bespin had cut deeper than he had expected, and hurt far more than he let on.

He had a feeling Jix knew, though, For some strange reason, he could never keep anything from Jix.

Something was different this time, however – Luke was resisting the contact? Vader knew the boy didn't exactly welcome it, but he had never before attempted to block Vader out. Vader wasn't sure of the logic behind that – psychology had never been his strong point. But whatever the reason, Luke had never tried to block Vader out before.

But the child's shields were rudimentary at best, and Vader pushed past them, albeit with a bit of difficulty. And for the first time ever, Luke attempted to throw him out.

Che – Watch yourself, child, Vader growled into his son's mind, catching himself from slipping into the Huttese he had trained himself to think in, a precaution against Sidious's mind probes.

Out, Luke replied abruptly.

Vader rolled his eyes. Impertinent child. Though he should expect no less. The boy was his, after all.

The Princess is with you, isn't she? It was the only thing that explained this strange behavior. If the boy was protecting the Princess, he would definitely try to keep Vader at bay. He would try to keep everyone at bay.

There was no reply.

You need to tell me where you are, son, Vader said, sending waves of persuasion through their blood bond. I can protect her. I'm trying to catch the rapist who went after her. Tell me where you are, and when Gledn shows up, I'll deal with him.

Like you dealt with Ben? came the scathing reply. Do you really think I'd turn her safety over to you – after what you've done to her? To both of us?

Do you have any other choice? Vader snapped back. You have no lightsaber, your other Force skills are still running around your head, undisciplined. What exactly do you plan to do when Gledn finds her?

I've got a blaster, Luke replied stubbornly.

Vader gave him a mental look. A blaster? You really think that's going to stop him?

Luke mentally frowned back at him. It did before. He's not you. He can't block the bolts.

Vader was getting exasperated now. Surely he hadn't been this annoying when he was Luke's age? Even Obi-Wan, as you seem to like comparisons to him, didn't like blasters. They're too random. And they ricochet. You're just as likely to shoot the Princess as Gledn.

I don't intend to let him get that close to her.

Vader snorted. And I didn't intend to ever need this Force-damned suit. The fact is, son, things don't always work out the way we intend. You have to be prepared for the worst, not the best.

Luke was quiet. I'm not telling you where we are.

Vader sighed. Very well. I will see you soon.

I just said --

I know what you said, Vader retorted. Just because you won't tell me doesn't mean that I won't find you, son. I'll always find you.

And on that note, Vader retreated, leaving his son to his desired solitude.

Leia waved as Pooja left. She had gotten a job serving the Queen of Naboo after the Senate had been dissolved. Her political mind and knowledge of the Empire must have been invaluable. Leia almost wished she could have a nice, steady life like that, rather than running around the galaxy either for the Rebellion or to escape whatever being was trying to kill her that day.

Or rape her. She shuddered. She'd rather be killed. At least then she didn't have to suffer through the aftereffects. Because there would be no aftereffects. Dead is dead.

She looked over at Luke, who was nosing around the small kitchen in the suite Pooja had set them up in, courtesy of the Queen. It was beautiful, and the view from the balcony was incredible. The hotel itself was relatively new, Pooja had said. It had been completed soon after the death of her aunt, and both it and the new hospital next door had been named after her.

Amidala Memorial Hospital. Amidala Memorial Hotel. It had a nice ring to it, Leia thought. And the street – she couldn't forget the street. Due to the amount of Amidala Memorial buildings on the street, it had been conveniently renamed Amidala Memorial Street.

Pooja had also mentioned that the Queen at the time had been a rather big fan of her aunt's. Leia could see the effects.

Luke handed her a plate of hot food. One thing she had learned about Luke so far on their trip – he was an excellent cook.

He had been rather quiet lately. She knew she had been rather rude to interrupt his questions about his father – she knew how much Anakin Skywalker meant to his son – but she had been so excited to see Pooja, and she'd honestly thought he would have asked her about him again after she had exhausted her own repertoire of questions and caught up with Pooja about her family and what she knew of the situations both on Naboo and in the galaxy. But he had gotten a vacant look about halfway through the day, went to sit in the bathroom, and when he had come out, he hadn't spoken a word. He'd grunted, “Maybe later,” to Pooja when she had asked what else he'd like to know about Anakin, and had merely nodded when she'd taken her leave of them. It wasn't like him.

“Luke, what's wrong?” she asked, moving to sit beside him on his bed.

“It's nothing,” he replied, continuing to shovel down his food.

She frowned at him. “It's not nothing.”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“Fine.” She picked up her own fork, and they finished their meals in silence.

Wrenga Jixton eyed the dark third floor window he knew belonged to Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa in the Amidala Memorial Hotel. He had to get close to the two of them, become their friend, but somehow he doubted that scaling the wall and crawling through their window in the middle of the night was the way to go about it.

He frowned as he noticed movement heading toward the window. Obviously someone wasn't as smart as he was.

He focused the lenses of the binoculars he had with him, turning on the night vision feature. The Force love Vader – he always gave Jix the neatest, most up-to-date gadgets to play with.

However, Jix nearly dropped said gadget when he identified the man climbing up the wall.

Well, shit. He's quick. A quick thumbing of his comlink's emergency call button gave Vader his location and the fact that he had Gledn within his sights. From there, well, the Sith knew perfectly well how to use a homing beacon.

He thought for a moment as he watched Gledn search for a foothold, and came up with a plan. I can totally turn this to my advantage. After all, what better way to make friends than to save their skins?

He crept out from the shadows he had been hiding in and darted silently across the street. Gledn didn't notice him, which was good. He followed the rapist up the wall, hoping nobody on Naboo had a penchant for midnight strolls around Theed.

Gledn jumped in the window, and Jix scurried up the wall until he was under the balcony. He waited until he heard a feminine scream, then leapt up onto the balcony and dashed into the room, blaster drawn and ready.

Luke Skywalker was still scrambling for his own weapon; the Princess had evidently caught Gledn in the groin with a knee or foot. Jix shot, catching Gledn on the back of the head. The man snarled in fury and jumped back out the window and off the balcony, Jix on his heels. The agent, following him down a narrow alley, managed to nick him with another shot before Gledn disappeared into shadows.

Damn it. The shadows work against me, after all.

He holstered his blaster and headed back to the hotel, not even winded. Well, what do you know? Uncle D's insistence on physical fitness paid off.

By the time he reached the hotel again, by way of the door, this time, Leia was huddled against the headboard, shaking slightly. Luke let him in the room.

“Are you alright, milady?” he asked, a term he had picked up from Vader on the very, very rare occasions he discovered the Sith being courteous – normally political situations, when he had to be polite, Jix mused.

She nodded slightly. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem.” He grinned charmingly at her. “It's been my experience that when a guy is seen scaling the wall of one of Theed's most prominent hotels, he's up to no good.”

“Understatement of the year,” Luke muttered.

Jix grinned again, just as his comlink beeped. He nearly groaned. Perfect timing. Not. He made a show of checking the number. “Just a sec. I really should take this.”

He stepped outside the door and moved down the hall, well out of earshot, before answering his impatiently beeping comlink. “What?”

“Have you found them yet?” Vader demanded. "Did he get near them? Have you taken him out?"

“Found them, saved their asses, in the process of making friends. We're on Naboo, in case you haven't figured that out by now; Gledn's here too, obviously. I got him across the back of the head and on the side of the leg.”

“You're shooting's going to hell,” Vader observed. “Are you actually admitting that you missed?”

“Hey, I hit him! I just didn't kill him. I thought you would want that pleasure.”

Vader's helmet made a small movement that only Jix, who knew Vader as well as he did, would be able to notice and interpret as the Sith Lord rolling his eyes. “Vader out.”

Jix headed back to the room and slipped inside when Luke answered his knock, looking expectant.

Okay. Explanation time. Remember: Luke equals Force-sensitive. Force-sensitive equals truth. Must tell the truth – or a version of it.

“My Uncle D,” he said apologetically. “He wanted to know if I've done anything productive with my life yet.”

Luke gave a tight chuckle –Yes! I did it! “I know the feeling.”

Jix smiled back. “No offense, but somehow, I doubt you do.”

Leia insisted on getting off Naboo, and Luke and Jix heartily agreed, so the Rebels set about packing their bags as Jix lounged in a chair.

“Where do you want to go?” Luke asked Leia.

She shrugged and gave Jix a sideways glance. “I don't know.”

