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Luke was on a mission to Sullust when it happened. Vader was just finished reporting to Palpatine when suddenly something in his mind—something important, something central, an intrinsic part of him—snapped. A light went out.

And then he was falling.

The loss of the light, the connection, was staggering. Like fumbling around at night, a nighttime that had descended with Padmé's death, and now he'd lost his torch.

Luke.

Luke was dead.

No—he shoved the thought away violently, tearing himself off the wall he'd stumbled into and charging down the hallway, ignoring the stares he received. Luke was not dead. Luke couldn't be dead.

He must have jumped to hyperspace, beyond the reach of their mental bond, all of a sudden. That would explain why Vader couldn't feel him, why there was an emptiness echoing in his mind; their connection certainly dimmed when far apart, so why not vanish completely with enough distance?

Except, their Master had sent Luke on a mission all the way to the Unknown Regions when he was meant to be following up a lead to discovering the Chiss homeworld, once, and Vader had still been able to feel him then. No matter the distance, they were connected.

So why. . .

Force-suppressant cuffs.

It was the most likely thing. Palpatine had never dared put the cuffs on Luke himself, never wanted to alienate both father and son like that, but he'd used them plenty enough on those of the Inquisitorius. Vader knew what it felt like, a person's entire presence vanishing in the Force; perhaps it would be strong enough to block even bonds as strong as the father-son connection they shared. Yes. That had to be it.

But who would put Force binders on Luke?

The answer was simple, of course: the Rebels. Luke had gone to Sullust to kill or capture the Jedi he'd tracked to there.

But all the surviving Jedi nowadays were nobodies, weaklings, and Luke was incredibly strong in the Force. There was no way any of them had defeated him in combat. None of them were worth even mentioning in terms of the Force.

Except one.

The Princess Organa was a Jedi. She'd been poor at keeping it a secret on the Death Star—the Force ebbed and swelled with her anger at Tarkin, her mental shields were impenetrable during interrogation—and since the destruction of Alderaan, she'd made no secret of it. Propaganda photos of her wielding a token blue lightsaber were everywhere.

She was still nowhere near as strong as Luke—not with his son's intense training from both Vader and the Emperor, when the Princess's had surely been limited—but with surprise on her side, and perhaps Luke had been caught off-guard, or injured. . .

It was possible.

The breath hissing in and out of his respirator invigorated his lungs, sending fell purpose through her heart and mind. He would obtain Palpatine's approval—or go regardless—then travel to Sullust, and find his son.

His hand drifted to his lightsaber hilt, and gripped it tightly.

Find Luke, he thought, or avenge him.


It did not take much to convince the Emperor to send him to Sullust. He had no specific duties to be getting on with anyway, and Palpatine wanted Luke back as well. He was a useful tool.

He'd even seemed. . . angry. . . that Luke had disappeared. Far, far angrier than Vader would have expected him to be.

So he arrived on Sullust less than a week after Luke's signature had vanished without a trace, and stared at the rocky surface with nothing more than disgust. The lava flows reminded him too much of Mustafar, of pain and betrayal and death, for his liking.

In any other circumstance, those bitter feelings would help him, help fuel the Dark Side he treasured so much. But not now. Now, he needed to find his son, and distractions wouldn't help.

All probes via the Force turned up empty. To all intents and purposes, Luke wasn't there.

But he had nowhere else to go. This was his only lead.

And he was going to follow it to whatever end.

So he landed on Sullust's rocky surface and forced his way past the checkpoints into the tunnels in the planet's crust that most beings dwelled in. Smugglers, usually—he contained a sneer at the thought of it—but he could also sense a little way away a group of unnaturally frantic people, even for smugglers worried about an Imperial ambush.

Rebels.

"Remain alert, and ensure your weapons are set for stun," he ordered the troopers accompanying him, then turned to the Sullustan man he'd cowed into acting as their guide. "You will take me to the Rebel base."

The Sullustan started chattering nervously in the species' language; Vader, with his limited knowledge of Sullustans and their culture, only understood one word every five. Luke, he mused for a moment, would be incredibly helpful in this situation—the boy had always shown an insatiable desire to learn about other cultures, rivalling that of Anakin's when he'd first left Tatooine; he would probably know what the man was saying.

But Vader didn't need to understand the language; he got the gist of the statement from the Sullustan's mind alone.

"I know there is a Rebel base here," he cut off the guide's mumbling, voice sharp. "My son was killed on a mission to investigate it, along with two other Inquisitors, all of whom carried lightsabers like this one." He patted the hilt. "I am here investigating his death. So I suggest you either show me to their base so I can destroy it, or show me to the site of the assassination. Because I will get revenge for his death," Vader promised darkly, watching with a dark pleasure as the Sullustan stiffened, "and it's your choice whether you'll survive it."

There was a heavy silence. Vader wasn't familiar with Sullustan expressions, but the man's shoulders were tense.

His hand drifted to his comlink at his hip, Vader noted, and turned it on. It was a subtle movement, likely evading the notice of his stormtroopers, but he caught it. Someone was listening to their conversation.

Someone who would need the forewarning of what was to come.

It was no matter. If the Rebels knew he was here—which they undoubtedly already did—then knowing their demise was imminent wouldn't save them. Nothing would.

Especially if Luke didn't make it out alive.

He probed their bond again, but it was still silent. Then the Sullustan straightened his back, and said in halting Basic, "Three people with the laser swords came through here, and were killed. I will take you to the place it happened."

"Good," Vader said, inclining his helmet in a mockery of respect. "Lead the way."


They'd been walking for less than a standard hour when the guide showed them to the chamber where he said Luke had been ambushed.

"Fan out," Vader told his troopers. "Scan the area, and allow no one in." The chamber, he noticed after a cursory glance, was perfect for an ambush. The jagged rock structures in the walls above his head made for excellent hiding places, and the fact there was only one tunnel in and out of it meant it would be easy to cut people off with no chance of escape. Any attack would be brutal, bloody, and unbeatable.

As it clearly had been.

The ground in the centre of the chambers was scorched by lightsaber burns.

He bent down to examine them more closely. The width of the marks, the depth of the cut, the wide area they covered. . . It had been a fierce fight indeed.

Most Inquisitors were vaguely competent—he'd have killed them long ago if they hadn't been. And Luke was incredibly talented. But they hadn't stood a chance in this situation, under unknown numbers.

So why put himself at such a risk?

Luke knew strategy. He knew where he was likely to be ambushed, and that he was at a fundamental disadvantage on this terrain. So what had led him to endanger himself like this?

Psychometry wasn't his strong point, but Vader needed to know. He reached out, pressed a hand against the floor—

dark in the tunnels, unsurprisingly. The only light to see by was that emitted by the lightsabers; the bloody tinge to it cast the Inquisitors' grey faces into an unsettling relief. There was an opening up ahead, darkness beyond it, but Luke knew they needed to push on. Something was comingsomething important.

They would find the Rebels if they went in there. He knew it for certain.

"We need to keep moving."

One of the Inquisitorsthe Fourth Sister, he believed she was, a Mirialan with a missing left eyescoffed. "We can't go that way. It's a dead end, and we'll be ambushed by our very prey."

"No," Luke insisted, shoulders tense. "There's something important in thereI can sense it." It wasn't a lie.

So he walked in despite their arguing.

They followed—he was the one in charge of the mission, after all, not themand perhaps thirty seconds passed before someone spoke.

The other Inquisitor, a Rodian whose designation Luke had forgotten, made to say, "There's nothing here" only to be cut off by a blaster bolt to the chest.

"What" the Fourth Sister began, then she tensed at the sight of the Rebel soldiers who'd poured into the chamber behind them, trapping them inside. "Rebel scum," she sneered, holding her lightsaber to, but they kept swarming forward, Force, there were so many of them, he hadn't expected this many

There was a door blocking the only entrance out. Why was there a door? This hadn't been part of the plan.

The hum of his lightsaber was suddenly something alive in his hand as it leapt into action, blocking a bolt meant for his head; he whirled, blocked another one, and another, and another, the Fourth Sister's cry a bell tolling his imminent death.

Then an agony in his back, darkness

—and Vader was yanked back into reality, his rage now a violent, uncontrollable thing in his chest. A star going supernova, a roiling sea of lava, it reached out into the room and curled itself round its unsuspecting targets. The Sullustan guide was the first to go, neck throttled and snapped, then his troopers, then more of his troopers.

He didn't care.

Here, in this very chamber, a bunch of lowly, wicked, unworthy Rebel troops had ambushed his son, killed his son, and he—

He was apoplectic. He was—

There was a hissing sound, then a grinding.

He froze, head snapping to the entrance corridor. Just like he'd seen in the vision, a hidden door was sliding out of a concealed compartment, sealing the room closed; there was a hissing again as the place was pumped airtight, then another, harsher hissing began.

The hissing of something being pumped in.

His respirator kept him alive, filtered the oxygen he needed to survive, but it couldn't filter oxygen that wasn't there. Instead, his mask threw up danger warnings: an odourless, colourless gas was in high concentration in the room, known side effects of inhalation being nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. . .

Unconsciousness. . .

The rage, momentarily vanished in the face of confusion, returned. First the rebels killed his son, then they tried to take him, Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, captive. He would not have it—

But the Force wasn't giving him any choice. The ground was spinning underneath him; it was less than a minute before it came up to meet him, the collision forcing his lungs to expel breath he didn't have.


He woke up in chains, blind, in the dark and helpless. He wasn't a fan of the feeling.

The last time he'd felt like this was immediately after Mustafar, after Padmé's death, before he'd found Luke. Missing four limbs, trapped in a suit and agony for the rest of his life. . . but at least then he'd had the Force. And, though he hadn't known it at the time, Luke.

Now. . .

Now he was cut off from the Force. The binders around his wrists were at fault, he could tell, but that didn't do him much good. He couldn't sense anything, not even his immediate surroundings. He assumed he was in a cell of some kind, but it didn't matter, because his prosthetics had been deactivated somehow—he couldn't move them, at least—and without the Force or use of his limbs there was no way he was ever getting out of here.

Not alive.

He bowed his head—the only part of him he could move—and couldn't stop the thought that trickled into his mind: At least I'll see Luke and Padmé again. The idea of an afterlife wasn't the way of the Sith, was a remnant from his Jedi past, but he couldn't believe anything else. Didn't want to believe anything else.

Because Padmé was dead. And Luke. . .

Even if that shot that had hit him in the back was to stun and not to kill, there was no way they'd let him live until Vader had come looking. More probable that he'd been treated to a short interrogation, before they disposed of him quickly. A personal agent of the Emperor was too dangerous to be left alive for long.

Vader wouldn't be left alive for long. . .

Or perhaps he was already dead.

He turned his head a little, left and right, but could still only see blackness, still only hear the rhythmic rasping of his respirator. Perhaps he was indeed dead, and this was hell. It seemed hellish enough, and it wasn't like he deserved anything more.

Perhaps he was doomed to stay here forever, wallowing in his final failure—

His head jerked up. Movement—there was movement outside. He could hear it.

And he could feel it, too, vibrations from the outside rushing through the stone with every step, shaking the floor and his dead, unresponsive limbs, shivering through the small fraction of him that was still flesh and bone—

The footsteps stopped somewhere in front of him. A creaking sound, then a sliver of light opened wider and wider, scarring his vision. Slowly, his surroundings came into view: a rough floor, a small square cell, light glinting off the chains and binders that held him. He blinked through the red haze of his eyepieces, the mask automatically compensating for the change in light intensity, only for that intensity to change yet again as a figure stepped into the room, blocking the light from the door, and again as light fixtures in the ceiling turned on with the movement. Holocams whirred.

Vader ignored them. His helmet was already tilted back, so he didn't have to move at all to fix his eyes on the newcomer. Whoever it was had a slim frame, short; the light in the room played off the dark blond hair—

If he'd been capable of movement, he would've frozen still. As it was, his heart stuttered in his chest as Luke knelt down in front of him, then sat cross-legged on the floor, a thoughtful, pained expression on his face. He had never been able to hide his emotions.

He just sat there for a long time, staring at Vader. Vader stared back.

This was. . . odd. Odd, and fundamentally wrong.

Because Luke was dead. With the situation as it was, the chances of Luke being alive were infinitesimal. So that meant Vader had to be dead as well. And if Vader was dead, then this was Hell.

And Luke did not deserve to go to Hell.

Or perhaps Luke wasn't here at all, he reasoned. The Force had never been shy about tormenting him with visions before—perhaps staring at the latest person he'd failed to protect was a part of his eternal suffering. Perhaps Padmé would be the next person to show up. . .

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

But there were a number of details that implied that this wasn't his son, and he clung to them. This wasn't real.

It couldn't be real.

For one thing, his hair was much longer than the Emperor allowed him to grow it, for practicality's sake. And true, Luke had been on a mission for two months before he'd disappeared, so Vader hadn't seen him in that time, but his son always made sure it was cut short. This hairstyle, long and floppy and scruffy, would be unthinkable to him.

For another, the lightsaber at his belt wasn't the one given to him by the Emperor, used to carry out his bidding. The hilt was different—in fact, Vader was fairly sure it was the lightsaber he'd lost on Mustafar, which just added to the surrealism of the situation. That lightsaber was long gone.

And finally, the most irrational, unbelievable thing: Luke was wearing Rebel fatigues. Complete with the Alliance's starbird sewn onto his shoulder.

If there was one thing Vader knew about Luke, it was that his son would never, ever join the Rebellion. Those terrorists, foolish idealists, threats to the security of the Empire—

"You shouldn't have come, Father."

Luke whisper was quiet, but it bounced off the walls of the cell, echoing and echoing and echoing. The echoes were harsh, unreal; Vader didn't miss than way his son shivered when he heard them.

The words didn't seem to require a response, just Luke voicing his thoughts aloud, but Vader answered anyway, voice hoarse, "I had to."

It was only after he spoke that he realised his vocoder had been deactivated as well.

But that wasn't the most interesting thing here. What was more pertinent was the way Luke jumped out of his skin at the words, jerking backwards and scrambling to his feet. A hand rested on his lightsaber as he demanded, voice sharper than he probably intended, "You're awake?"

Vader nodded, eyes fixed on Luke's face, his increasingly shocked expression. "I am. Could you not tell?" If this was a vision from the Force, then it was an incredibly strange one.

Luke shook his head. "No, I— The binders cut you off from the Force." His words jumbled together. "I can't sense you."

"Then remove the binders."

Luke shook his head. "I can't."

"Why not?" Something dark was rearing its head in Vader's chest, something that called back to a fiery landscape, Obi-Wan striding down a ramp, Padmé's desperate cries of I love you! before she clawed at her throat, unable to breathe. . .

And then Luke confirmed the comparison, his face grim, hand his gripping the lightsaber he shouldn't have. "Because if I do, you'll escape this cell and kill all the Rebels before they can evacuate."

If Vader could breathe for himself, he would've stopped. But he couldn't, so the rasp of his breaths continued, unflinching and undeterred, in the silence left behind by Luke's declaration.

"So," Vader said, trying to inject his usual anger in the word, but it just kept out hollow. It had been inevitable, he supposed. The mother had betrayed him—why not the son? "You're with the Rebels. And Princess Organa."

"Yes." Luke nodded unflinchingly, but there was something cautious about his manner. "I am. Leia's helping me train."

"To be a Jedi." The word was said with disgust, and Luke did flinch at that, a pained flash that evoked feelings of guilt and remorse Vader instantly wanted to quash. He was not the traitor here.

"I—" He took a deep breath, and lifted his chin. "I do not believe they're as bad as you say they are."

"You know nothing," Vader snarled, although words hurt his throat, and there was the anger he'd been searching for, the anger he'd held onto for so long. He reached for it greedily; even without the Force it made him feel stronger. He lifted his head to snarl something else, anything else, just to see the shock and hurt on his opponent's face—

—and then it vanished when he laid eyes on his son.

He had never been able to be angry at Luke.

Luke was all he had left. Now that he was a traitor, just like his mother, just like Obi-Wan. . . what was left for Vader?

"The Princess Organa kidnapped you on the Death Star," he growled, looking for something to say, "and now you join her?"

Luke squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. A wry smile curled the corner of his mouth. "Father, I wasn't kidnapped on the Death Star. I rescued her."

Vader blinked, the memories flashing before him—Tarkin ranting about the easy escape, panic over Luke's disappearance—and put two and two together. "I see." The Death Star had been over a year ago. "How long have you been a traitor?"

Luke winced at that word too—traitor—but continued doggedly, "A few years, now. I was one of their Fulcrum agents."

Vader nodded. The nebulous "Fulcrum" had been a thorn in his side since the Empire began, almost, with first Ahsoka, then Kallus, and countless more Rebel intelligence operatives proving to be the difference between victory and defeat.

And Luke had been one. For years.

One of the Emperor's personal agents, a Rebel spy.

The fact that he was being so open about it to the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy told Vader everything he needed to know: he wasn't getting out of here alive.

"I see," he said again. "But why—" and here his voice cracked, but he ploughed on anyway, "why reveal yourself now? Why fake your death?" His voice was definitely cracking now, by habit probing his bond with Luke—but of course he didn't have the Force. He was still empty. "How?"

"It was a trick Leia taught me," Luke said quietly. "Something her previous Master learned—learned when running from you, incidentally enough. How to block personal bonds through the Force so that it seems like the bond or the person doesn't exist at all."

Vader didn't think to consider why Leia Organa had ever needed to learn such a skill. It wasn't like she had any living, Force-sensitive family to hide from.

"As for why now," Luke continued, unable to meet his gaze, "I'd have thought that would be obvious. The Emperor was going to kill me."

That breathed some sort of feeling into his chest. "What." There was murder in the word—an instinctual response, despite everything.

"He'd figured out that I was a. . . traitor." Luke forced himself to say the word. "He sent me on that last mission to try and uncover where Leia was hiding, then the two Inquisitors I was with were ordered to assassinate me and capture her." He shrugged, though there was nothing casual about the gesture. "I managed to get a message ahead, so the Rebel cell ambushed us, killing the Inquisitors and stunning me. I woke up here."

"So you know where we are?"

It was a crude, half-hearted attempt to fish for information; Luke just smiled sadly. "Yes. I do."

"But you're not allowed to tell me."

"I'm not going to tell you," he countered. "You'd escape somehow, then bring the Empire down on all our heads before we finish the evacuation. You already came faster than we expected."

"So what will happen to me?" Vader pressed. Luke winced at the question.

"I don't know," he admitted. "I don't think they want to risk unchaining you in order to get you on a ship. They're worried you'd murder them all."

"As well I should."

Luke swallowed. "Other than that. . . I don't know." He swallowed again—that gesture, more than anything else, was what told him Luke was lying. He knew exactly what they were going to do to him. "But I'm sure they'll be more lenient if you cooperate, provide information."

He bowed his head. "Please," he whispered. "Cooperate. I don't want you to die."

The pitiful sight of Luke's distress stirred an uncomfortable mix of emotions in his chest—guilt again, the urge to comfort, but most of all, anger.

And it was anger that reigned as he said, "Then perhaps you should have considered what the consequences of turning traitor would be."

Luke just nodded, then a comlink bleeped and his glanced at the time. "I need to go."

He paused when he reached the door. "I'll see you soon, Father," he whispered, then added, almost inaudibly, "I suppose now you have a choice to make."

Then he left. When the door closed, the lights went out, and the darkness swept in again.


Contrary to what his dark flights of imagination had come up with, the Rebellion didn't choose to execute him then and there. They didn't have the time.

The Empire followed the trail Vader had left to find the Rebel base shortly after he disappeared; in the mad scramble to flee, the Rebels left him behind. He could only assume that they never expected the Imperials to be able to navigate the stone tunnels well enough to find him in time.

What they hadn't counted on—what Vader himself hadn't counted on—was Luke's interference.

The stormtrooper unit that eventually found him reported having found a scrap of flimsi first, with a hastily drawn map to the cell he was kept it. Vader had looked at it only long enough to recognise Luke's handwriting before destroying it.

"Luke Skywalker is a traitor to the Empire, and shall be treated as such," the Emperor informed him when he finally returned to Coruscant. "I am leaving it to you, Lord Vader, to use your powerful anger as the man most wronged to track him down and exert justice. I know you will do me proud."

Vader just looked at his Master's face and thought about how much he hated him. How much he hated his life in general, except for Luke.

Because he could never hate his son, just as he could never hate Padmé.

Luke was right. He did have a choice to make.

Chapter Text

Finally.

Obi-Wan's Jedi Padawan, the one who'd screamed as Vader cut him down on the Death Star, stood in front of him in the carbon freezing chamber. The Padawan Vader had hunted halfway across the galaxy to either kill or corrupt, the final part of his revenge against Obi-Wan. The boy was powerful—far more powerful than his teacher. He would serve the Empire well once Turned. And it would be sweet to see Obi-Wan's last hope—Vader's replacement—swear fealty to the man's greatest enemy.

The boy was watching him across the steam-filled chamber. He'd been so predictable, running to save the ex-Senator of Alderaan when she was captured on Bespin—after all, that had been what he and Obi-Wan were doing on the Death Star in the first place.

Neither the Senator nor the Padawan had any known surname. The girl had gone by "Organa" when in the Senate, claiming distant relations to the royal family, but it was fairly obvious with any digging that was a lie. But either of their true last names had been well-concealed. All he had were their first names:

Luke and Leia.

They'd been standing staring at each other for a good few minutes by the time the Padawan—Luke—spoke.

His voice filled the chamber. "Where's Leia?"

"Imprisoned."

The vague answer seemed to anger the boy. He strode forward recklessly, lighting his blue saber—Anakin's blue saber, the saber Obi-Wan had stolen and given to this brat—and his voice shook with fury, Alderaanian accent strengthening with the potency. He pointed his saber at him. "Where. Is. Leia."

"I would suggest, boy," Vader said, lighting his own saber and enjoying the thrill at the thought of finally besting the brat, "that you worry about yourself  first."

He swung without warning—though his words were warning enough—and Luke barely parried it in time. He grunted with the effort.

"You don't want to do this," he said. Vader just scoffed: the pleading and fear in his voice was enough to call his bluff on its own.

Instead of dignifying it with an answer, he slashed, causing the boy to jerk back—and lose his balance on the stairs.

He toppled down them, his quiet grunts his only cry of pain, and Vader descended slowly, letting his cloak billow behind him like a shadow of death. Luke's eyes blew wide at his approach, scrambling back. His saber was barely up in time to parry Vader's next blow.

"You have control of your fear," Vader praised mockingly. Sure enough, it aggravated the boy; he clenched his teeth. "Good. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me!"

"No," the boy spat. "I will never turn to the Dark Side."

"You may come to reconsider that opinion," Vader promised. "You don't know the power of the Dark Side."

You don't know the power of me.

"I know enough," Luke said, then he deactivated his lightsaber and bolted.

Vader was so shocked that for a moment he just stood there. Then he sensed what the boy had.

Commotion.

Commotion, terror amongst the stormtroopers, and a fierce sense of triumph because—

The Senator had escaped.

The Senator had escaped, so there was no need for Luke to fight him, to distract him any further, when he and his friend could just try to leave without further confrontation—

With a barely suppressed roar, he lurched forward. No—he'd put too much work in, spent too long hunting the boy down only to give up now. He would not—he would have his revenge—

He caught up to him on the gantry.

Luke seemed to have taken a wrong turn, looking around wildly. He clearly didn't know where he was going, just that he was following his friend's signature, only to be led to a dead end.

Or rather, something that ended with him being dead.                                

The gantry only stretched halfway across the shaft; the only way on or off it was where it was connected to the side. Luke had wandered onto it, no doubt hoping it was a bridge. Now Vader stood between him and his only exit.

He savoured the boy's fear as he turned, eyes wide and lips slightly parted, to see his doom advancing along the walkway. There was a strong wind in the shaft—it seized Vader's cloak, flapping it behind him dramatically as he strode. Luke kept backing off, lightsaber up and ready, but Vader batted it aside almost negligibly.

"Yield," he demanded, but by now he almost didn't care if the brat lived or died. It would be sweeter to see Obi-Wan's legacy serve the Empire, but if he just sliced the boy's head off right now, he doubted he would regret it much.

Luke just snarled—and oh the boy was so angry, if he lived he would make a fantastic Sith—and lashed out. Vader parried the blows almost casually, letting his amusement leak through his shields, which just enraged Luke more, fighting and slashing and hacking—

Vader roared as the lightsaber scorched the flesh of his upper arm. He'd felt much, much worse before, but the fact that the boy  had done what no one else had managed to do in years—actually injure him—ignited his rage and now he was burning, burning—

And someone was screaming.

The brat was screaming, holding onto the stump of his right hand for dear life, the flashing of his lost blade spiralling down the shaft beneath them. Vader sneered at the pitiful sight—his Master thought this weakling was worthy to serve him, when he cried at the loss of one measly limb?—and advanced, lifting his lightsaber. He would make this quick. . .

"Stop." The word was quiet, almost lost in the howling wind, but for some reason he couldn't name, it halted Vader anyway. He growled, irritated at himself, then clenched the lightsaber tighter. If the brat wanted to beg for mercy—

"Please."

Again, that compulsion. It just angered him further—he lifted the saber to hover above Luke's throat, but still something stilled his hand. There was a growing tension in the air, in the Force.

Something was about to happen.

"You don't want to do this," Luke croaked out, moving his eyes off the tip of the lightsaber to unerringly find Vader's own behind the mask.

A scoff burst out of his vocoder. "I certainly do, young one. And I will enjoy it."

"No," Luke shook his head, muscles in his throat spasming as he tried not to gut himself on the lightsaber. "Palpatine never told you what happened to your wife."

"He told me enough!" He was shouting before he even realised it; his hand was shaking, hard, and Vader wanted to let it, wanted to let it skewer the boy in his imbalance but he was treading dangerous ground and despite his conviction, if something else had happened to Padmé. . .

If, maybe, Padmé was alive. . .

"He told me I killed her," he hissed, "twenty years ago, and I will kill you with far less regret. I promise you that."

But the boy was shaking his head again. "No," he insisted, "she didn't die on Mustafar twenty years ago. She died with Alderaan when it exploded, the place where she'd made her home. But her son survived."

"What." Mustafar, Alderaan, Padmé—too much, it was too much, it couldn't be true, but for some reason he didn't move to strike down this filthy, lying Jedi to prove it.