Jix rose to his feet. “If I may make a suggestion.”

They looked at him.

“Corellia. My homeworld. I know it quite well – if you'll accept my company, I'll stick with you. An extra blaster never hurts.”

Luke looked at Leia, who pursed her lips as she stared at him. Jix noted that she still hadn't spoken a word to him. The attack must have shaken her up, he concluded. Or she didn't trust him. Maybe both.

Oh, wait. Wasn't her boyfriend from Corellia, too? The one Vader had frozen in carbonite?

Maybe that wasn't the best suggestion. Oh well. Too late now.

But Leia nodded. Yes!

“We'd like to go with you,” Luke replied. He gave a wry grin. “Will we get to meet this illustrious Uncle D of yours?”

Jix grinned back. “Sure thing, kid. Sure thing.”

Chapter Six: Friend

“He took me in after I was expelled from stormtrooper school for disobedience,” Jix explained as he fiddled with the ship's controls. “I haven't got any close family, see. But me and Uncle D, we get along pretty good. He's hard, but he's fair. Honestly, I wouldn't trade him for anyone.”

Leia nodded absently as Jix and Luke continued to chat. She wasn't sure why she didn't feel as comfortable with the man as Luke seemed to; maybe her experiences with Gledn had made her wary of men she didn't know.

“What does he do?” Luke asked.

“He's – in law enforcement,” Jix replied casually, but his split-second pause made Leia's head whip around to stare at him. He met her gaze evenly, but . . . was it just her imagination, or was there a hint of defiance there, lurking at the back of those dark brown eyes?

Luke shot her a worried look, and at first she thought he had picked up a lie from this Jix character through the Force. Then she realized he was just wondering at her jumpy reaction.

Frowning to herself, she left the cockpit and headed for the bunkers, determined to sleep through most of their acquaintance with this man.

Luke smiled apologetically at Jix. “Sorry. She's a little on edge right now.”

“With good reason,” Jix replied, waving a hand dismissively. “So yeah . . . where were we?”

“Your uncle.”


“So . . . law enforcement, huh?”

“Yeah. He likes it, he's good at it – you should see him at it, it's insane. He plans out every little detail, comes up with the most complicated plans at times. But they so often work. He could usually do something more simply, but he says it's too boring that way.”

Luke laughed. “Sounds like a friend of ours.”

Jix cocked an eyebrow. “Wouldn't happen to be a certain Captain Solo, would it?”

“How'd you know?” Luke asked, surprised.

Jix snorted. “Please. The three of you are like some sort of three-headed alien. And besides, I'm from Corellia too, remember? I know all about our penchant for strange and death-defying stunts.”

Luke chuckled again. He didn't know why Leia didn't like Jix – maybe it had to do with the whole Gledn thing. But he thought the Corellian was sent by the Force. Leia was in no state to control their situation, and Luke didn't know the galaxy half as well as Han did. Jix may not be Han, but he was someone like him, and that was the next best thing.

Vader was pacing the bridge impatiently when his comlink beeped. He strode to a conference room, glowered at the occupants until they nervously gathered their belongings and scurried out the door, then sealed himself inside to answer Jix's call in private.

“It's about time, Jixton,” Vader growled at his agent.

Jix winced. “Keep your voice down, will you? They're asleep in the next room, but Force only knows how little it will take to wake them up. And I couldn't call until they were asleep, you know that. I'm sure that this little conversation would go over real well with Her Worship. She's been giving me evil glares to rival yours all evening.”

“Intimidated by a tiny slip of a girl, Jix? You're getting senile.”

“Hey! She's an intimidating person, alright? Well, maybe not to you, the picture of Imperial brazenness, but to us mere mortals, she's a scary little lady.”

Vader shook his head fractionally. Yes, the Princess was strong-willed, but she certainly didn't deserve the respect Jix was giving her. “If you say so, Jixton.”

“I do,” Jix said resolutely.

Vader sighed. “How is my son?”

“Ha! Kid can't shut up about you. Not that he knows it's you, of course, but he's all eager to meet my Uncle D, it's hilarious.”

Vader's eyebrows shot up underneath the helmet. “You told them about me? Using that Force-forsaken, disrespectful nickname you insist upon?”

“Hey, it's totally respectful, like calling somebody Grandfather even thought they aren't your grandfather, you know? Except that by using Uncle, I'm implying that you aren't that old.”

“Thanks for that.” Vader's mechanical voice was dryer than Tatooine.

Jix, as usual, ignored the sarcasm. “No problem. See? I really do love you, Uncle D.”

“Right. Are you going to make me repeat myself, Jixton?”

Jix froze. A heartbeat went by, then two. “Um. Yes?” the agent finally replied.

Vader sighed again. He seemed to do that an inordinate amount of times when Jix was around. “You told them about me?” he prompted.

“Oh! Right. Yeah, I did. Well, not about you, exactly. I kind of twisted some stuff, but not enough so that your kid would think I was lying, but enough so that they won't think it's you.”

“Jix, you could have told them I commanded the entire Imperial Navy, and if you kept calling me by that ridiculous moniker they never would have known who I was.”

“And see, that's where you're wrong, Uncle D. They're a lot smarter than you give them credit for being. They may be idealistic criminals, but they do have brains. Fairly good ones, too. You'd be proud of that kid of yours.”

He was proud, but he wasn't about to let Jix know that. He's never hear the end of it. “Where are you, Jix?”

“On a shuttle going directly to Corellia.”

Corellia? Jix, that's on the other side of the galaxy from here! You couldn't have been a little more considerate of my position in your plans?”

Jix cringed slightly. “Sorry, Uncle D.”

“You should be. Force! It will take me at least a week to get there. Gledn could be there and gone, and then you'll drag them off into the Unknown Regions --”

“No I wouldn't!”

“-- or somewhere equally fierfek'a, and you'll end up getting everyone killed before I can catch up to you!”

“Okay, first of all, I'm not as stupid as you think. Secondly, I'm not as incapable as you think, either. And thirdly, was that word Huttese? Since when do you speak Huttese?”

Oh, shit. Vader switched off the comlink, wondered briefly if he had slipped into the language before and nobody had dared mention it to him, and walked out of the conference room.

“Piett,” he said to his admiral. “Set course for Corellia.”

Gledn seethed with fury as he sat in the small underground lounge on the small world of Moth, in the Naboo system. He was here nursing the wounds that stupid, brawny Corellian had dealt him back on Naboo, and he hated it here. The longer he sat here, the further away the bratty little ingrate called Princess could go.

She should be grateful that a real man like him wanted her! She should be letting him have his way with her whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted, and not running around the galaxy like a frightened child, surrounding herself with Jedi and Corellians!

The anger was making his head pound even more than it already was. The fury on his face made other patrons steer clear of him, not that he cared. He loathed the Corellian for slowing him down. And the man couldn't even shoot decently, couldn't even land a fatal shot. What an amateur!

Well, he'd been better than the so-called, Jedi, at least.

The Princess could do so much better that those two . . . what was the Alderaanian term? Oh yes, those two nerfherders. She needed a man who could both protect her and keep her in her place at his side. Someone like him.

Stupid girl, throwing away her only chance at a great life. Because he wouldn't be so lenient the next time he caught up with her. The next time he found her, she was going to be his for one glorious night, and then she was going to pay for her insolence with her life.

Jix woke early, and came to full awareness all at once, with no transition period between sleep and wakefulness, as he always did nowadays. It was something Vader had insisted he learn, and he had it admit it was handy at times. It had kept him from being killed once, and gave him an edge over other beings early in the morning.

Like now. Half an hour later, Luke dragged himself through the door into the cockpit, where Jix was lounging with his breakfast. The kid stared at him with bleary eyes for a moment, then groaned. “You're one of those people who is sickeningly cheerful in the morning, aren't you?”

Jix nearly spat out a mouthful of food at that, the urge to laugh was so strong. “My uncle will argue that point with you until the end of time,” he said when he had himself back under control and the food safely swallowed.

Luke grinned tiredly at the mention of Vader, and Jix felt a small twinge of anxiety. How would the kid react when he found out just who his uncle was? The Princess would throw a fit, Jix was sure, but he expected that. Luke was a different matter. He had a strange feeling that Luke would go completely silent and stare at him with betrayal in those big blue eyes – eyes, Jix knew, that were the exact same shade of his father's.