"My wife is dead, my son is dead," he snapped, if only to test the truth of the words, but something in them rang hollow. Something in them sounded like hope.

"No," Luke panted, and damned him to Hell and back. "I am your son."

The wind still howled, the respirator still rasped, but Vader heard none of it.

I am your son.

Padmé had lived.

Then she had died. On Alderaan.

With their son, who had an Alderaanian accent, who was close friends with the Alderaanian senator.

Whose hand Vader had just cut off.

"So please," Luke said, "don't kill me. I don't want to die."

Vader didn't respond. He was too busy staring.

Blue eyes—Anakin's eyes—stared back.

"Luke," he said slowly. "Luke. That— that was the name she wanted."

It was completely irrelevant to the situation, shameful for a Sith Lord to partake in such sentimentality, far less than prudent, but. . .

But Luke nodded. "I know."

I know. Of course he'd know. He'd grown up with her—she'd named him.

Would Anakin have given him a different name? No—no, it was coming back to him now. They'd had a deal: For a boy, Luke, for a girl. . .

. . .Leia.

Leia.

Like the senator who'd just escaped, whom Luke loved dearly, who was the same age as him.

The senator who had brown hair, brown eyes, and all of her mother's spirit.

The senator who had as little a discernible last name as Luke.

"Twins," Vader said, and it may have been a gasp or a hiss, but Luke blanched anyway.

"No, I— No. No, leave her alone!" he begged, and Vader understood. It was no secret that the girl—Leia, his daughter—hated him; he'd seen it in her eyes every time he looked at him. He'd been the one who held her back as her planet—and her mother—was obliterated before her eyes.

She had not told Vader the truth, not even to avoid torture. She would not appreciate Luke telling him now.

"She's gone anyway," Luke whispered. "I can sense it. She escaped, and she jumped to hyperspace."

"You could have called out for her, and brought her back," Vader observed. The Force bond between them was no secret either, though its root hadn't been known. "You didn't."

Luke just raised his chin. Vader knew what that meant.

I didn't want to bring her to you.

"She's gone," he repeated. "You can't have her."

Vader deactivated his lightsaber; Luke visibly relaxed once the crimson blade was out of his face, but still kept his wary gaze on his—

On his father.

His son. His son. Battered and bruised and broken but alive. A far cry from the unborn child he'd mourned. This child was flesh and blood—his flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood. . .  A twinge shot through him at the stump of the boy's arm. It wasn't regret, but the closest he'd come in twenty years.

A living child. A living child, whose name was Luke.

Unseen, Vader smiled behind the mask.

"No," he agreed. "But I have you."

Chapter Text

"You can't stop for too long, Anakin," Obi-Wan said, the softness in his words belying the steel underneath. "That was the deal—that was your punishment."

"Vader," he just grunted in reply, pointing towards the horizon. The sun had just finished its descent, only a copper stain on the horizon to show it had ever been there at all.

Anakin by day; Vader by night. That was his dual nature, the two faces of the god of the sky, and Obi-Wan damn well knew that.

"Well, alright, Vader," his ex-friend replied. Friends and brothers for millennia, only for this war to drive them apart. "But you've been dawdling in these mountains for three weeks now, and you know the rules: you can't stay in one place for more than a month. That was the deal that you agreed to. You have one week to say your goodbyes, then leave."

"I don't need an entire week to say farewell," he spat.

Obi-Wan just gave him a look. That was the famous look of the god of justice; it looked right through you, and saw the truth. At least, it saw the truth from a certain point of view. "You're in this entire mess because of your attachment to humans," he pointed out softly. "I wish you luck in your goodbyes."

Obi-Wan left with the last of the daylight. And once the week was up, so did Anakin.


That was the deal.

Anakin, Vader, the god of the sky, had been banished from his own realm for a hundred years as punishment for what he did during the War, and was forced to wander the earth as punishment. And while one hundred years was the blink of an eye to a god, it was longer than most humans lived, and therein lay the problem.

Because Anakin was prone to attachment.

Because Anakin loved humans—especially individual humans—more than he loved his fellow gods. If he loved his fellow gods at all.

So wandering the earth, needing food and water like any mortal but unable to die like one? Watching the kindness of those who helped him wither away along with their bodies, their souls, their minds? Knowing that no matter how strong the bonds he forged were, he would have to leave in a month and possibly never see them again?

It was a torment perfectly designed for him. Barely better than what Palpatine himself, the orchestrator of the War, had been punished with.

And although he did have a way of immortalising those he cherished, of respecting them in that way, he could only use on one person every hundred years. That was the nature of the blessing. Shmi, the kind-hearted human woman who'd taken him in and raised him when his own godly sires would not, had been the first to receive the honour. And he knew who he wanted to be the second.

The person who was the reason he'd lost the War.

The person who had turned down offers of immortality in order to save him from Palpatine's gruesome fate.

The person whom he'd never met, but who, out of everyone, might be the only friend he had.

Luke.


The road was rough under his feet, and he was exhausted. This mortal body knew pain like he never had before. But he kept walking anyway.

There was a house up ahead—an entire village, in fact. He could see it on the horizon, twinkling against the twilight.

He had nothing but the clothes on his back—no food, no water, no money. It had been weeks since he last ate, longer since he'd had any shelter to sleep in, but he didn't die. He couldn't die. He was a god.

But he was so tired. . .

"Are you alright?"

A voice—real or imagined?

There was only one way to tell. Vader turned to look at the speaker.

Real.

He was a young man, in his early-twenties at the oldest, with sun-bleached hair and bright blue eyes the colour of the sky at its zenith. And he was frowning at him.

"Are you alright?" he asked, and Vader tried to answer.


The man—a boy, really—insisted that Vader come back to his home with him. Eat with him. Stay for the night.

He tried to thank him for his kindness but he was waved away. "It's the least I can do," the boy insisted, pushing a mug of something hot into his hands and wrapping a blanket round his shoulders. "My sister's away, so we've got a spare bed, and you looked half dead. The War caused so much misery; it's our duty to try and help wherever we can."

It clicked then. A refugee, fleeing the war-ravaged areas not far west of here. The boy thought he was a refugee.

There were certainly enough around for it to be plausible. Vader had caused most of them himself.

The thought made him cold. He shouldn't be here.

He shouldn't be here, accepting this generosity, when he was the one who'd caused all the suffering in the first place. He didn't deserve the mercy he'd been given—he deserved to burn in a hell-place for eternity like Palpatine had been condemned to, he shouldn't be here

"What's your name, by the way?" the boy asked, coming in with pillows and a tray of sandwiches. He set them onto a table and sat down next to him on the sofa, smiling at him.

He noticed that Vader hadn't touched the sandwiches. "Oh, please, take them! You look like you need them."

It wasn't rude, not in the way he meant it—Vader did look half-starved, the bones in his face unnaturally prominent, and he knew it.

Hesitantly, he picked up one of the sandwiches and started chewing. Every bite tasted like butter and guilt.

He swallowed, and maybe it was his emotional state, maybe it was the sense of fate around the boy, but the name he offered was "Ani." No one had called him that since Shmi had died.

The boy smiled wider. "It's nice to meet you, Ani. I'm Luke Naberrie."


The War had been fought between the gods as well as the humans—namely because Vader got himself involved. He knew now, with hindsight, that the trickster god Palpatine had purposefully stirred it up between two human societies, one of whom Vader was particularly fond of. He'd interceded on their behalf, calling upon all the forces and powers and monsters of mythology to crush the opposition. Obi-Wan hadn't approved.

He wasn't the only one.

The main bulk of the Jedi—the ruling council of the gods—had condemned his actions. You are too attached to humans, they said. We leave them to fight their own wars. And when he hadn't stopped, they'd taken action.

The darkest creatures Palpatine had taught him to summon, from before the very depths of time, versus the might of the gods. It had been a war that lasted years, until that final confrontation.

Vader hadn't been there. All he knew was that Luke and Leia Naberrie, the demigod products of his short, glorious time with the human Padmé Naberrie some twenty years earlier, had devised a plan to take on Palpatine and they won. They'd bound him, ready to deliver to the gods for justice.

And then, when they were offered immortality as a thanks for their heroics, they'd both turned it down. Leia had asked for the gods' help for rebuilding instead, and he knew that she had been very involved in the project. That was probably why she was away on the fateful day he stumbled onto his son's doorstep.

Luke, meanwhile, had asked for something different.

He'd asked for mercy for his father.

Not an eternity of torment, but one hundred years.

But he hadn't specified how merciful the gods should be, and they hadn't quite adhered to the spirit of the request. A hundred years of torment designed to teach him a lesson about attachment wouldn't be considered merciful to most.

But it was better than two hundred.

Luke had done that. Luke had given him that second chance.

All that remained to be known was why.


Luke slept in his sister's—in Leia's—room, giving Vader his. And although his mortal body was heavy with exhaustion, crying out for sleep, his mind whirred.

This was his son's home. He was in his son's life.

He couldn't just sleep through that.

It was raining outside. The wind hit the window hard, the moonlight catching on the raindrops like a shimmering sheet of silk. He peered through the window and looked up at the stars, searching for Shmi the Sky Walker in the heavens. There she was—the face of the woman who'd loved him when no one else would, immortalised in the stars.

If he closed his eyes and listened, he could almost imagine he was somewhere higher than this, in the clouds, with the wind calling to him. . .

"Couldn't sleep?"

He didn't jump at the sound of Luke's soft voice against the still night, no matter how surprising it was. Instead, he just turned to see the boy standing at the top of the stairs in his pyjamas, a mug of something hot in his hand. Dark hollows shaded his face.

"Couldn't you?" he asked pointedly, a protective urge rushing through him.

Luke shook his head. "Nightmares," he said shortly, pressing his lips together.

Vader went cold. "I see." His eyes flitted around the corridor, anywhere but Luke's haggard expression, landing on a picture hanging just behind Luke in the stairwell. "Is that—"

He swallowed tightly, his heart spasming in his chest.

"Is that your mother?" he asked, knowing full well it was. He could recognise Padmé anywhere.

Luke turned to see what he was looking at, and the shadows on his face grew starker. "Yes," he said quietly. "She died a few years ago."

"Why?" Why, fate, why did you have to kill her?

Luke gave him a look, and he amended the question to, "What of?"

"'A broken heart', according to the doctor." Luke's laugh was humourless. "Supposedly brought upon her by the realisation that my father was never coming back. She just lost the will to live." He shook his head. "I don't believe it for a second."

"You shouldn't." The words were out before he could control himself, and Luke gave him another look. But neither of them pressed the matter.

Silence fell again, thicker and heavier than the silence of the night, and that was when Vader said, "You're the demigod who defeated Palpatine. Who got Vader a merciful punishment." He felt like he did a good job of not spitting the word merciful like a bad taste in his mouth.

Luke's lips pinched together. "Has everyone heard about that?"

Vader nodded slowly. Luke sighed.

Now—he could push the matter now, and ask the question that had been eating him alive for nearly a year now. Why?

Why do it?

You could've had everythingwhy give that up for the father who's ostensibly done nothing for you?

The word was on the tip of his tongue.

But Luke looked so tired. And, for one heart-stopping moment of terror, Vader realised that maybe he didn't want to know the answer. That maybe it would only hurt him more.

So he just nodded his head, and went back to bed.


Ostensibly, he had done nothing for Luke and his sister.

But that didn't mean he hadn't done as much as he could.

The Jedi Council was staunch in its stance against attachments to humans, so if a god had already been involved with a human and produced children, it was near impossible to get their approval to actually see the children. And if they caught you doing it without approval. . .

Well.

Being merciful wasn't in their nature.

But that didn't mean Anakin hadn't tried.

When the twins were babies, especially. When Padmé was tired and run off her feet and one of them was about to start crying? He came, and rocked the crib until they fell asleep, unknowingly soothed by their father's presence. He cast wards around the house, good luck charms, then again when they moved house, then again. He helped Padmé get the job promotion she was gunning for so they were more financially secure. He did everything he could.

But he wasn't there.

So if Luke decided to reject him, to cast him away. . .

He would understand.


The next morning saw bright skies where the rain had washed them clean, and a Luke who seemed to be forcing himself to be "alright" by will alone.

"Ani," he greeted without looking up when Anakin finally slunk down to breakfast the next morning. "How did you—" He glanced up then, and frowned. "Did you sleep?"

"Did you?" Anakin deflected pointedly, taking a chair on the opposite side of the table. Luke still looked exhausted, but the smile plastered to his feet seemed to keep him awake by sheer force.

Luke just waved off the question. "Would you like eggs for breakfast?" he asked. "I'm not great at scrambling them, but I can fry them."

"Uh, that would be great, thanks," Anakin got out, the words sticking in his throat. "And, Luke. . . I need to tell you something."

"What is it?" Either Luke didn't hear the urgency in his voice, or was ignoring it, because his tone was light, and his back was turned as he handled the frying pan.

Anakin took in a deep breath. Then another. Then another.

Then he just said it. "I'm Anakin. Vader. Your father."

Luke didn't even turn around to say, "I know."

Anakin blinked. "What?"

"I said I know," Luke repeated simply, cracking an egg. "You have this sort of aura around you—Leia's better at recognising it than I am, but we both remember it from when we were little. You rocking our cradles, and the wards you put on the house. We could recognise you anywhere, even when you've been shoved in a human form. I felt it a few times during the War." During traumatic experiences, went unsaid, and with a stab of self-loathing Anakin wondered if his 'aura' was triggering some of the nightmares Luke so clearly suffered from.

"You—" He shook his head. "You know? You knew? And you still took me in?"

Luke actually turned around at that, puzzlement on his face. "Yes," he said, as if it should be obvious, as if there was nothing strange about any of this—

Just. . . "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why take me in? Why help me? Why—" He choked on the words. "Why give up immortality for me?"

"You're my father," Luke said. "I love you."

Perhaps Anakin's disbelief was obvious, because Luke kept talking.

"I remember you. I remember those wards protecting us, the feel of you cradling us against your chest when we were crying, what your love felt like when you tried to get us to calm down. And I love you. Of course I was going to help you in whatever way I can."

Anakin shook his head again. He was crying, he realised—tears were dripping down his face, into the crook of his neck. He could taste salt on his lips. "I just. . ." He sighed.

Luke was watching him carefully—and sadly. "Are you going to leave now?"

Anakin wiped at his eyes. "What?"

"You never stayed for more than a night, before." Luke's expression was pained. "Are you going to leave now?"

"No!" Anakin shook his head violently. "No. The terms of the punishment are that I can stay in one place for a month," he explained. "Can— may I stay for a month? To get to know you properly?"

Luke's brow was creased, lips slightly parted. He looked confused.

Then, like dawn breaking, a grin split his face. He ducked his head, cheeks reddening as he said, "I'd— I'd love that."

Anakin knew he could only stay for a month. And he didn't know how many times he'd be able to return after that.

But he did know that Luke—and, perhaps, fate—had bought him this one chance to know his children. And he wasn't going to squander it.


Anakin did stay for a month. And then he had to leave again, Luke watching him go from the top of the path, silent tears streaming down his face. Anakin had explained that after he left that he didn't know where his wanderings would take him—or when they would lead him back here.

And indeed, it was five years before he saw him again. By that point Leia and her husband were occupying the house he'd first met Luke in; Luke was living with his wife and young son in a house a few streets over. Anakin and Mara took one look at each other and instantly hated each other, but the snarking back and forth entertained them both until there was nothing left between them but grudging respect.

After that, it was fifteen years. Then ten. Then twenty. Then fifteen more.

By that point, they both knew that the likelihood of Anakin seeing Luke again before he died was slim. Luke hadn't cried over it since that first parting, but he cried now, and Anakin cried with him.

Sure enough, five years later he came across a house, and inside it was Luke and Mara's son, mourning both his parents' passing.

Anakin still had thirty years of wandering left to do, and wander he did. He carried Luke's story with him all over, so that he may never forget, and when he became a god again, he didn't.

When he became a god again, he gave him the blessing he'd held onto for so long.

Shmi was no longer alone in the heavens. Luke was there too, caught with his brilliant smile.

The two Sky Walkers, captured in time and space, immortalised across the stars for the rest of eternity.

Chapter Text

There were a number of things Sergeant Kreel found surprising when he reported to the Executor and to Lord Vader alone for the first time in years. That Vader wasn't there to greet him wasn't one of them. He was a lord, and Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy, after all; he had many duties, and could hardly be everywhere at once, arcane powers or not.

However, it was a surprise to see the captain of the ship hovering in the hangar bay, instead of standing on the bridge where his duties demanded he be. Not to mention that the fact he pulled Kreel aside the moment he saw him was pretty surprising as well.

"Sergeant Kreel?" the man asked in the usual clipped, Coruscanti accent, a faint grimace on his face.

"Captain Piett," he replied, back straight. He tried to keep his distaste for the usual Coruscanti officer down—this man had Vader's favour, wouldn't have kept his position for so long if he didn't, and that meant he was capable. Besides, wasn't Piett supposed to be from Axxila or some equally obscure planet?

"You've been debriefed of your mission?"

"Yes, sir."

"You are prepared for it?"

"Absolutely, sir." It would be odd—he hadn't gone undercover for a long time, spending more time carrying out simple find-and-exterminate missions with his squad—but he was ready. It would be good to get into action on his own again, see what he could do when he had no one to support him. See what he was really made of.

"Good," Piett replied, but the grimace hadn't left his face. "However, I am tasked with informing you there's been a change of plan."

Kreel's thoughts momentarily stuttered to a halt, then he noticed the datapad Piett was holding out to him. He accepted it on autopilot, glancing at it only briefly, then his mouth caught up to his brain with, "Sir?"

"You will no longer be carrying out this mission alone. More details are on there, and you are expected to familiarise yourself with them before your companions arrive."

"Who—" Kreel started to ask, then he turned the datapad on and his question stuck in his throat.

"You'll be accompanied by Commander Skywalker," Piett confirmed, a grim tone to his voice, "and Lord Vader himself."

Lord Vader himself. . .

Kreel swallowed. He hadn't been in the same room as Vader since he'd failed his last personal mission. He didn't want to know whether Vader had forgiven him or not—his money was on not.

And Commander Skywalker. . .

He didn't know the name, but Piett said it with such gravity that it had to mean something, not to mention it did remind him of some rumour that had gone round the 501rst a while back. He glanced down at the datapad again, studying his holo. He was young for a commander—it said that he was just shy of twenty years old, but his Imperial record boasted education at all the best academies, as well as a truly impressive track record as a pilot on both Vader's Black Squadron and at various other stations. Apparently he'd even flown in defence of the Death Star, but had been away for the battle that had decided its fate.

His confusion must have shown on his face, because Piett glanced around, then lowered his voice. "It isn't anything official, but I feel it's my duty to tell you what I know about Commander Skywalker."

Kreel nodded. He would be a fool to pass up any extra information he got the chance to hear.

"There appear to be no problems with his record, but you'll find that things simply don't add up with him," Piett said. "I do not mean this as an insult to his character, Sergeant—indeed, he's one of the most loyal, hard-working, respectful men you will ever meet. But he's been in education for the Imperial Navy long before anyone should start it, and—I should clarify once again that now he is the epitome of loyalty—at one point he was friends with Rebel sympathisers, suspected of helping them defect. But he was ultimately cleared of charges."

Kreel's couldn't contain his surprise at that. Everyone the ISB charged with Rebel activity were executed; this was practically unheard of.

Piett nodded as he continued, "And then there's his relationship with Lord Vader."

Kreel frowned at that—relationship? He couldn't imagine anyone in the Navy having any sort of personal relationship with Darth Vader; the man was a stalwart professional, which was to say that he was hostile to the point of murderous with most people.

"You'll understand what I mean," Piett assured him. "But you should know that if it comes down to completing the mission or saving Skywalker's life. . . save Skywalker. If you value your own life, that is."

Kreel tried not to rub his throat. He'd been choked before; he didn't want to die like that.

"I'll keep it in mind, sir," he said carefully.

"Good." Piett glanced at his chrono. "Now, Lord Vader and Commander Skywalker shall be here any moment; I should be leaving. Good luck, Sergeant."

"Thank you, Captain. I'm sure the mission will go well."

Piett gave him a look, and suddenly Kreel realised it wasn't the mission that he'd been referring to.

Then he left, and Kreel was left to read the datapad and stew in silent anticipation.


He didn't have to stew for very long. He read the datapad twice over, Skywalker's section in particular; Vader's section was a lot of what he already knew. He was just about to start his third read—one can never be too careful—when he was suddenly aware of the hangar bay growing colder.

He turned his head just in time to see the door hiss open and Vader march in, his black cape nipping at his heels. Kreel jerked to attention.

"My lord!"

"Sergeant," Vader acknowledged dismissively, then glanced around the hangar bay. It grew marginally colder as he took in the fact it was empty, save for the non-Imperial shuttle designated to take them to the surface of Nar Shaddaa. "Has Skywalker arrived yet?"

"No, my lord."

The vocoder spat out a burst of static—Kreel assumed it was Vader's equivalent of an annoyed sigh, then found himself marvelling that the man was showing any sort of human emotion at all. He half-turned away to stare at the closed door he'd just entered, as if he could see through it to all the other people on the ship, and pick Skywalker out. Kreel wouldn't be surprised if he could.

Then the moment passed. Another burst of static, and Vader stalked towards the ship—presumably to inspect it, see if it met his high demands of what a ship should be. As such, he was facing away from the door when it opened again, this time to admit a young man with short blond hair and a gentle face the holo hadn't quite been able to do justice.

Skywalker.

"You," Vader ground out without looking away from the ship, "are late."

Skywalker strode forward, nodding a greeting to Kreel, even as he said, "No, my lord. I am exactly on time; you are simply early."

There was no smile on his face, nor in his voice, but there somehow seemed to be a joke in it nonetheless. Kreel gaped at the commander—then gaped some more when Vader ignored this example of blatant disrespect.

"Get onto the ship," was all he said. "I will give you and the Sergeant further details of the assignment once on board."

Skywalker turned to Kreel, then, a sunny smile consuming his face.

"You must be Sergeant Kreel," he greeted as they walked into the ship. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Commander Luke Skywalker."

Kreel watched him offer his hand, as if this was some court function, not a warship, and wondered what the hell was going on.


The ship was larger on the inside that it seemed, and most of it appeared to be taken up by a large hyperbaric chamber in what would be the captain's quarters. Oddly enough, Kreel didn't think that was a staple addition to most smugglers' ships.

Despite that, there was enough space for a single bunkroom—with two bunks inside; he assumed Lord Vader would rest in the hyperbaric chamber—and the cockpit, which was where they assembled first. Vader took the pilot's seat, to no one's surprise, but Kreel had to raise an eyebrow at Skywalker's audacity in taking the co-pilot's seat behind him. Everyone knew Vader preferred flying alone.

Yet despite this common conception, Vader didn't seem bothered in the least by Skywalker's action. Instead, he just began briefing them on the mission—as if Kreel hadn't made sure he was briefed thoroughly before setting foot on the Executor. It must be for Skywalker's benefit.

"This," Vader waved his hand and a holo was projected over the controls, "is Grakkus the Hutt."

Skywalker studied him, frowning. The way his brow furrowed made him seem even younger than he was. "The Hutts are allies of the Empire." Was Kreel imagining the distaste in his voice as he said that? "What crimes are we investigating him for?"

Kreel almost said it himself, but then decided he was already in enough hot water with his lord; he didn't need to add interrupting his briefings to the list.

"Suspected possession of illegal artefacts." The words were weighted with something.

Kreel fingered the lightsaber at his waist, as Skywalker and Vader seemed to exchange glances.

"Jedi artefacts," Skywalker said.

"Indeed."

Skywalker nodded, leaning forward to study the Hutt in more detail. His eyes lingered on the Hutt's mechanical legs. "So, what's the plan?"

"My lord," Kreel bit out.

Skywalker and Vader turned to him at exactly the same time; there was something identical about the feel of their gazes on him. "Sergeant?"

"What's the plan, my lord."

He could feel Vader glaring at him, feel—though he was probably imagining it—the air constricting round his throat. Had he violated sacred ground here, or something?

But then Skywalker laughed a little, and Vader's death mask turned to him, and the moment passed.

"My apologies, Sergeant," he said with a smile and a small incline of his head. "What's the plan, my lord?"

"The plan," Vader growled out, irritated by the proceedings, "was for Sergeant Kreel to infiltrate Grakkus's arena alone as the Gamemaster. Grakkus needs someone to train people to fight and die in his arena, and his previous one was mauled by a rancor. Kreel was to be a replacement, but also a spy."

Skywalker propped his chin on his hand. "That's a solid plan," he said, catching Kreel's eye and adding, "sir. Why has it changed?"

"It has not."

Skywalker frowned—as did Kreel. "Then why am I—"

"The Emperor feels you need more experience outside of a cockpit, young one. In subterfuge in particular." Kreel jolted at Emperor.

Skywalker scowled. "I can lie."

"No," Vader said firmly, an almost amused tone to his voice, "you cannot. And the Emperor feels that this mission with Sergeant Kreel will teach you much needed lessons about your skill set, the Empire's role in the galaxy, and your place in it."

Kreel's heart was thudding hard—the Emperor? Had a personal interest in Skywalker? He thought back to the datapad, to Piett's briefing; was that why Skywalker had been let off the hook from suspected treason? Was that why he'd been in Imperial education for so long? The Emperor himself had plans for him?

Skywalker rolled his eyes. "Perhaps, my lord." Another amused glance at Kreel; he tried not to bristle. "But I'm afraid I fail to see my place in this mission—or yours. Sergeant Kreel is sent in as a spy, indefinitely. But where—"

"The original plan was for Sergeant Kreel to be sent in for an indefinite period of time," Vader cut him off sharply. He waved his hand—for a moment Kreel thought he would Force-choke Skywalker but, of course, he didn't—and the holo of Grakkus disappeared, to be replaced with a view of Grakkus's arena, the entrances highlighted in red. "However, the Emperor had revised that plan. Sergeant Kreel will be in there for two weeks. Long enough for Grakkus to grow accustomed to his presence, and for a few of his trainees to have died in the arena. Then, we send you in."

"Me? What will I do?"