He's really prefer the kid yell and scream at him. At least then he could defend himself.

All the stories he had told them were, in essence, true – heavily edited, but they didn't need to know that right now. When they found out, he doubted they would believe him anyway; most of the stories he had told them didn't paint Vader as the evil, sadistic villain they believed, even wanted, him to be.

Jix shook his head in disgust. How much war and death could be avoided if people didn't assume things and actually tried to understand each other?

Jix knew more about Vader than anyone – except maybe the Emperor, but Jix knew Vader wasn't telling his master everything anymore, whereas he knew just about everything that went on in the Sith Lord's life. The Emperor likely knew more of Vader's history, but Jix believed he knew more of Vader as a person.

And Vader was a person, not a tool, or a weapon, or anything else that was controlled by someone else. He had thoughts and feelings, and despite his lethal temper tantrums, he was Jix's idol. The man was brilliant, pure and simple, and Jix loved learning from him, loved working for him, loved the fact that Vader felt he was needed.


Both men twisted around to look at the Princess, ruffled and flushed from sleep. She moved over to her best friend and curled up at his side. He pulled her close with an arm around her shoulder and she tucked her head under his chin.

She was far more vulnerable than she let on, Jix thought. He only hoped she'd let Vader help her.

Mon Mothma fidgeted all through the meeting. She knew everyone was wondering what was wrong with her, but she couldn't help worrying about Leia and Luke. Vader had attacked their base in an effort to find them – how had he known where they were? How could they protect themselves from whatever he had done to find them?

She wondered how Leia was doing. She had been so frightened when she and Luke had left. Mon wondered where they went, how they were living, if any Imperials had recognized them and if they had managed to escape from them, or if they had come up with suitable disguises and if so what were those disguises? Would they still have the same ship, or should she try to call on their comlinks first? The Alliance had set up another base and Mon really wanted Leia back to bounce ideas off of, but what if this base wasn't secure either? If they were going to be attacked again she didn't want Leia in the middle of it, especially if Mon herself should happen to die. Leia would be the leader the Alliance needed.

She had been thinking hard about her own mortality since Vader had nearly killed her. She had managed to shock him once, but she doubted the same tactic would work again.

Besides, she couldn't betray Leia like that. Even if it meant her on life.

Rebba Parin growled under her breath as her comlink chimed from the other room. She had a date tonight that she had spent all afternoon preparing for, and if it was the man calling to cancel on her . . .

The comlink chimed again. “I'm coming, I'm coming,” she snapped at it, gingerly picking up the skirt of her gown. She didn't want to step on the hem and destroy the dress, but neither did she want it wrinkled. “This is what I get for agreeing to go to some ridiculous, over-the-top dinner party at the museum,” she grumbled.

The comlink chimed again.

She squealed angrily and scooped up the blasted machine. She glanced at the name on her caller display, then did a double take and glanced at it again. Jixton?!

Rebba had grown up with Wrenga Jixton, making mud pies and tree forts and generally terrorizing the neighbourhood. She had missed him terribly when he left to sign his life away in service to the Empire. She had later heard of his court-martial and had waited expectantly for him to come home.

Except he never had, and she hadn't heard of him since. Nearly four years had passed, and she had finally given him up for dead.

But dead men don't use comlinks.

She flipped on the switch. “Wrenga Jixton, you have some nerve! Whatever the hell you want the answer is no! I spent four years waiting for you to come home and you never sent so much as a holocard! If you think --”

“Rebba!” a low voice hissed. She froze. That didn't sound like Jix . . .

“Jix?” she asked tenatively.

“Yeah, it's me, but Rebba, keep your voice down, alright? I need a place to stay, I need it quietly, and I need it fast.”

She dropped her voice, but didn't let up on the venom she injected into it. “Didn't you hear me, Jixton? I said no. You drop out of my life for four years without so much as a Hey Rebba, I'm still alive, and you can damn well expect not to come back!”

“Look, Rebba, I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. Just get me a place I won't be noticed, meet me there, and I'll explain everything.”

She couldn't place it, but there was something about his voice that made her realize that he had changed. Something had happened to him – it didn't sound like it was necessarily a bad thing, but it was something. She sighed.

“Fine. You remember the house I've got out by the waterfall?”

“Yeah . . . that should be perfect. I'll be there in about a day.”

“Alright, I'll --” A knock at her door interrupted her. Her date. “Jix, I've got to go. I'll see you in a day.”

“Rebba, I've got a couple guests --”

“Fine, whatever. I've got to go.”

She hung up and plastered a big smile on her face as she went to greet her date, but she couldn't help but wonder just what Jix had dragged her into this time.

Chapter Seven: Corellia

“Where are we?” Leia asked, looking around the large house suspiciously.

“Family friend's place,” Jix replied as he hunted for the light switch. “Where, where, where – Ah ha! I found it!”

“Does this person know we're here?” Leia shot back coldly, watching him move around the room. Luke stepped close to her and placed a hand on the small of her back, encouraging her to calm down.

“Of course,” Jix said easily. “She'll be here later to meet you and make sure we've got everything we need. She said she'd do any running we need, too, so that we don't have to go out in public and, you know, draw attention to ourselves or whatever.”

“When did I agree to that?” a woman's voice asked from the doorway.

All three of them turned. “Rebba!” Jix pounced on the newcomer, grabbing her in a bear hug.

“Back off, you bantha. You've got some explaining to do. Oh, don't look at me like that!” she snarled as his eyes grew wide and his lower lip began to tremble.

Jix looked back at Luke and Leia. “Rebba, these are my guests, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. They – OW!”

Rebba grabbed Jix by the ear and twisted it. “You're coming with me. Now. Excuse us,” she said sweetly to Luke and Leia as she marched Jix into one of the rooms down the long hallway as the large Corellian whimpered in her grip.

Leia's lips compressed. “Why do I get the feeling that we're not as welcome as Jix said we were?”

“What the hell, Jixton?” Rebba hissed at her friend. “Are you trying to get me killed?!”

“You won't be killed, Rebba,” Jix told her sulkily, rubbing his sore ear.

“The hell I won't be! If the Empire finds out I've been harbouring rebels – fugitives from the law --”

“Relax. It's taken care of.”

“And just what is that supposed to mean?!”

Jix sighed. “Just trust me.”

No! I want to know what's going on, and I want to know now!”

Jix sighed. This hadn't been in the plan, telling Rebba everything, but he should have known it would be unavoidable. She'd always insisted on being in the loop.

“I – I really should get permission first,” he mumbled.

She blinked at him. “What?” she snapped.

“This is highly classified information, Rebba,” he retorted sharply. “I can't just go around telling it to every person who asks me to. That's the most efficient way to get in trouble with my boss.”

Rebba gritted her teeth. “Fine. I'll be back in five minutes.” She stalked out the door, closing it behind her.

Jix almost laughed when he heard the lock click. As if a lock could keep him contained. Vader didn't employ him for nothing.

Rebba stormed away from the room only to nearly run over the Rebels as she turned a corner. They looked nearly as surprised as she felt.

“Sorry,” she muttered.

The man spoke up. “Look, if it's too much of a bother, I'm sure Jix won't mind moving.”

She looked him fully in the face. Blond hair, blue eyes, rather handsome. “Skywalker, right?”

He nodded.

She sighed. “We'll see what Jix has to say first. I trusted him as a kid; I'll give him the benefit of the doubt now.”

She fixed them both with a steely look. “But just because I'm putting you up does not mean I have any inclination to join your Rebellion, alright? While you're here, we're going to pretend it doesn't exist, got it?”

“Yes, ma'am,” they both muttered.

“Hey, Uncle D,” Jix said softly. “Look, I'm in a bit of a situation.”

A metallic sigh came out of the black mask. “What have you done now, Jixton?”

“Nothing! It's just, the girl I called to put us up, my friend Rebba, well . . . she wants to know. Everything. And I'm not sure how I can get out of not telling her.”

“Do you trust her?”


“Then tell her. But insist she stay at the house with you when she doesn't have to work or run any errands. No socializing. I'll judge the situation when I get there.”

“'Kay. Thanks, Uncle D. How long will you be?”

“Five days. Four, if I can convince Piett to take a shortcut. But you know what the Academy teaches about shortcuts.”

Jix grinned. “I'm sure you'll find a way to inspire him, Uncle D. You're just that kind of guy.”

“Well?” Rebba demanded.