"You shall be trained by Sergeant Kreel." There was an intense amount of displeasure in Vader's voice at the idea, but Kreel couldn't tell what it was over. "If Grakkus is the Jedi artefact collector we believe him to be, he will not be able to resist showing off the death of an actual Jedi in his arena."

Kreel blinked. So did Skywalker.

"F— My lord," he said heavily, this time not so much as smirking at the title. It seemed to be a replacement for something else he'd meant to say. "I'm not a Jedi."

"No," Vader agreed, oddly heated, "you are not. But you can pretend to be." He yanked something off his belt—a lightsaber, one Kreel recognised as different to his usual one—and tossed it to Skywalker. He caught it warily, eyeing it with distaste. "Grakkus is just another Force-blind fool who doesn't know the difference."

Skywalker grimaced slightly, but clipped the lightsaber to his belt. Now each of them had one. "And you will be. . .?"

"I," Vader informed him, "shall stay in the ship, and supervise you."

Kreel gaped a little at that, and apparently Skywalker couldn't quite contain his snort. "You? Supervise?"

Vader jabbed his finger at him. "Sergeant Kreel may be an experienced trooper in this field, but you, young one, are not. And you are too valuable to the Empire," there seemed to be something in that sentence, if the brief hurt that flickered over Skywalker's face was any indication, "to risk on such a low priority mission without backup. I shall be on hand to assist, and summon trooper aid, in case of disaster."

Skywalker narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anything. Neither of them did, for a while; Kreel had the uncomfortable sensation there was some conversation going on that he knew nothing of.

Skywalker let out a sigh. "Very well," he conceded, forgoing the honorific entirely. He tilted his head towards the controls. "Shall we be heading off?"


Nar Shaddaa had never been considered a particularly desirable moon to live on, and for good reason. The place was crowded, smelly, and crawling with filth, all presided over by the oh-so-generous Grakkus—especially in Hutta Town.

But Grakkus was generous enough to give Kreel the job. And as much as he despised training the weaklings brought before him, seeing them fight pathetically and die before him like he'd been forced to do before the Empire had rescued him from his hellhole of a homeworld, he had a job to do. He watched the two weeks tick by.

On the day Skywalker was due to be brought in, Kreel couldn't believe his ears about what had happened.

He'd heard the story from one passerby first, then another, then another. He questioned the people who'd been in the bar with Skywalker—they knew him by now, and knew not to mess with him—and they told him all they knew.

Skywalker's act as a Jedi was working, alright. It wasn't like him pulling out a lightsaber and waving it around in a bar fight could be interpreted in many other ways.

But it seemed to have also gone down well in other ways—ways that couldn't be a coincidence, not with the Emperor and Lord Vader's personal interest in him. He'd jumped an impossible distance to chase after Grakkus's minion and the stolen lightsaber; the minion swore up and down they'd slowed as they fell, as if some otherworldly Force had kept them from breaking all their bones. That same otherworldly Force that was needed to open the holocrons in Grakkus's vault—a test which the kid had passed, and passed with flying colours.

An otherworldly Force that sure sounded a hell of a lot like the one Lord Vader wielded. . .

He would ask the kid himself. It wasn't like he couldn't; the moment Grakkus had got his hands on him, he'd scheduled a death match and ordered Kreel to train him. This would be a fight for the ages, he'd said.

Kreel wanted to disagree. Especially watching the boy come out dressed in the rags that were left of his Jedi disguise, they and the magna cuffs somehow making him look even smaller than he was. Mysterious Force or not, he didn't look anywhere near good enough to take on a creature called Kongo the Disemboweler and win.

Oh well. Kreel was on hand, Vader was on hand, the 501rst was on hand. They'd deal with it—and the kid might get the cockiness beaten out of him while he was at it.

"You may've opened some holocrons," Kreel called out, "but that doesn't make you a Jedi."

The magna guards released Skywalker; he shook them off just to be sure, then stepped forward. He smirked a little as he said, "I thought we'd established that I wasn't one."

"And yet," Kreel spread his arms wide, "here we are."

"Yeah." Skywalker frowned. "I need to know, Kr—"

"You can call me the Gamemaster," Kreel said pointedly, glaring at the kid. They had a job to do, damn him; what was he doing going around breaking cover? "Though I'm sure that before we're through, you'll have thought of some other things to call me." That aren't my name and Imperial rank.

"I won't fight for the enjoyment of some Hutt," Skywalker said stubbornly. Kreel was surprised to see he meant it. The kid was awful at hiding his emotions—probably why the Emperor had insisted he get more practice—and everything in his face said that he'd rather die than fight in this arena.

"Yes, you will." Our Emperor commands it, and you will obey. "Because you want to learn, and I can teach you."

Some of Skywalker's mulishness gave way to a wry humour Kreel didn't understand. "If all you can teach me is swordplay," he said, "then I have nothing to learn from you."

Kreel snorted. "Cuffs off. Catch." He tossed him a lightsaber. "We have a job here." Do your job. "Try not to die before everyone in the stadium's found their seats."

Skywalker held the lightsaber in front of him, shifting into a ready stance. Kreel had to admit, it looked like he knew the basics at least. Vader must have taught him.

And when they fought, it became clear that Skywalker knew a hell of a lot more than the basics.

Huh. Perhaps, given a lightsaber and the Force and a sizeable amount of help from Lord Vader, the kid might survive against Kongo after all.


"Ready for your big day, my boy?"

Now that Kreel was looking for it, he recognised the disgust that warped Skywalker's features when he looked at Grakkus. Whatever it was about, he had a personal hatred for Hutts and now for Grakkus in particular.

"You'd better be," Grakkus continued despite the lack of answer. "We've got quite the crowd out there."

"He's as ready as he'll ever be."

Skywalker seemed to stir himself into a response when he heard Kreel's words. He met Grakkus's gaze with a belligerent stare. "What happens when I win? You just put me back in a cage again, right?"

"I wouldn't worry about all that. No one is paying to watch you win. They're paying to watch you die."

"And if I don't die out there?"

"Then you'll die in here. Slowly and painfully."

Glancing between the boy and the Hutt, Kreel could have sworn he felt the temperature in the room drop—just like it did when Vader was angry. Like master, like apprentice, he supposed.

The announcements started blaring round the arena. The gate was opening.

Skywalker stepped out into the sand.


Kongo the Disemboweler was just as huge as one would expect.

He was massive. He towered over Skywalker, limbs big and blunt and liable to crush him into dust; the kid looked flat out pathetic next to him, green glowing stick or no green glowing stick. As long as he kept up the act of half-trained-Jedi-Padawan who could barely use a lightsaber, he didn't stand a chance. Kongo tossed him about like a ragdoll.

"Kongo is augmented with deep core drilling armour," Kreel said, watching from Grakkus's box, not quite able to keep the tightness out of his voice. "It won't be easy to hack through that. Not even with a lightsaber."

"You sound almost disappointed, Gamemaster," Grakkus replied, barely taking his eyes off the fight below. He seemed to be slavering at the sight of Skywalker getting the stuffing beaten out of him. "Don't tell me you've taken a liking to this one?"

"It's not my job to take a liking to anything." Piett's words were on repeat in his head: If it comes down to completing the mission or saving Skywalker's life. . . save Skywalker.

If it comes down to completing the mission or saving Skywalker's life. . . save Skywalker.

If you value your own life.

"How correct you are. But we all have our weaknesses, don't we?" Grakkus kept talking, but Kreel was no longer listening. He was wandering off, into the corridors, then pulled out the emergency comlink he was supposed to use once, and only once.

"This is Agent Five-Two-Four-One," he said. "Everything is in position. You'll need to get here soon to save Skywalker."

"Copy that, Agent," returned the scrambled, but still menacing voice of Darth Vader. "We are en route now. Ensure Skywalker survives until then."

If it comes down to completing the mission or saving Skywalker's life. . . save Skywalker. "Yes, my lord." He rubbed at his throat for a moment, then reached for a button on his comlink. He pressed it firmly; it vibrated for a good few seconds. He knew that down in the arena, Skywalker's wrist-mounted comlink was vibrating too. He knew what it meant.

Distraction's over. Troops are on their way. Start fighting back.

Even from this distance, Kreel could see his grin, turned slightly unsettling by the blood on his face. He hauled himself to his feet as Kongo roared, then dragged the back of his hand across his mouth. It came away red.

Then he lit the lightsaber again.

Grakkus gaped as he did a back flip to land on the creature's back, shifting his weight to balance as he lumbered underneath him. Then he was feeling along the edge, to where the collar was clamped round his neck. . . and released it. It felt to the ground.

And Kongo was free.

He bolted off immediately, Skywalker leaping back onto the ground and landing with a roll. Kongo was charging the stands now, everything erupting into anarchy as they tried to flee the rampaging beast.

"What—" Grakkus shouted, then cut himself off at the snap-hiss of a lightsaber near him. "What is—"

He turned—just in time to see Kreel slice two magna guards in half, and levy the saber at him.

"Gamemaster? What in the name of Nal Hutta do you think you're doing?"

"Exactly what I came here to do, you miserable slug." Kreel relished the words. "Show's over, Grakkus. This arena is closed. And oh," he added as Imperial troopers filed out of the corridor, boxing him in, "you're under arrest."

As more troopers filed in, Kreel felt the temperature of the surroundings drop. He glanced down into the arena and sure enough, there was Vader, striding across the sand to where Skywalker was leaning against a pillar, clutching his side. Vader crouched in front of him, his cape flaring out to hide whatever they were doing from prying eyes.

"You filthy traitor. You dare turn informant on me?"

Kreel didn't bother turning round, still watching Vader, as he said, "I was always an Imperial spy, you idiot. Did you really think you could stockpile a collection of Jedi artefacts this big without the Empire taking notice?"

"And do your friends here really think they can come in force to the Smugglers' Moon and leave here alive?" Grakkus spat back. "One word from me and the crowd will tear them to pieces."

Kreel cast one doubtful look at the crowd, still desperately trying to flee as Kongo tore into them, then turned his blaster on Grakkus. "If anyone dies, trust me, Grakkus, you'll be the first."

Grakkus eyed him with that same old arrogance. "I trusted you, yes. And that was my mistake. But I never told you all my secrets. For example," he took a deep breath, "trigger arena protocols, Grakkus Five."

And over the loudspeaker, a voice announced: "Voice recognised. Triggering now."

A trooper pulled the trigger to their blaster. Nothing happened. "What the blazes. . ."

"A localised E.M.P.," one trooper realised. "Blasters are useless."

Panic gripped him. "Get back. Regroup outside."

"What?" one trooper scoffed. "What are you, crazy? We don't need blasters to take down one fat, old— agh—"

Grakkus seized him by the throat, and threw him out over the stands. "You should have warned them, Gamemaster," he gloated. "Now they'll learn the hard way."

He surged forward, metal legs clattering on the floor. Seized another trooper, desperately trying to fire his blaster as if it would miraculously work, and threw him against the wall. The snap of his neck was audible.

"Grakkus isn't like the other Hutts. The most dangerous thing in Grakkus's arena isn't some savage beast or mindless monster. It's—"

He was cut off, scrabbling at his throat. Choking.

Choking, like—

Kreel looked down into the arena again. Vader had turned away from Skywalker, and now the temperature was plummeting as he strode forward, his hand curled in a fist in front of him. Grakkus was dragged into the air, his metal legs kicking and struggling against nothing.

Vader leapt up the stands in three massive jumps, landing squarely inside the box. The troopers scrambled to get out of his way as he stalked forward.

"Grakkus," he boomed, "you have been accused of being in possession of illegal Jedi artefacts." He stalked ever closer. "But that is not what you are dying for."

Kreel's training was all that allowed him to contain his shock. But he couldn't contain his shock at what he heard next.

The troopers who'd scrambled to get out of the way were too far off to hear it as Vader kept talking, but Kreel wasn't. He heard everything.

"This," Grakkus choked more as Vader tightened his grip, "is for your crimes against me, personally. And my son."

Any verbal reaction Grakkus might have had to this information was lost in his gurgles.

"Had your beast killed him, your death would be far less pleasant than this," Vader promised. "But fortunately for you, he survives. His wounds are superficial." Kreel glanced back out at the arena, to where Skywalker was staggering to his feet again. "So I will make this quick."

There was a crunch, then Grakkus fell to the floor.

Vader turned to Kreel, who tried to hide his turbulent emotions and questions immediately—Skywalker is Vader's son? Vader has a son?—and said, "You have done well, Sergeant Kreel. The Emperor will be most pleased with these new acquisitions." He paused, then tilted his mask down to observe Skywalker, down in the arena, as he repeated, "You have done very well."

If it comes down to completing the mission or saving Skywalker's life. . . save Skywalker.

Everything made sense now.

So Kreel nodded, not quite allowing the pride to balloon in his chest. "Thank you, my lord."


"Stop worrying about Sergeant Kreel, Luke, and continue tending to your wounds. You are injured."

Luke smiled a little at his father as he turned back to the viewport of their ship. He retracted his Force probe from Kreel's mind—he was sound asleep—and instead probed his father. The murderous rage from earlier had abated to a worn weariness, though his anger at the Emperor still simmered.

"He forced you to risk your life for a petty exercise," Vader growled, picking up on Luke's thoughts. "Of course I am angry with him."

"It's only a few broken ribs." And a split lip, and a black eye, and the slight burns from Kreel's lightsaber, but those were barely worth mentioning.

He could feel his father's gaze on his face, the bruising there.

"It could have been more," he murmured. "I can't—"

"I know." Luke swallowed at the familiar words. I can't lose you too.

He tried to change the subject. "You know Kreel knows about us now, right?"

His father snorted. "Of course; it is I who allowed him to hear it. He seems to have taken a liking to you, just as the captain did." Piett. Piett, who had known the truth, and tried to give Kreel the pieces to work out the puzzle, if only to help his own survival. "He will be next on our list."

The list. The list of officers his father was vetting for their loyalties, building a team ready to support any coup. Luke could see how Kreel would fit into that.

"Soon, then?" he asked.

Vader considered it.

"No," he said. "Not soon." He rested a hand on Luke's shoulder, and squeezed tightly. "But sooner than before."

Luke smiled faintly at his father's attempt to comfort him, but it couldn't quite stave off the memory of Force lightning coursing through him—or quiet the echoes of his aunt and uncle's screams as they were shot before his eyes.

You will have your revenge, Luke. And your safety.

His father's mental voice was quiet, reassuring, but Luke still rubbed the section of his wrist where organic skin gave way to synthskin.

Sooner, he told himself, as he father punched in the hyperspace coordinates and they were leaving Nar Shaddaa behind for good. Sooner than before.

Chapter Text

When Luke was sixteen, a botanical company was commissioned by the Emperor to breed a new type of flower. The requested flower was to be a cross between the Alderaanian candlewick and a jade rose: two completely different species, from completely different climates. No one, not even Vader, was entirely clear on Palpatine's purpose for this flower—though they'd theorised that the owner of the company had displeased him in some way, and this impossible task was a way of humiliating them before he killed them slowly—but every strand they produced was rejected by the Emperor.

"This is not what I had hoped for," he'd say, somewhat sadly, to whatever company official had drawn the short straw and been made to present to him. Usually, they made it out alive—though admittedly not without needing medical treatment for slight electrocution.

It was a year and several failed results later that they produced what came to be known colloquially as a jadewick.

It was the most hideous flower they'd produced so far. Its colour was a garish orange, not quite bioluminescent like its candlewick forefather, but still far too bright. Petals that couldn't decide whether they were rounded or pointed, a scent that was sweet in rarity but sickly in abundance, a climbing tree's roots that would snake through whatever soil they were put in and choke any other plants to death: it was a menace.

It was also, due to some freak of nature that showed just how little their so-called advanced civilisation truly knew about genetics, incredibly fertile.

When it was shown to the Emperor, that poor employee died under his wrath and he ordered it thrown away immediately as, "A blight on life itself."

But it was too late. On the speeder ride to the Imperial palace, the wind had caught some of its seeds and they had spread.

One could never have expected them to reproduce as well as they did. The jade rose was a cultured, temperamental flower favoured by Coruscanti nobility; the candlewick was native to Alderaan's mountains and hills. The idea that the cross could take root in the concrete of Coruscant was absolutely preposterous.

And yet it did.

They were weeds. They grew in cracks in walkways, at the tips of high-rise buildings, everywhere one would never expect a flower to grow.

But—to the relief of billions—they didn't cause any economic disruption whatsoever.

Nearly all produce was imported to Coruscant, and what little farms people kept were indoors, under greenhouses. Not to mention that they never affected any important foundations for buildings: the same lack of sunlight that plagued the residents of the lower levels made the area simply unliveable to them.

In fact, the only class they affected was the nobility.

Even so, the nobility of the Empire was infamous for being vain and petty, and they didn't seem to appreciate having an entire layer of disgustingly orange flowers coating their apartments like a blanket thrown over the entire planet. Thus began the largest, most well-funded community effort the planet had ever seen in order to get rid of them, and the botanical company was taken to court to answer for their crimes. The Emperor showed no intention of so much as lifting a finger to help.

But, to everyone's (and especially Vader's) surprise, Luke did.

He paid for the lawyer to defend them. He provided testimony in their favour. And when the prosecution asked him, a sneer in her voice, whether he would genuinely like to keep jadewicks as a bouquet. . .

Luke had answered, face perfectly straight, "Yes."

The Emperor was not seen to be involved in the case. But all the power of the nobility quailed before the involvement of one of his personal agents. Whether or not they had his endorsement. Whether or not they were a literal teenager. Whether or not he would actually hurt them.

They backed out, and the botanical company survived. It was broke, from the cost of cleaning up the mess, but they were all still alive.

And Luke was left with the several hundred jadewicks that had survived the purge, and nowhere to put them.

He rose to the challenge. He converted one of the rooms in his quarters on Mustafar into a greenhouse, complete with UV lamps and a hydroponics system, and taught himself how to garden. He even employed a droid to look after the flowers when he was on missions where he would be away for several months.

So when he defected to the Rebels and didn't return to Mustafar for nearly a year, they still survived.


Vader hadn't been back to Mustafar since before Sullust, but his suit was in desperate need of maintenance and his castle's medical provisions were the best by far. He needed to go.

And if the Emperor had heavily implied that Luke's quarters needed searching for clues, and that Vader had forbidden anyone other than him from doing so, well, he could deal with that later.

He did. He had to. Entering Luke's rooms was painful, but necessary. He would do it.

There was no dust: the cleaning droids still took care of that. They always made sure not to move Luke's things, though, and Vader found himself taking an inventory of them as he looked around: styluses, flimsi and datapads stacked haphazardly on the desk; slippers tucked under the nightstand; a few stray socks, old clothes, pyjamas draped over a chair. The bed was made, the pale blue covers smoothed down. The carpet, in that same shade of blue Luke liked so much, was vacuumed and bare.

It looked like Luke had barely left. Like he'd walk in any moment now and smile. Like everything from Sullust had been a delusion brought on by the drugs pumped through Vader's suit.

But he knew the truth.

He sorted through the datapads, but they were locked; he'd have to give them to the slicers, see what they could get out of them. There was nothing hidden under the bed, in the wardrobe, behind the sofa; the bathroom was equally clean, as were the cupboards. Eventually, there was only one room he hadn't searched.

The greenhouse was much warmer than the rest of the castle, but Vader's suit adjusted to the temperature change and he barely noticed it. He was too focused on the ache in his chest.

Because it was bad enough seeing Luke's bedroom, the study, all the places that were more for utility than comfort, more function than pleasure. But Luke's greenhouse was born of a whim he'd had three years ago. It was a place he maintained as a hobby. It was a place that said as much about Luke as any description ever could.

He let the respirator fill his lungs with oxygen one, three, five times. Then he hit the button, the door hissed open, and he stepped inside.

The lights flickered on upon his entrance. He let his eyes trail around the trays and trays of jadewicks, mounted on tables about waist height. Mustafar's sun was setting; it cast the room in an orange light that made the colour of the flowers seem almost bearable against it.

Not that Vader would be able to tell. The ruby lenses in his mask forbade that.

The droid was still shuffling around, as it always was, as if nothing had changed. It had been weeks since Vader's imprisonment on Mustafar, months since Luke had last been back here, and yet everything seemed so. . . untouched.

"Oh!" J4-20 said upon noticing him. "My apologies, Master Vader, I didn't notice you! Would you like me to leave?" The droid had always seemed to labour under the impression that his presence was unwelcome, despite Luke's constant reassurances to the contrary.

Vader found himself saying automatically, "No, Jay-Four, you're fine."

"Then, might I enquire, are you looking for Master Luke? Because I'm afraid he hasn't been back here in months! I'm very worried about him."

Something in Vader's chest seized. Yes, worried about him was one way of putting it. "I'm afraid I don't know where Luke is," he said. For some reason, he didn't want to tell the droid the truth about its master, but nor did he want to lie. "He's disappeared."

"Oh dear!" He sounded genuinely put out. "I do hope he's alright."

Vader just nodded blandly, and the droid turned back to his work.

The floors were spotless thanks to J4, and when Vader took to wandering around he found he couldn't drag his eyes above them. He didn't want to look around, see some of the holos Luke had on the walls in here, or see the fiery landscape of Mustafar and be reminded of when a loved one had betrayed him before. . .

But looking down didn't help anything, because during his wanderings he found he knocked a small holoprojector from its spot on the table, and made to pick it up.

Then, against all his better judgement, he clicked it on.

The image it displayed was like a punch to the chest. He found he couldn't breathe for a moment, despite the impossibility of that, because— because—

He knew this holo.

He'd taken this holo, years ago, back when Luke had first acquired the flowers. The background showed the Imperial courthouse in blurry detail—blurry because both the device and Vader had decided to focus on Luke's beaming face, and the hideous flowers he was hugging to his chest.

Luke was a consummate Imperial operative, through and through—or rather, had been. He would show his gentler emotions to Vader when they were in private, seemed cold and unfeeling to most of the general public and especially the Imperial elite, but. . . He almost never smiled. Not genuinely. Not like this.

Vader had never known why the candlewicks meant so much to Luke—had almost been afraid to ask and understand. But he'd always indulged him when it came to them. Because of moments like this.

He glanced around the room, his throat suddenly tight. Had it been hard for Luke to leave his flowers behind? He imagined so. Luke found it hard to leave anything behind—he grew roots too easily, despite being torn out of the soil time and time again. He was almost a weed himself.

A wry smile twisted his lips at that, the sting it caused in his face accompanied by a sting in his heart. How had Luke felt when he made the final decision to leave the candlewicks?

How had he felt when he made the final decision to leave Vader?

He reached into their bond, but still felt nothing.

And that nothingness was consuming him. It expanded through his mind, numbed his chest and arms and sent his head throbbing. Nothing felt real: his days were like staggering through a dream, a nightmare.

He needed to find Luke.

He tucked the holo into one of the compartments on his belt. After a moment's hesitation, he glanced up to pick a single jadewick from its spot in the beds. He gazed at it, staring at the irregular petals, the spiked centre, then that went into the compartment as well. Gold pollen dusted his gloves.

He needed to find Luke now.

Hunting the Rebels and hoping he was with them wasn't enough. Calling and calling and calling into the empty space of their bond wasn't enough. He needed more. Bounties, large scale search parties, specific private investigators assigned to the job. There were so many questions he hadn't had the time to ask, in the catacombs of Sullust, so many questions he needed to ask, before the Emperor got his hands on him again.

Because the Emperor had made no secret of his intentions towards Luke. He had been a useful operative, but now he was a wildcard. He wanted him dead.

Vader. . . wasn't sure how to feel about that. The numbness had spread to his heart.

Luke was a traitor. He deserved to die.

Luke was his son. He didn't want him to die.

So he had to get to him first. If there was any chance of convincing Luke to return to the Empire, Vader would be the one to convince him. And Palpatine would be unlikely to turn away someone only looking to serve him.

Vader's hand tightened into a fist.

He knew what he had to do.


He had set up the bounty, an absolutely astronomical sum attached to it, organised the search parties, appointed the private investigators. He was with the Executor in the Outer Rim when Palpatine contacted him about it.

"Rise, my friend," he greeted once the call connected. "How goes your search for young Skywalker?"

Young Skywalker, now? Not your son? Did Palpatine think that denying who Luke was to him would make this easier?

He swallowed. "Fruitless so far, Master, but we will find him."

"I'm sure you shall." The Emperor's hologram showed him shifting to sit back in his seat. "My concern is about how soon."

"I—" Vader tried. "Soon, Master." I hope.

"I have seen the bounty you placed on his head. I am concerned that your attachment to him is hindering your search."

Vader shot to his feet. "Master, a high bounty will only accelerate—"

"I am not talking about the sum!" Palpatine snapped. "Though that is also very telling of just how desperate you have become!"

Silence. Vader listened to the rasp of his respirator—once, twice, three times—then said carefully, "So what is your concern, Master?"

"'Alive only'?"

Vader closed his eyes, knowing there was no way Palpatine could see it through the mask. "Master. . ."

"He is one of the most dangerous threats to our Empire. A highly trained personal agent of mine, defected to train as a Jedi?" He said the word with disdain. "Do not insult my or your intelligence by pretending he is otherwise. He could destroy us."

"He's just a boy."

"And you were just a boy, when you destroyed the Jedi! His age is of no import. He is a traitor, and I am concerned you will continue to let his memory rule you. Tell me, Lord Vader," his face contorted in a sneer, "do your attachments control you?"

"I control them!"

"Then control them! Do not allow them to make you soft on someone who has wronged you deeply. Do you think he would do the same for you? He stood by while the Rebels would have killed you!"

Except he hadn't, Vader thought. He had saved him instead. But Palpatine didn't know that.

Had Luke saved his father, only for his father to kill him in return?

Palpatine's expression softened. "I am sorry it has come to this, believe me, old friend. I loved him too." Vader held in his scoff. "But he has lost his way. If he were to see the error of his ways and return, you know I would welcome him with open arms. He is like a grandson to me. But he is a threat." He enunciated the word. "And if your bounty hunters allow him to escape while trying to keep him alive, as your bounty specifies. . . The damage he does to the Empire with every passing moment only diminishes any future good he could do us.

"Better to risk he die in captivity, my friend, than show him mercy and let him wreak havoc on the galaxy he once swore to protect. That is a risk we should be willing to take." He paused, watching Vader closely. "Do you understand?"