Jix frowned at her, eyes flat. Rebba shivered. She'd never seen him look so . . . commanding. Or frightening.

“Sit,” he ordered. She sat, hardly conscious of what she was doing.

“I've been given permission to tell you this under the condition that you stay here when not at work or running errands. You won't be allowed to go out to parties, on dates, anything like that.”

She nodded instantly. “Alright.”

Jix took a breath. “You've heard about the escape of Torrin Gledn? The serial rapist?”

She nodded.

“He's after Leia Organa. My boss is trying to catch him, but he's an Imperialist and she's a Rebel, so I'm acting as a go-between – not that they realize that, of course. But my boss will be showing up here in about four days, and hopefully Gledn will find us soon after that so Uncle D can, uh, take care of him.”

“Uncle D?”

“My boss.”

“That's helpful, Jix,”she said sarcastically.

“You'd know him as Darth Vader.”

Jix thought Rebba was going to faint. She had gone white and her eyes were fixed on his face, unmoving.


She blinked, and her eyes seemed to grow even wider than they had been before she'd moved.

“Darth Vader?” she whispered. “Coming here?


She shook her head slowly, as if to clear it of the shock. “No wonder you said I didn't have to worry about harbouring Rebels,” she said slowly. “If Vader knows – if Vader allows it --”

“Hell, he may even thank you for it,” Jix replied. “Here's another little secret – that's his kid in there. Skywalker.”

Rebba's jaw dropped. “You're lying.”

“I am not, I swear. Kid's still in denial, of course – thinks it's the worst possible thing to ever happen to anybody. If it was me, though, I think I'd still be celebrating.”

“You like Vader?” Rebba's tone was disbelieving.

“Love him. Man's a genius. My freaking hero.”

Rebba shook her head again. “I need to go to bed.”

Jix just laughed.

“So are we staying?” Luke asked Jix as he emerged from his talk with Rebba.

Jix grinned triumphantly at him. “We're staying!”

Vader paced the bridge as he waited for Piett to appear. He hoped the admiral would be reasonable and understand the urgency that consumed this mission. Vader knew he was right to take the shortcut, no matter how close it was to a black hole (and this one wasn't even that close, really); Piett would have to realize that. One way or another.

Vader sighed. He didn't really want to do anything too damaging to Piett, if it came to that. He was intelligent, resourceful, and he was willing to hear Vader out on some of his more wild battle plans and work with the Sith to evolve them into something one could expect from the largely incompetent forces under his command. It wasn't every day he found an officer like that.

But still, this was of utmost importance, and Imperial cadets were told that never, ever, under any circumstances, were they to take shortcuts. Vader personally disagreed with that. If the cadets couldn't handle flying near a black hole, then it wasn't much of a loss.

Piett came onto the bridge, saw Vader and headed for him. “My lord?” he asked.

Vader looked at him, wondering what kind of intuition he possessed to know that Vader wanted to talk to him. “Admiral, I wish you to take of shortcut.”

Piett didn't even blink. “Of course, my lord. What are the coordinates?”

Vader stared at him for a second. What --?

Then he understood. Unlike his other admirals – unlike most of his other crewmen – Piett trusted him. Trusted him to get them to their destination safely, trusted him to look after them, trusted him to know what he was doing.

It was a strange sensation for the Sith Lord, to be trusted, but he had to admit that it wasn't an unpleasant one.

He gave Piett the coordinates, thinking all the while that he had underestimated his admiral.

Torrin Gledn wasn't sure he liked Corellia.

It was too . . . uncivilized. There were too many bar fights, too much cheating at card games. Too many smugglers and bounty hunters had come from Corellia – they were an ambitious lot, and obviously considered themselves above the law. No, he didn't like it here at all.

And to make matters worse, he hadn't seen hide nor hair of the Princess or her friends. He needed to find her. He needed her.

“Leia?” Luke called.

She rolled over. “It's open,” she replied.

He cracked the door open. “Still in bed at this hour? Leia, it's nearly noon.”

“I'll have to know I was never a morning person, Flyboy,” she informed him with a yawn. “But when you're part of the Rebellion, well, you don't really have a choice.”

“Well, you may want to get up. Jix says we're going to have company soon.”

She sat up. “Company? What does he mean, company?” she demanded, getting ready to panic.

Luke's eyes widened. “Relax. It's just his Uncle D.”

She let herself fall back to the pillows. “Ah, so we finally get to meet the famous Uncle D,” she said sarcastically. “I hope he's as impressive as Jix has made him out to be, or I will be severely disappointed.”

Luke laughed. “I agree completely. So are you going to get up?”

She sighed. “I suppose I had better, huh?”

Luke nodded solemnly. “It would probably be a good idea – unless you want this guy to see you in your pajamas . . .”

She threw a pillow at him, hitting him square in the face. “I don't think I like what you're implying, Skywalker.”

Luke wrinkled his nose at her. “Honestly, I don't think I like it either.”

She took the pillow from him only to throw it at him again. Prepared this time, he caught it and tossed it back at her. The battle continued until Jix came to get them with the information that Uncle D would be there within the hour.

Vader paced the bridge as he watched Corellia through the large window. Jix had just transmitted the coordinates of his location, and the Executor had settled into orbit to wait until they were close enough to the site to take a shuttle down to the planet. Which would be in about five minutes, if Vader had judged it right.

“My lord, your shuttle has been prepared and is ready for take-off,” a captain informed him.

“Very good,” he said. “Gather half a squadron of stormtroopers from the 501st. They will come planetside with me and the admiral.”

“Yes, my lord.” The captain hurried off.

“Ready, admiral?” Vader asked Piett.

“When you are, my lord,” Piett replied.

“Good. By the time we board the shuttle, it should be time to take off. Let's go.”

The half-squadron of stormtroopers were already there and settled on board. Vader slid into the pilot's seat, Piett acting as co-pilot beside him, and they lifted off.

“How do you think this is going to go over, my lord?” Piett asked. “I mean . . . they are Rebels.”

“That's the fun part,” Vader replied.

Vader knocked on the door.

It didn't open. He knocked again, preparing to blast it off its hinges with the Force.

“I'm coming!” a feminine voice shouted.

The door opened and a tall woman stood staring at them. “Oh,” she said, her voice small. “I mean – come in, Lord Vader.”

Vader was about to reply when another voice called out, “Who is it, Rebba?”

Vader nearly laughed at the look on Rebba's face as two figures rounded the corner, then stopped dead at the sight of him.

“Vader,” the Princess hissed, her shoulders tense.

“Your Highness; Skywalker,” Vader greeted them. “We meet again.”

Luke and Leia stood transfixed, unable to move as the Dark Lord swept in to the room.

At that moment, Jix entered the room with a handful of cookies. Luke looked over at the Corellian, trying to mentally urge him to run.

But Jix's reaction took both Luke and Leia completely by surprise.

“Hey, Uncle D!” he greeted Vader cheerfully. “Want a cookie?”

Chapter Eight: Hiding

Leia stared in horror at the imposing figure before her, shrinking back involuntarily as Vader stepped forward. Luke's arm went around her waist, pulling her tight against himself, as if he could protect her from the monster on their doorstep.

Her wide brown eyes fell on Jix. “You,” she hissed angrily. “You lied to us! You filthy little --”

“Jixton did not lie to you,” Vader interrupted her smoothly.

Leia merely glared at him, wishing she could shoot blaster bolts out of her eyes.

“Your Highness, I would like to talk to you,” Vader continued, his mechanical voice bordering on something neither Luke nor Leia could place, until they realized it was the grudging respect of one leader to another.

“Well, I wouldn't like to talk to you,” Leia retorted icily, her chin rising.

“Unfortunately for you, that wasn't a request,” Vader informed her, steel reentering his tone as her took her free arm and pulled her out of Luke's grasp and into the living room.

Luke wasn't sure how to feel as he watched Vader seat Leia in a stuffed chair, then take one himself. Part of him was hurt, as the Sith Lord hadn't even acknowledged his presence, except for his initial greeting, and even though he hadn't wanted to see Vader, the man was still his father. Another part of him was confused, still another was worried about Vader's motives and Leia's safety, and yet another part wanted to laugh at the image of the Vader, all decked out in his fearsome armour, sitting in the rather feminine living room of Rebba Parin's lake house.