The words stuck in his throat, but he said them anyway. "Yes, Master. I understand."


He changed the bounty from Alive Only to Dead or Alive. He had to wonder what Luke thought of it, when he saw it, and did his best to banish images of Boba Fett presenting his son's battered corpse from his mind.


Despite the bounties, and the search parties, and the investigations, three years passed with Luke Skywalker still missing.

Vader knew he was still alive. Security holos of him appeared from time to time—there, attacking Cymoon One; there, in some rundown smuggling establishment with some rundown smuggler; there standing back to back with the Princess Organa, lightsabers lit.

Luke had a new lightsaber, he noticed from the last one. Different to his—Anakin's—old one. He couldn't tell what colour it was—the blue of the holo and the red of his sight disguised it—but he had to wonder. He wondered a lot of things.

The numbness grew every day.

Then came Hoth.

Admiral Ozzel made the mistake of coming out of hyperspace too early. Vader knew it the moment it happened. The bond between him and Luke remained dormant, but he could sense his presence on the planet below nonetheless—and he could sense his alarm.

But he was there. They had a chance to capture him. He could do this.

The ensuing battle was. . . tense. More Imperials died to Vader's impatience than to the Rebels' resistance. The worry over Luke's life, as he felt him engage in the battle down below, kept his nerves on edge. He needed General Veers to get that shield down, soon. He needed to get down there himself.

His nerves stretched nearly to breaking point when he felt Luke's presence flicker, again. His son had dropped the shielding on their bond, presumably to focus on the battle, and their proximity didn't help him either. For him to suddenly disappear, no evidence of shielding—

But no, it returned a few moments later. Had he simply been knocked out? He was flying one of the snowspeeders, wasn't he? Had he crashed?

He didn't know, and he didn't like not knowing.

When General Veers finally got the shield down, it couldn't come soon enough. He didn't waste a second before launching the shuttle and descending on the base.

The regulators in his suit adapted to the cold as he strode through the base, snow crunching underfoot. Rebels ran up to hold him off, but he didn't even bother to use his lightsaber, didn't bother with the Force choke—anyone who came at him died of a snapped neck, and he was past their cooling corpse before it even hit the ground.

He cast his senses out like a net, reeling it in. Luke, where was—

There. He was up by the X-wings, and for a moment panic seized Vader. Had the troopers he'd sent to sabotage any ships they found failed? Was Luke going to—

No. He was moving away now, closer to Vader.

Closer to the hangars.

No. No, he wouldn't let him—

He increased his pace, nearly running in his attempts to get to the hangars in time. The troopers had been assigned to disable all ships they came across, not just the X-wings, but if Luke was going for that piece-of-junk ship whose captain he'd been seen with often, then he doubted his troopers had been able to even understand enough of the ship to disable it—

He made it to the hangar moments too late.

The landing ramp was down. Princess Organa had just disappeared inside, and Luke stood at the top, ushering two droids in as well. Once they were in, he glanced at the entrance to the hangar, and froze.

Vader froze too.

Luke's eyes blew wide when they locked with Vader's; for one tense moment, something akin to longing flashed across their bond.

Then Luke slammed a button, and the landing ramp began to rise.

"No!" Vader shouted, coming to his senses. He strode forward, lighting his saber. The troopers with him flinched at the vicious snap-hiss but he paid them no heed as he reached out his hand. The Force bunched around the rising ramp, there was a loud screeching as it ground to a halt, Luke's panic spiked again—

And then he threw out his hands and Vader was blasted back. He hit the snow hard, the lightsaber melting a section of it before switching off. He scrambled to his feet again, barking his orders—

But he was too late.

By the time he was up, the ramp was up, the door was closed, and the Millennium Falcon had blasted out of there.


When he'd returned to the Executor, Vader thanked all the stars and the Force itself that the Falcon's hyperdrive had malfunctioned.

Now, he stood at the viewport on the bridge, his back to the pits, and stared out at the asteroid field they were hiding it. They'd warded off the TIE fighters he'd sent in; even the Force couldn't give him an exact location of where they were. He could still sense them, barely, even if. . .

Luke had slammed down his shields again, but their proximity meant it was an uphill battle. Every so often, an emotion would leak across: hope, triumph, disappointment, amusement, all fleeting. There, then gone again.

But always, always permeated by an unending sense of fear.

Why was he afraid? What was he afraid of?

. . .Vader?

The thought punched him in the gut. He went for the compartment at his belt, the holo still in there. He lit it and stared, not caring that his officers might see the blue light off the viewport and wonder what he was doing. He stared at Luke's grin, his wild happiness. No abandon.

No. Luke couldn't be afraid of him. . .

He tucked the holo back into his belt. He needed to try a new strategy.

Admiral Piett was immediately at attention when he turned to him and ordered, "Get me Boba Fett."

"Yes, my lord," came the clipped reply, and Vader almost didn't notice the way Piett's eyes lingered on the pollen still stuck to his gloves.


The strategy worked. Calrissian bowed to his demands in return for the safety of his city, and when he felt Luke and his friends land on Bespin, he let himself feel a little triumph.

He regretted it immediately after, since apparently he hadn't shielded that feeling well enough. Luke's Force sense immediately became tense, on edge. Vader watched Calrissian greet him, Organa and the smuggler from a window a few floors above them. His son was usually amiable towards strangers he didn't know anything about, and indeed he was. But there was a curtness to his politeness as well, and he kept glancing around. To the other landing pads, through the open door behind Calrissian. He even scanned the row of windows Vader was standing at, pausing to almost meet his father's eye, before continuing on. Vader relaxed marginally.

But Luke's suspicions could complicate it when they finally sprung the trap, so he'd have to be cautious. He left them several hours to calm their nerves before planning to strike.

Calrissian did his part in making them relax. He provided them with changes of clothes, though both Luke and Organa kept their lightsaber belts on. He assigned men to fix the ship, though Vader secretly assigned other officers to ensure the hyperdrive was disabled, just in case they escaped. He played his part perfectly, and when he asked them to join him for a refreshment, they all agreed.

It was going well. He relaxed marginally himself.

That was his mistake.

His shields had softened—suddenly Luke could sense his presence again, and it couldn't be ignored. He felt his panic, the distrust rocketing to the surface again, and by this point they were close enough that Vader could hear him through the door.

"—what have you done, no wait Han don't—"

The door hissed open, and they saw him.

He was so focused on Luke, the lightsaber that hissed to life in his hands, that he almost missed it when Solo jerked out his blaster and fired. The Force flashed a warning; he lifted his hand for the bolts to bounce harmlessly off his glove.

The three Rebels turned to run, to flee, to get away from him, but then the stormtroopers filed in to level their blasters at them.

With a snap-hiss, Organa lit her lightsaber as well.

"Get back," she spat. Luke stayed silent, though he'd gone deathly white.

Vader didn't bother to listen to her. With a flick of his wrist, she and her smuggler were flung back against the wall, clawing at their throats. Her lightsaber clattered to the floor.

That stirred a reaction from Luke. "Leia! Han!" He glared at him—Vader was slightly taken aback at the intensity of it. "Let them go!"

A slight Force shove accompanied the words, but through all his raging emotions Luke couldn't get a good grip on the Force, and Vader was expected it anyway. He remained unmoved.

"As you wish," he said, letting his triumph seep into his voice. The Rebels dropped to the floor, winded.

Luke didn't stop glaring. "Let them go free, as well."

Vader cocked his head. "Why," he asked, "would I do that?"

For a moment, Luke glanced at his friends. Then he lifted his chin. "Because it's me you want. You don't have to take them too."

"Luke, no—"

"Kid, don't—"

"They will be prosecuted as Rebels and face a Rebels' fate. Enhanced interrogation, then execution."

"No." Luke shook his head vehemently. "Just let them go and you can have me—"

"I have you anyway."

"—I won't fight—"

"That would be in your best interest, young one, not mine—"

"Please, Father!"

The room feel silent at that. Everyone present knew it—perhaps not Calrissian, from the look on his face—and it wasn't like it was a secret. But it was surprising, having it slapped in their faces like that.

Vader lifted his hand. Luke's brow furrowed as he noticed the gold pollen that still dusted his glove—did he recognise it?

"Stun them," Vader ordered, waving his hand dismissively. Luke's face grew terrified again. "Take Solo and Organa to one cell and put Skywalker in another."

The troopers fired.

Solo had no lightsaber to block the bolts with: he went down first, hitting his head hard on the floor. Organa's lightsaber had rolled away from her when Vader had strangled her: she didn't last much longer. Luke took a few more moments to go—he was fast, and a difficult target to hit even without the lightsaber—but there were too many of them. Eventually, he slumped to the ground.

Vader gazed at him for a moment. He hadn't seen him in so long, years now, and it had been even longer since he saw him in good lighting. There was a new scar across the right side of his face—when had he received that?

A trooper made to pick him up, but Vader waved him away. "Belay that order," he said. "Take Solo and Organa to the cells. I'll escort Skywalker myself."

"Yes, my lord."

Vader clipped Luke's lightsaber to his belt. Then he slid his arms underneath him to lift him up, and he walked through the polished corridors of Cloud City with him. The stun setting on the blasters had been low—he ought to wake up in a few minutes.

He did. They were passing a window that overlooked most of the city, the dusk tinting the clouds pink and violet, when he began to stir. Vader put him on his feet to lean against the window, a hand resting on his back.

Luke came to with a few twitches and grimaces, before his eyes opened. They were bleary at first, staring out over the clouds; his breath frosted the glass and for a moment, he was at peace.

Then he realised where he was, and jerked away. "You—"

Vader hooked his thumbs in his belt. "I did."

"Where are Han and Leia?"

"Gone." Vader shook his head, irritated. "You need not concern yourself with them any longer."

"They are my friends—"

"Were your friends, child. I doubt they'll be anything for much longer."

Luke blanched. He clenched his fists—his hands had begun to shake. "You— you sleemo—"

"Language," he snapped, almost automatically, and then decided to get back to the point. "They are Rebels, son. They will all get what's coming to them one day."

"I'm a Rebel."

"Not for much longer." His voice was dark. "You will be returning to Coruscant with me, and the Emperor will talk some sense back into you."

Luke snorted. "Torture me until I go mad, more like."

Vader hit him.

Rage, years old, flooded up and out of him—how dare he defect, how dare he insult Palpatine like that, how dare he betray them—and finally hit its target. His fist collided with Luke's face; his head snapped back, slamming into the window with a sickening thud.

Eyes slightly unfocused, Luke raised a hand to his cheek. It was bleeding.

His father had never hit him before.

"Do not speak of the Emperor in such a way!" Vader roared. "You are a disgrace to the Empire and to me! You will learn your place!"

Luke's eyes focused on Vader—or rather, on his mask. He didn't seem willing to meet his gaze. For the first time, there was genuine fear in his face—not just the wariness from earlier. Real, unadulterated terror.

Luke was afraid of him. Vader didn't want to examine how he felt about that.

Despite his fear, Luke said quietly, "The Empire is evil, Father. I want it gone, and replaced with something which has at least some manner of freedom. I know that the Republic was bad, but wasn't it better than this? Weren't you happier then, with my mother and the government she loved?"

Vader hit him again. The cut from earlier widened, tearing red down the left side of his face. Vader's hits were hard.

"Do not speak of her! You are a disgrace to her as well!"

Luke closed his eyes against the words. And Vader felt something between them—some last scrap of a bridge, a connection—shatter.

But he didn't care.

All the fury he'd held on to for so long was coming out. Here Luke was, here was the cause of it all, and he couldn't stop it. He couldn't stop and control himself.

So he struck again and again, but Luke saw them coming and stepped aside. Then back. Then back again, until there was a good few feet between them, and he was out of the reach of Vader's lightsaber.

Then he flung out his hand.

In a state of emotional upheaval as Vader was, he couldn't reach out with the Force in time to stop Luke from summoning his own lightsaber to himself, turning around and legging it out of there.

A moment of sheer shock and panic later, Vader sensed what Luke had sensed: Organa and Solo were escaping. Calrissian had betrayed him.

Another heartbeat, then none of that mattered, because Luke was getting away.

He gave chase, but his suit wasn't meant for moving quickly. His only advantage were that his legs were longer than Luke's; Luke was smaller, faster, more nimble, and he'd had the few fatal moments of Vader's shock to get away.

Vader called in back up stormtroopers. He just fought them off.

Cloud City was large and unfamiliar, with winding passages that would be easy to get lost in. But Luke was an ex-Imperial agent. He had paid attention to his surroundings—Vader wouldn't be surprised if, when he'd first arrived, he'd asked for a map of the place in case of a situation like this.

Vader, meanwhile, had not.

Luke got away. And later, when Vader's temper had cooled and all he had left was disappointment, he found that one image stood out in his mind:

Luke, face bloody and scarred, staring at him in terror.

It haunted him in his hyperbaric chamber. It disrupted his pathetic attempts at meditation. And after he yanked the holo of Luke out of his belt to stare at, it superimposed itself onto the image.

Vader threw the holo to the side. It hit the wall, sparked, clattered to the floor. He crushed it underfoot.

But when he closed his eyes, the image was still there.