“Princess,” Vader said as softly as he could, “regardless of what you think, I am here to help you. Torrin Gledn is not a man to be taken lightly – he's wanted on several planets for rape and assault. I want to put him away just as much as you want to see him put away --”

“You didn't do such a good job of that last time,” Leia bit out.

“The officers who allowed him to escape have been dealt with --”

“You see, that's exactly it!” Leia exploded. “Who are you to judge who gets put away for rape and assault? You brutalize your men all the time, you go through their minds are violently as Gledn takes women, if you can, and you think you have the right to judge him? You're just as bad, if not worse, than he is!”

Vader was silent for several moments, his harsh breathing the only noise in the room. Initially, Luke was afraid Leia had crossed the line, that Vader would strangle the life out of her just like they knew he did to officers who did not meet with his approval, but as the seconds ticked by, Luke gradually began to breathe again.

And then, Vader spoke; calmly, rationally, and still trying to convince Leia of his purpose.

“Contrary to popular belief, I had a mother, Princess. And she died years ago. But she always told me that the biggest problem in this universe is that no one helps each other. And so I am going to help you, whether you like it or not. It would, however, be a lot easier for both of us if you would cooperate.”

“I doubt your mother would be very proud of you now,” Leia snarled scathingly.

Luke was startled. He'd never heard Leia say anything so insensitive.

Neither Luke nor Leia saw Vader move, but the next time they blinked, Vader's hand was around Leia's throat, pressing hard on her windpipe as she leaned back against the back of her chair, trying to get away from Vader's fearsome presence. “Do not presume to know what my mother wanted for me,” he hissed furiously, then let her go as abruptly as he'd grabbed her and strode from the room, not even glancing at Luke as he passed.

Luke looked over at Leia, who was white and shaking. The red marks ringing her throat were the only evidence of what had transpired. She looked up at Luke and whispered his name, sounding like a lost child.

He moved over and sat next to her. She leaned into him and he just held her as she cried tears of frustration and confusion.

Rebba sat on her bed, fidgeting. Jix had ushered her into her room after Vader had grabbed the Rebel Princess, and now he sat in the overstuffed chair, elbows on his knees, across from her, just as silent as she was as her studied his clasped hands.

She couldn't take the silence any more. “Jix?”

“Mmm?” he replied, not even bothering to look up at her.

“Why didn't you come home, after your expulsion?”

Now he did look at her. “Come back here? And do what?”

She shrugged, almost sorry she'd asked. Obviously, he hadn't cared enough about what he'd left behind to return to it.

He scrubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand, reminding Rebba of a young child. “I did think about it, Rebba, really I did. But – things happened. I realized that while I was out of favour, anyone I associated with was in danger. I was on a little backwater for a pit stop, and ended up making friends with the locals. I met Vader, I saved his life, offered my eternal servitude in exchange for a guarantee of safety for my friends, and I've been working with him ever since. Home just . . . kind of took a back seat.”

“So you're basically his slave,” Rebba summed up.

Jix's eyes widened. “No, Force no! Don't ever let him hear you call anyone in his employ a slave. No no no. We're very nearly partners nowadays. It's thanks to him that I've got the little half-billion-credit nest egg that I've got.”

Now it was Rebba's turn to look shocked. “You're --”

“-- filthy stinking rich, hell yes.” Jix grinned.

Rebba shook her head, unable to keep a smile off her own lips. “Well, who would've thought? Slacker Jix is a multimillionaire.”

“Yeah . . .” Jix said dreamily.

There was a heavy pause.

“I thought I loved you, once,” Rebba admitted quietly after a moment.

Jix looked down again. “Yeah, well, we all go through that stage, don't we? Crushing on our best friends?”

“Force knows why, considering I can remember when you wanted to roast worms and roaches and eat them with the salad because one of the older kids told you they'd make you grow.”

“Hey, I was small for my age! Of course I wanted to get bigger!”

“But worms? And roaches? I mean, ew! How naïve can you get?”

“Well, all the birds manage to survive on them, I figured they had be good for you somehow!”

Rebba just shook her head, staring at the blanket covering the bed as memories of her childhood with Jix overwhelmed her.

“We did kiss, once,” Jix remembered. “On that dare from Karena. Remember?”

“Behind the garden shed.” Rebba nodded. “We were fifteen. It was my first, you know.”


“Yeah. Probably why I fell for you so hard after.”

“I didn't realize.” His voice was quiet, wistful. “I wish I had. 'Cause I fell for you, too, you know.”

“She stared at him. “Really?”

He nodded, gazing at his hands once more. Then he lifted a hand, fingers curved as if holding a champagne glass, and said, “To the past. And what might have been.”

She smiled. “I don't know. I'd've probably killed you within a month.” But she pretended to clink her own invisible glass against his.

Jix laughed. “You underestimate my capacity for survival.”

Rebba wrinkled her nose at him. “And you underestimate the height of my expectations.”

Jix was about to reply when something drew his attention, and his head turned toward the door. He listened for a moment to something Rebba couldn't hear no matter how hard she strained her ears, then stood.

“I think they're done. I better go. Uncle D's going to want to talk to me.”

And then he was gone, leaving Rebba to face the fact that no matter what she wanted, Jix had commitments he could not back out from.

And, truth be told, she didn't really want him to.

Rebba smiled at Jix's retreating back. So this is what closure feels like.

“How could he have done this to us?!” Leia demanded through her tears, her voice muffled by Luke's tunic.

Accurately assuming that she was talking about Jix, Luke replied, “Quite easily, apparently.”

“How come you didn't pick up all the lies he told us?” she asked him, a trace of accusation in her tone.

“I swear to you Leia,” he said urgently, “that I had no knowledge of this. I never sensed a lie; maybe everything he told us was true, from his point of view.”

“Vader is as kind and loving as a mother nerf?” Leia summarized sarcastically.

“Well, it is hard to believe,” Luke admitted, “but hey, if that's what he really thinks, then I won't detect it as a lie.”

Leia sighed and leaned her forehead against his chest. “Why do things have to be so complicated?” she whined, tears threatening to start again.

Luke chuckled hollowly. “When in the last three and a half years have our lives not been complicated?”

Leia sniffed. “I's just – why Vader, of all people? He can't possible have as good of intentions as he says he has. What are we going to do?”

Luke held her tighter. “Our best,” he said. “And when this is over, no matter who ends it, we go our separate ways.”

“I think we should go our separate ways long before then,” Leia muttered.

Luke was silent for a moment, then said quietly, “But Leia . . . I know you're going to hate hearing this, but while we're under his protection, we're safer than we ever were on our own. I know he's evil, and I know he's cruel, but as long as he's offering us sanctuary . . . I think we should take it.”

She stared at him. “You're right. I can't believe I'm hearing this! Luke --”

“I know, Leia; I know. But please, just trust me on this, okay? And I promise, the slightest hint of trouble and we'll leave, alright? I promise.”

“And just who are you going to go to with those terms? Vader himself?”

Luke smiled slightly,. “Nah,” he said casually. “I'll just go to Jix. He's got to be good for something, right?”

Luke wandered the halls of the large house, wondering how he was going to find Jix. He had assumed the spy's room was near his own, which was in turn beside Leia's, but if it had been, it wasn't anymore. Probably a good thing, since Leia's ready to slaughter him in his sleep.

He wasn't in the kitchens, nor in any of the sitting rooms Luke found on his travels. The tours he and Leia had been given when they first arrived, he was now realizing, had been quite condensed.

After concluding his hunt by checking all the refreshers he could find, Luke was ready to give up. Obviously, the Corelllian had just disappeared into thin air --

“That's it, I am so not talking to you anymore,” a familiar voice huffed from behind an ajar door.

“Thank the Force,” came Vader's unmistakable bass. If Luke hadn't known any better, he would have said he detected a note of dry humour in Vader's voice.

He crept closer to the door, curious as to what they were arguing about, but all movement and noise abruptly stopped within the room, at least from what Luke could hear. He crouched low and moved to the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside --

-- only to have it swing open of its own free will . . .

. . . or not.

Finding himself at about face-to-knee with black leather and armour clad legs, a cold knot formed in Luke's gut. He let his eyes travel upwards, over a black utility belt, a black chest plate full of small, blinking coloured lights, and into the polished black mask he had learned to fear.

What?” Vader snapped.

“He's in a mood,” Jix called from within, sounding far to cheerful for someone who had just been arguing with a Dark Lord of the Sith. “Come on in.”

“Since my ever-so-esteemed employee had willed it,” Vader replied; this time, the sarcasm in his voice was too obvious to miss.

“You know I only have your best interests at heart,” Jix told him. “You should listen to me more often.”

Vader shut the door behind Luke, gestured for him to sit down, and moved to stand across from Jix, arms folded stubbornly over his wide chest, feet aggressively set shoulder-width apart. “I thought you weren't talking to me.”

“I changed my mind.”


“Look, I just don't think --”

“I don't care what you think. Just do as I say.”

“But I --”

“I didn't hire you to question my orders, Jixton. I hired you for your skills. Go do your job. Now.

“She's not going to go for it!”

“We'll never know that if you don't go ask!

“Get him to ask!” Jix pointed at Luke, whose eyes widened at suddenly being included in this conversation. “She doesn't want to rip his throat out with her bare hands. She may even listen to him!”

Vader turned and stared at Luke for a long, long moment. Then he finally spoke to him. “We --”

Jix cleared his throat loudly and pointedly. “Ahem.”

Vader turned his head to glare at Jix, who, to Luke's utter surprise, didn't even bat an eyelash, then looked back at Luke. “I believe that the best way to catch Gledn is to use your Princess as bait. Let it be known,” he added bitingly, “that Jix does not agree.”

“Oh, wait now, I agree!” Jix corrected. “I just don't think she's going to.”

“I though you were here to protect Leia,” Luke said, eyes narrowing.

“By catching Gledn, I can protect not only her but any other woman unfortunate enough to draw his attention,” Vader pointed out.

“By putting her in danger!”

“She will be quite safe, I assure you. The Force gives me the means to monitor her surroundings at all times, whether she is in my presence or not. I will know when Gledn is near, and I will be able to intercept him before he he ever catches sight of her.”

Luke stared at him, face hard but eyes questioning. Was this power Vader claimed to have a trick anyone could learn, or was it something exclusive to the Dark Side? Luke wished he had the knowledge to be able to tell the difference.

“We can ask,” he said at last. “But I can't guarantee she'll agree.”

“Vader nodded solemnly. “Very well. Lead on.”

Luke led them out of the room, feeling strange as Vader followed him, Jix bringing up the rear. He couldn't help but relax, though, at Jix's next comment.

“Oh, don't you just love it when everybody gets along?”

Chapter Nine: Plans

Much to Luke's amazement, Leia actually agreed to the plan.

“The Jedi did much the same thing when Senator Amidala's life was threatened,” she explained to Luke, then shot a glare at Vader. “Of course, you wouldn't know, since you don't study Republican history, do you?” she asked Vader acidly.

Luke had the sudden, decidedly odd feeling that behind the expressionless mask, Vader, although his back stiffened, couldn't hold back a smirk. “On the contrary,” he replied dryly.

Leia glared, but wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that. Instead, she changed the subject. “So when do you want to put this plan of yours into action?”

“Tomorrow night,” Vader replied. “We will send troops from the Executor – disguised as Rebels, of course – to each sizable town and city on Corellia tomorrow afternoon. With luck, Gledn will overhear them talking about you and make his way here.”

Leia nodded. “Alright. I'll talk to you tomorrow.” With that she turned her back on the Imperials, effectively ending the conversation.

Luke watched Vader's glove curl into a fist as the younger man followed Leia out of the room. Obviously, the Dark Lord wasn't used to being walked out on.

Late that night, Luke lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, when Vader brushed against his mind.

Luke immediately slammed his shields up and rolled onto his side, eyes closed and breathing evenly. If he was lucky --

You can stop pretending to be asleep, child.

Luke sighed and rolled back onto his back. Sorry.

Deception does not become you.

That's rich, coming from you! Luke rolled his eyes.

How so?

You deceive people all that time!

Like when?

I don't know! All the time!

He felt Vader's amusement. You don't know what you're talking about.

Luke sighed. What do you want?

I sensed earlier, when I arrived, that you were slightly hurt by the fact that I did not pay much attention to you.

Luke set his jaw. I was not hurt. Surprised, after all that stuff you spouted at Bespin, and worried about what you would do to Leia, and mad at Jix for betraying us, but not hurt.

If you say so. I just wanted to assure you that I haven't forgotten about you. You are my son, after all.

Luke felt Vader retreat from the mental connection. Wait! What's that supposed to mean?

But it was too late, Vader was gone. Or maybe he just didn't answer.

Luke sighed, frustrated. “Stupid Sith lords . . .”

“Lord Vader,” Leia said regally, standing in the doorway of the sitting room Vader was working in.

“Your Highness,” he replied, surprised but careful not to let it show. When did she ever initiate a conversation with him? “A little late to be wandering the halls, is it not?”

She ignored him. “I want to know the details of this little plan of yours.”

“Why didn't you ask when you were told about it earlier?”

She frowned. “I don't think you need to know that.”

Vader turned away. “As you wish.”

She moved into the room, but still remained standing a few meters away. “What exactly am I going to be doing during this plan of yours?”

Vader leaned back and looked up at her. “What do you want to be doing?”

She was silent for several moments. “You claimed knowledge of Senator Amidala's case?”

He tensed, but nodded.

“I want it set up like that. Me alone in a room, with you and Luke outside.”

Vader frowned behind the mask. “Will you allow a droid in the room?”


“Senator Amidala allowed one.”

“I want to imitate it to a degree, not reenact it.”

Vader sighed. “The whole point of this trap is to make you comfortable, is it not? You may as well be comfortable while it is being executed.”

She bit her lip hopefully. “So you agree?”


To his amazement, she dropped into a slight curtsy before taking her leave.

Jix swaggered down the street in Coronet City, one of his buddies from the Academy (one who hadn't been discharged in disgrace . . . or at all) at his side. Both of them were dressed in civilian clothes, and from the look on Darran's face, he wasn't too comfortable with it.

“Not used to being out an about without a helmet, are you?” Jix guessed.

Darran gave him a tight smile. “No.”

“Relax,” Jix advised. “It'll be a walk in the park.”

Darran was silent.

Jix sighed. He'd forgotten how boring the stormtrooper training program made people.

“Hey, let's go in there,” Jix said, pointing to a tavern on his right.

Darran frowned. “We're here to complete an assignment, not to get drunk,” he reminding his companion with a frown.

Jix flung an arm around the other man's neck. “Darran, my friend, there will come a time when you will realize that people are not stupid. D'you really believe that if we walk around, totally sober, and inform everyone we see that we are Rebels protecting the Princess from an evil serial rapist that they will believe us? No. They will not. But if we go into that bar and have a few shots, and then loudly proclaim to the world what we want to tell them, they will think it's the truth, no questions asked, because drunk people always say stuff they shouldn't and if they shouldn't be saying it then it's likely true.”

Darran blinked at him. “See, it's that kind of logic that got you kicked out of the ranks.”

Jix steered him toward the door of the tavern. “It's not my fault they have no imagination.”

It wasn't overly crowded inside the building, and it wasn't difficult for Jix and Darran to make their way to the bar, where Jix ordered them each a shot of straight Corellian whiskey. After three rounds, he deemed it acceptable to start spilling a little information.

“So whaddaya follow?” he slurred at the bartender, not bothering to lower his voice. “D'you really believe in th'old, corrupt Empire, or d'you want freedom'n justice for all?'

The man behind the counter just raised a brow, but several other patrons glanced over at him.

Jix downed another shot and swung around on the barstool. “Cuz we're always recruitin', y'know. The Alliance. That's us. Always recruitin'. Won't turn ya 'way. Promise.”

“What's the Rebellion doing here?” one person called out.

Jix grinned and tossed back another drink. He loved it when people made his job easy. “That's secret, that. But ya look like a trust-a-worthy kinda fella. So see, y'know 'bout the serial rapist, on the loose, right? 'Course ya don't, th'Empire doesn't want ya to. But he's out, I tell ya. An' he's after our Princess Leia. So we're protectin' her. All holed up in the big ol' house on the other side o'the lake. Empire's after this guy, too, so we jus' figure we'll stay low and let them do th'work. Easier that way.”

There was some uneasy muttering at his words, but Jix's eyes were on the shadow sitting alone in a back booth. He turned around to swallow another shot, and when he turned back around, the shadow was gone.

Jix discreetly thumbed the emergency button on his comlink and proceeded to sit impatiently at the bar for another ten minutes before following the shadow he was certain was Gledn out the door.

Alone in her bedroom, Leia paced. She was far too wound up to even pretend to be asleep. What if Gledn got to her before Vader realized? What if Vader allowed Gledn to finish her off before doing anything? She shivered. Luke said he could be trusted, and she trusted Luke's judgment, but this still didn't sit right with her. Either Luke wasn't telling her something, something important, or Vader was lying to Luke and Luke was buying it.

She wasn't sure which option was more likely, and neither one appealed to her over the other.

If she wanted to ensure her safety, she'd have to take her protection into her own hands.

Gledn would be coming to the house; therefore, it made sense for her to leave it.

Quickly and quietly, unsure what it would take for Vader to realize she was no longer a willing participant in his mad scheme, she wriggled into a flightsuit and pulled a jacket over it. Her hair was already braided; she took a handful of pins so she could bind it up on her way to the dock they had rented in Coronet City. She hoisted the window open, freezing for a moment when it squeaked in protest, then climbed out, thankful she was on the ground level.

It only took a couple minutes for her quick sprint to take her out of sight of the house.

“You're using her as actual bait!” Luke accused, outraged. “I thought we'd just tell Gledn she was here, not place her directly in his path! I --”

“It is not my fault you do not know how to properly set a trap,” Vader countered, slightly insulted by his son's tone. “Don't worry, no harm will come to her. I can sense everything that's going on in that room.” Behind the mask, he blinked, suddenly assaulted by a sudden sense of déjà vu.

Luke frowned, wondering if Vader had intended that as a barb against his own poorly trained Force skills. “Can't we just pretend she's in the room?”


“Why not?”

“Because despite what you seem to think, Gledn is actually a very smart man. He will not fall for anything less than the real thing.”

“But if we put a couple of pillows under the blankets --”

Vader looked down at him. “I don't know about you, child, but that trick never worked for me.”

“Well, not for me either,” Luke admitted, “but – hey! You've tried that before? You? When? Why?”

Vader suddenly swore, calling Leia a name that made Luke's backwater, country-bred ears burn, and used the Force to blow the door off it's hinges.

“What?” Luke asked, alarmed and irritated, trying to see past Vader's giant frame.

“She's gone.”


“Do not make me repeat myself.”

“I mean, what happened? Did Gledn kidnap her?”

“Not unless she went without a struggle.”

“So . . . you're saying she just left? She wouldn't do that!”

“Would she not?”

Vader strode outside, barking orders into his comlink. The machine replied with a pong, which just made Vader curse again. This time, Luke could've sworn it wasn't in Basic.

Outside the house, stormtroopers had readied several swoop bikes. Vader settled himself on a huge, gleaming, heavily-modified black one, and gestured impatiently for Luke to mount one that looked exactly like the ones the troopers had.

“Jix has sent word that Gledn is on his way,” Vader said grimly. “He is headed from Coronet City. You and I will head that way.” He turned to address the troopers. “One squad with me, the rest of you, establish a search pattern from the house. She hasn't been gone long; she can't be far away. If you see Gledn, kill him.”

Twelve white-armoured men gathered behind Vader and Luke with their own swoops, while the rest fanned out in all directions, staying in pairs. Satisfied, Vader revved his swoop and shot off into the darkness. Luke, thankful for the full moon, took off after him, the troops at his heels.

Leia heard the sound of machinery in the distance behind her and growled. She hadn't realized Vader's men had speeders, though in retrospect she shouldn't be so surprised. Of course Vader would come prepared. He always did.

Just one more thing she hated about him.

She caught sight of what looked like an old factory to her right, and decided to head in that direction. It wasn't too far off her path, and it would give her shelter until Vader and his posse went by. Then she could follow them into town and they would never know the difference.

Moving slowly, she eventually made it to the factory. By that time, the sound of the speeders had died in her ears, and she had only caught a glimpse of a group of them moving toward the city.

She was about to start her journey again when a strong hand gripped her wrist and whirled her around, smashing her into a duracrete wall. When the stars cleared from her vision, she found herself staring into Gledn's frenzied eyes.

“Hello, Princess,” he said evilly.

Chapter Ten: Rescue

Vader growled under his breath in frustration as he surveyed his surroundings. He was in the main square of Coronet City, Luke at his side and a fan of stormtroopers behind them, as they waited for Jix to grace them with his presence.

If he doesn't make an appearance soon, I'm going to . . . I don't know what I'm going to do. Coming up with a suitable punishment requires more imaginative energy than I'm willing to expend at the moment.

With every second that passed, Vader's shoulders tensed more. He had an unshakable bad feeling that they had missed something; something very, very important.

“Way to be obvious, Uncle D,” Jix grumbled as he swung up onto the swoop behind Vader. The Dark Lord resisted the urge to snap his neck, more a reflex than a true irritation. No matter how many times he ordered Jix not to sneak up on him, his agent still took a perverse sort of pleasure out of surprising him. “And way to blow my cover. Sitting in the middle of the city glowering as if you want to strangle the whole population.”

“Jixton,” Vader snarled. “We do not have time for this.”

Jix tugged a helmet down around his ears. “Yeah, I was kinda wondering why you were all here instead of watching Her Sassiness. What'd she do, run away from home?”

When no one answered, he looked around in shock. “She did? What kind of lousy babysitters are you?”

“We do not have time for you to practice your insults, Jixton,” Vader growled.

Jix peered up at the Dark Lord, his proximity to the Sith forcing him to tilt his head back at an uncomfortable angle. “Are you saying I can't toss a good insult?”


“Whatever,” Jix muttered. “Let's go see if we can save Her Most Independent Royalness.”

Vader gunned his swoop and took off without further ado, Luke and the squad of troopers right behind him.

Luke had to marvel at how well Vader and Jix worked together. He had fully expected Vader to throw Jix to the ground, if not cause him to develop an acute case of respiratory distress, when the agent had hopped onto the big black swoop, but Vader (and all the troops, Luke noted) had taken it in stride. Now, Luke understood why.

Through they were going at at least a good hundred twenty clicks, Jix was standing on the seat of the swoop behind Vader, one hand grasping Vader's shoulder to keep himself steady, the other holding a set of macrobinoculars to his eyes. For his part, Vader keep the swoop perfectly steady, making turns wide and avoiding obstacles well in advance in order to keep his spy on balance. Luke wished the situation weren't so dire; he'd be able to study the dynamic so much better if his thoughts weren't constantly straying to Leia.

Vader was slowing down; Luke pulled up beside him. Jix jumped lightly to the ground. “I'm not seeing anything – they must be holed up somewhere.”

“They?” Luke queried, a sinking feeling in his gut.

Vader looked over at him. “I have sensed Gledn and your Princess. He is ecstatic, she is terrified. But I do not know either of them well enough to pinpoint their location beyond this general area. If I see them, I can do more, but over such a large distance . . .”

Luke bit his lip. He hated to ask this, sure Vader would take it the wrong way, but it had to be done. “How do you sense someone through the Force? I know Leia really well, maybe I could --” He broke off.

To his relief, Vader didn't mention anything about the offer on Bespin. “Concentrate on her. Imagine her in your mind; everything about her. When it is clear, you should find a – a chain, or a rope, that binds the image to her. Follow that, and you will find her. But be wary; to do so means letting down your shields, and without your shields you will not be able to sense any danger around you. I will watch you, if you trust me to do so, but --”

“We have to find her,” Luke interrupted firmly. “I'll do whatever it takes.”

“Very well.” Vader nodded, and Luke closed his eyes.

First, he imagined Leia as she looked, then worked on refining the image. Her hair was a little thicker, a little richer in colour. Her eyes a little rounder, her nose narrower. Her cheeks were slimmer – she'd lost weight since Han had been gone – and her chin slightly more stubborn . . .

After that, he added in the sound of her voice; her laugh, the tight tone she used when she was angry, the high pitch she used only when she was angry with Han, the little hiccup that always crept into her tears. He remembered it all – but couldn't figure out how to attach it to the image.

And then another presence was there, showing him how to do so, guiding him as put the two together.

Then it retreated, simply watching as he continued with things she had told him about herself, and memories he had of her. And with each thing he added to the centerpiece, the brighter and more obvious it became.

Finally, he was done. Mentally he circled the centerpiece, looking for the line Vader said he should find. And he did find one – but it wasn't as Vader had described. Instead of starting with the image, it went through it, one end disappearing, the other seemingly attached to Luke himself, deep inside his mind. He looked for the other presence, the one he was quite sure was Vader, hoping to learn what exactly this meant, but the other person was gone.

Luke gave a mental shrug. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be hindering either of them. In fact, it felt familiar, as if he'd used it before . . . th night Leia was attacked, maybe? And at Bespin? Both times they'd heard each other even though they'd been out of hearing range . . .

He opened his eyes. “I've got it. But it's different then you said it'd be.”

Vader's helmet tilted. “How so?”

Luke explained the connection.

Vader didn't speak for several moments. “It sounds like a family bond. You must be very close indeed for such a thing to have developed between you. It is rare for it to occur between two unrelated people. Even master and apprentice pairs have difficulty getting to such a level.”

“Huh.” Luke frowned, but didn't dwell on it. They'd spent enough time on it already. Mentally, he reached for the line and tugged. It tightened, and gave him both a direction plus a barrage of feelings. “Oh, Force,” he muttered, them pointed and said aloud, “That way.”

Jix lifted the macrobinoculars as he got back on Vader's swoop, once again standing on the seat. “There's an old factory or something out that way,” he offered.

Vader swore for what seemed like the millionth time since he'd joined the hunt, and this time Luke knew it wasn't in Basic.

Leia was too busy trying to fight Gledn off to even try to call for Luke. The man before her had grown slimmer since his time with the Alliance, but he had gained hard, wiry muscle mass, and coupled with the surprise attack, it was all she could do to keep him from getting a decent grip on her.

After what seemed like hours, she managed to snatch up the small blaster she kept tucked in at the small of her back. Unfortunately, Gledn was too close for her to aim properly, so she settled for letting a shot off by his ear, which startled him enough to allow her to yank her wrist from his grasp and shoot the rusty lock on the door. She managed to get inside the factory, but then realized she'd just destroyed her only way of locking him out.

Using several Alderaanian curses she'd made certain her father didn't know she knew, she pressed her back to the old, hinged door, trying to keep him out while she looked desperately around for something, anything that would hold the door against him.

Nothing. Not anything that she could get to and pull back before Gledn got in, anyway. Gritting her teeth, she flung herself away from the door in a roll, and came up with her blaster pointed squarely at Gledn's chest.

He stopped. Then he grinned. “Poor, pretty little Princess,” he crooned madly. “Thinks she knows what's best.”

“Don't I?” she countered, trying to blow a stray lock of hair out of her face.

His grin grew. “A young woman like you never knows what's best for her. That's why you need me. But you never saw that, dearie. You turned them against me, had them throw me out of the place that was rightfully mine, as a leader in your Rebellion. And for that you have to die.”

“Sorry, that's not on my agenda today,” she snapped.

“Maybe not. But it's on mine.” He lunged.

She shot, but he came in low and the bolt went over his head. He caught her around the waist and they both tumbled to the floor. She managed to scramble to her feet first, but he was closer to the pistol. Grabbing it, he hurled it into a nearby garbage chute, then struggled to his feet.

Leia was already halfway up the nearest flight of stairs when he started after her. She took the remaining steps so quickly she was afraid she'd fall, but she didn't dare slow down.

At the top, she found a hallway lined with doors. Offices, she realized, and sprinted past them. The last thing she wanted was to be caught in a small office with only one door and maybe a window too far from the ground to be of any safe use.

There was an elevator at the end of the hall. She skidded into it and hurriedly pressed a button, just in time to see Gledn top the stairs at the other end. He caught sight of her and headed down the hall, a mad grin on his face.

She glanced down at the elevator buttons in a panic, and realized that it must be out of order. Well, no wonder, nerfherder, she chided herself. This factory is only how old? And why would the company pay for power if it's not going to be in use?

I want to use it! the less rational side of her screamed.

There was another flight of stairs to her right that she hadn't seen. She dashed for them, making it to the first one as Gledn passed the halfway mark in the hallway.

The stairwell was narrow and twisting, and she would have cursed it if she hadn't been using all her breath trying to get away from Gledn. An inner voice screamed at her to get back down to the floor level or she'd never get away, but she wasn't about to retrace her steps. She'd just have ot find another way down.

She came to the top of the stairs and stopped short.

She was on a bridge of sorts, supported by durasteel pillars and apparently it was supposed to stretch from where she stood to the doorway she could see across from her. It would be a good place for owners to watch the progress of the workers, and handy for connecting people in the large building.

Except that the last three pillars had somehow been destroyed, and only about two thirds of the bridge remained.

She looked behind her; she could hear Gledn on the steps. She made her way out to the end of the bridge – it seemed solid enough, until it abruptly dropped away.

She backed away from the end of the bridge as Gledn appeared at the top of the stairs. She froze.

His smile was downright gleeful as he took in their surroundings, and he stalked toward her with all the grace and arrogance of a nexu who had just cornered a stray nerf. “Princess,” he hissed as he reached for her throat.

She just blinked at him, wondering how he could say that and hum at the same time.

Then she realized that he wasn't the one humming.

Well, if it wasn't him, and it wasn't her . . .

Gledn froze in mid-stride, eyes going wide. Then he turned around.

“Gledn.” Vader's voice was as smooth as the machinery he wore could make it, but Gledn let out an insane shriek of defiance and pulled a small knife out of a sheath hidden in his boot. As Vader advanced, the convict held his ground, then lunged for Vader much as he had for Leia earlier.

Unlike Leia, Vader was too solid for Gledn to knock over, but he had surprised the Sith Lord sufficiently enough to get past his defence stance and bury the knife in his abdomen. Vader hissed in shock and anger, pulled back and swung his ignited, humming blade at Gledn.

At first, Leia thought he;d missed. Then, Gledn crumpled to the floor, and his head rolled away from his body.

Leia's knees went weak, but suddenly Luke was there. His arms went around her, and she collapsed against his chest, hardly about to believe it was finally over.

“Not the body part I would have removed,” Leia muttered shakily in an attempt to be brave as Luke held her supportively.

Another shape approached. “Does it hurt?” Jix asked his superior, ignoring Leia and frowning at Vader's abdomen.

“Not really,” Vader said dismissively.

Jix looked up at him, frown still in place. “So it hurts enough that your knees buckle and you almost pass out. I'm calling Polor. Do not argue with me.”

A gusty sigh escaped Vader's mask, but he didn't say anything as Jix pulled out his comlink and stomped off a few steps.

At that moment, a trooper moved to meet Vader and saluted smartly. “What about the Rebels, my lord?”

What indeed? He should take them into custody, but . . . the Princess reminded him so much of her, and Luke was not ready to face Sidious yet, that was obvious . . .

“What Rebels?” he replied finally, meeting the startled gazes of Luke and Leia.

Why? Luke asked.

I can see that you are not yet ready to face the Emperor as an equal. When you are, I will come for you. And when that time comes, I will not let you go, Vader answered silently.

Luke bowed his head. Vader turned to leave.

“Wait!” Leia called suddenly. Vader turned to look at her.

She moved away from Luke and toward the Dark Lord, closer and closer until her nose met his chestplate. Then, hesitantly, she put her arms around him and gave him a hug.

Everybody froze.

After a moment, Leia stepped back. “This doesn't change anything between us,” she informed him, her chin held proudly high. “We're still enemies. But . . . well . . . thank you.” She turned her back on him and walked back to Luke's side and took his hand.

“You heard Uncle D!” Jix called out into the silence at the 501st, having returned from his call. “These are civilians! Nice meeting you,” he added over his shoulder at Luke and Leia as he accompanied the retreating troopers to their transports. “And Uncle D --” he hissed at Vader in a stage whisper, “-- you're supposed to say You're welcome.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Leia said to Rebba as she and Luke prepared to take their leave.

The other woman smiled wanly.

“Ah, don't be such a spoilsport,” Jix said, coming up behind her and flinging an arm around her neck.

She glared good-natured at him. “You call that a sport? I always knew you were weird, but . . .”

Luke and Leia glanced at each other, amused. Rebba was relaxed with Jix in a way she never was with them, but they supposed not everyone could be sympathetic to the Alliance, especially when her best friend was an Imperial.

They left the house and prepared the speeder they'd rented with Jix the day they'd landed on Corellia. It seemed so long ago . . .

Leia felt someone watching her and turned. Vader was standing with his troopers across the lawn, but his mask was turned in their direction.

Be brave, and don't look back, a strong, masculine voice whispered into her mind. She smiled.

Don't look back.


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