After that encounter, Vader increased the bounty on Luke's head but pulled back from the actual search. The Emperor was getting tired of it—claiming that Luke would be found when he was found, and that Vader was needed to oversee the production of the second Death Star. Luke hadn't known of its existence, so it was a welcome distraction. It wasn't associated with him.

Until it was.

Because Palpatine had put into motion his plan to destroy the Rebels once and for all. And Luke had been caught right in the middle of it.

When Vader stood before Palpatine on the Death Star to say, "My son is with them," it felt like some sort of ending.

"Are you sure?"

"I have felt him." Felt him, for the first time since Bespin, and felt that same terror from him that he'd felt then—

"Strange, that I have not. Are you sure your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader?"

No. "They are clear, my Master."

"Then you must go to him. Wait for him on the Sanctuary Moon."

"He will come to me?"

"I have foreseen it. His compassion and attachment to you will be his undoing."

Vader closed his eyes behind the mask, Luke's terrified face flashing to mind again. Compassion, the Emperor claimed. Attachment.

As if.

"He will come to you, and you will bring him before me. Together, we shall show him to error of his ways and turn him back to the Dark Side."

There was a lie in Palpatine's voice. But Vader acted as if there wasn't as he bowed and said, "As you wish, my Master."


In the lightening darkness before dawn, Luke did come to him on Endor, with the fear he'd felt earlier tamed and under control. Vader barely thought about it as he acknowledged the commander's report on Luke's surrender. He noticed his son's tension when he ordered him to conduct the search, but otherwise Luke seemed. . . at peace.

The commander left, the AT-AT lumbered away and Vader was left staring at his son with no idea of what to say.

So he took him to the shuttle without a word. He dismissed the shuttle pilots and took to the cockpit himself, dumping Luke in the co-pilot's seat. He could probably break the binders on his wrists with the Force easily enough, but he'd turned himself in. He wasn't going to run now.

Vader's hand hovered over the controls. He didn't move to start the ship.

Luke sat there next to him for a few minutes before he looked up. "Aren't you supposed to be taking me to the Emperor?"

"I am," Vader said through gritted teeth. "Together, we shall convince you of the error of your ways. You will rejoin the Dark Side, Luke. It is your destiny."

"My destiny?" Luke raised his eyebrows. "Father, the Emperor's going to kill me."

Vader pinched his lips together, but couldn't deny it.

"I embarrassed him. I dared defy him. He'll want to punish me painfully and extensively, then he'll kill me."

All true.

And he would make Vader watch, no doubt, as a test of his loyalty.

Vader had known it before. Why was it so hard to accept now that the hour was upon them?

"If you take me up there, I'll die," Luke said, and Vader knew he wasn't imagining the quaver in his voice. Luke didn't want to die. "Though by now I doubt you'd care."

Vader's head whipped towards him. "What makes you say that?"

Luke stared at him like he was crazy. "Our last encounter didn't exactly go well," he pointed out, gesturing to the scar on his right cheekbone. Vader's heart twinged—he hadn't realised he'd hit that hard. "And you changed my bounty to Dead or Alive. I didn't believe it at the time, but after Bespin, I. . ." He swallowed. "I figured you wouldn't care whether I lived or died."

He bowed his head, shoulders shaking. "Please, Father. Don't do this. Turn back to the Light. Come with me."

Come away with me. . .

"I don't want to die."

Vader didn't respond. Luke gave a bitter laugh, wet with tears. "Have you missed me at all, these past few years? I've missed you."

Instead of answering, Vader reached for the compartments in his belt. The flower was shrivelled and dried by now—it had been years—but the vague shape of the petals, crinkled and crushed, remained. The pollen remained.

It was enough for Luke to recognise it, as Vader tipped it into his hand. Those flowers were pretty unmistakeable; no other flowers were that shade of orange, after all. The colour of Rebel flight suits.

"I have missed you," Vader admitted. "And I will not bring you to the Emperor."

Relief crumpled Luke's face; his shoulders sagged as he glanced down. But he still had to ask, "Why?"

Because. . .

Because. . .

The words were clumsy, as all his words were, but he said them anyway.

"Because I have lived in a world without the Empire, and I have lived in a world without you. Where I believed you dead." He shook his head. "And I know which world I would rather live in."

The faintest of smiles was beginning to touch Luke's lips. It invigorated Vader more than anything else ever could.

He reached for both the lightsabers on his belt and gave Luke his. It was green, he remembered. On Cloud City, it had been green.

"And if killing Sheev Palpatine is the price I need to pay to live in that world," he said, "so be it."

Luke smiled fully, then, and as he did the dawn broke fully as well. It swamped the forest moon, the cockpit; it touched threads of gold in Luke's hair, glinted off the ridges on the lightsabers, curled around the contours of Vader's mask.

And it was in that light that Vader started the engines of the shuttle to lift off as Luke laughed and the Force cheered and Palpatine eked out the very last hour of his life.

The crushed petals fell to the ground, the pollen dusted both Luke and Vader's hand like fairy dust, and the future was gold.

Chapter Text

(Platonic) Soulmate AU

Kenobi's smoking carcass lay at his feet. Vader wasn't sure how long he'd been standing there—it might have been seconds, hours, even days. Time no longer had any meaning for him as he stood there, red lightsaber still lit, staring down at his old Master.

The years and the desert had not been kind to him. He was old, wrinkled—he had not been much of a worthy adversary. He seemed almost ready to die.

Except he wasn't. When he'd fought back against Vader, as pathetic as the attempt had been, he'd genuinely cared about staying alive. Vader's barb over what he could possibly have to live for had missed its mark, and now Vader knew why.

He could sense that blazing Force presence from miles away—and indeed, it was miles away, but growing ever closer. The shields Kenobi had erected around whoever it was had collapsed upon his death, and now that brilliance seared the Force with its light.

Vader examined it, transfixed.

He should move, he reminded himself. He had descended to the planet to find the stolen Death Star plans; killing Kenobi had been a necessary detour, but a lengthy one. He should get back on target as soon as possible.

But the Force always provided. And it whispered to him to stay here.

So he stayed, watching the suns slowly creep higher into the sky, until a boy staggered onto the rocky outcrop outside Kenobi's hut.

"Ben?" he called, almost nervous. "Ben?"

Then he laid eyes on Vader and stiffened, though he sensed no immediate recognition from him. No surprise; the boy wore the rags of a native, and no one on this dustball knew anything of worth about the larger Empire.

He quickly dismissed the boy, however, only to shift his gaze onto the two droids with him.

Missing droids and Kenobi triangulated in his mind to produce the thought Rebel. He lashed out with the Force; the boy's startled cry cut off as he was yanked into the air by his throat, choking, choking—

"Why are you here?" he demanded. "How did you know Kenobi? Whose droids are they?"

"Don't. . . know him. . . well," the boy got out desperately. Vader loosened his grip infinitesimally—he needed answers, after all. "There was a message for someone called Obi-Wan Kenobi in the R2 unit, I thought Ben might know him!"

Vader let him drop to the floor. He gasped, sucking in just as much sand as air, but clearly grateful for the oxygen. He reached a hand to his chest, as if rubbing it would help the burning in his lungs.

Funny—Vader almost felt like his own chest was burning in sympathy.

Ben, he assumed, was the pseudonym Kenobi had adopted while living here. He scoffed. The codename he'd used during the mission where he'd faked his death and not told Anakin about it? That was practically insulting.

But his old Master had always been casually cruel like that.

The burning in his chest was building and building now, almost enough to give Vader pause. It didn't feel like exertion, or even the fires of Mustafar. No, this was more familiar, like—

He sucked in a breath. No. Impossible.

Because the last name he'd felt something like this was on Christophsis, watching a snippy youngling stride down the ramp to introduce herself as Ahsoka Tano. And before that, even more powerful than that. . .

A dusty shop, here on Tatooine, and a pretty girl who was the first stranger to be kind to him in years.

When he snapped his glare onto the boy, he was wheezing slightly. Of course—he was still quite young. It was unlikely he'd have met anyone important enough to him to warrant a soulmark, yet. It was always surprising the first time.

But Vader had bore three soulmarks in his life. Even if all three were now severed or dead—the latest by his own hand, moments before—he would never forget how it felt to first get them.

"What." He didn't realise he'd said it out loud until the boy reacted.

He seemed to have recovered now, scrabbling onto his knees. He reached for the R2 unit. "Look, if you don't believe me, here's the message. Just please don't strangle me again!"

Vader barely paid the hologram a glance—just enough to confirm it was the Princess Organa, these were the droids he was looking for—before switching his gaze back to the boy.

He didn't care about droids anymore. He wanted to know what was going on.

"Who are you."

Why had the Force paired him with him? What was so special about a ratty, sunburnt child from a planet he'd never set foot on again if he had his way? What was going on?

"Who am I?" The boy scoffed. "Who are you?"

Vader clenched his fist. He needed answers, and strangling the boy wouldn't help him get them. So he answered in as even as tone as he could manage. "Darth Vader."

He watched the recognition flit across the boy's face—then the horror. He made to scramble away, but Vader wrapped the Force around the ankle and yanked him back.

"Now," he said, "who are you."

The boy took several breaths to calm himself before saying, "Luke Skywalker."

The galaxy stopped turning.

That—

That was—

"Impossible."

But it explained everything. . .

Vader had no idea what to say. His mouth spoke for him. "Where do you live." It was more demand than question.

The boy's—Luke's—his son's eyes grew even wider at that. He began to tremble.

Vader had no time for it. "Answer me!"

"At the Lars homestead, west of Anchorhead," he got out quickly.

Lars.

Cliegg Lars.

Was that the person who'd stolen his child? It must be.

Dimly, he recalled that his troopers had submitted execution orders for him to approve, bearing the name Lars. Owen and Beru Lars. He hadn't yet responded to it, too busy with the hunt for Kenobi.

And yet, Vader knew, he might soon end up executing them himself.

"Come," he snapped at the boy, who shrank back, smaller and paler. Impatient with all this cowering, Vader seized his arm and dragged him upright. "You will show me to your home. I will talk with your guardians. I will find out who is to blame for this treachery."

Luke's voice was high and querulous. "What treachery?"

Vader's voice was dark as he said, "You will find out soon enough."


Detective AU & Poorly Timed Confession

The boy's face was pale, sweaty, eyes scrunched shut. He looked just as scared as he had when Vader had first hired him and Aphra to investigate the assassination attempts—only now, he wasn't scared of Vader. He was scared of the Jedi with the lightsaber at his throat.

She seemed vaguely familiar, but Vader couldn't be bothered to take the time to place where he'd seen her face before. Everything in him was focused on Luke.

His son.

Whom he hadn't told about their relationship yet.

This had caused him faint twinges of regret since he'd discovered it—he wanted the boy to know now, he wanted his son now—but not like this. Before, so long as they kept it a secret from the Emperor, there had been a future. He'd been able to bear not telling him, because he assumed there would be another chance to tell him.

Not here. Not now.

Now, if Luke breathed too much, if the Jedi's arm so much as twitched, there would be no one left to tell.

So he conceded to the Jedi, and took a step back. "What do you want."

The Jedi stiffened in surprise—as did Luke. His eyes flew open to lock onto Vader. Had he really expected him to let him die?

Of course. He had no idea of the truth. He had no idea of how much he truly meant to him.

Stunned, the Jedi still hadn't answered. He repeated the demand, low and dangerous: "What. Do. You. Want."

"I want you to free my Master," she declared.

Everything in Vader roared at the thought. There was only one person she could be talking about.

Free Kenobi? Simply let him go, before he could truly answer for all his crimes of kidnapping his son, raising him on that planet, then leaving him to the desert when his aunt and uncle were killed—

But the rebellious roaring could not drown out the thought of Luke. Of his still body on the floor, throat open, eyes glassy.

"As you wish," he said, and summoned his comlink to give the order.

Luke's shock roiled further. Why? his mind implored, unconsciously reaching across that bond between them Vader had hardly dared touch.

Because, he replied, watching Luke flinch in surprise at the rich voice in his mind, Owen Lars was my stepbrother.

He watched the realisation—and understanding—dawn on Luke's face. He looked away before he could see any horror.

The Jedi watched him carefully as he switched on his comlink and barked out the order, each word pried from his gums like a rotten tooth. He dropped the comlink to the floor when he was done, accidentally crushing it with the Force; the Jedi, alert as she was, jerked at the impact.

"Now," he ordered, "let the boy go."

"Only once you swear to let me and my Master go free," she pushed. "I've heard about you—you don't break your word. If I let him live, you will let us escape alive?"

Vader glared.

"Yes," he ground out, then held out his hand impatiently.

The Jedi shoved Luke at him, then fled out of the room to find her Master.

Vader caught Luke as he toppled forwards, legs trembling. He laid a hand on his shoulder and the other on his cheek. He tilted his face back and forth to examine for injuries.

Luke seemed in a state of shock. "You—" He shook his head. "You're—"

Vader tentatively reached out to touch his mind. A rush of relief ran through him when he sensed no hostility or horror there—only confusion. Luke was accepting him.

He allowed his pride in him to seep into his voice as he whispered, "I am."


Circus AU

The hastily-erected seats around the pit—Vader didn't know what the place where the circus was performed was called, and he honestly did not care—were difficult to sit in. For anyone else, they might have been no problem, enthralled by the performance. But he was not enthralled by the performance. Not to mention, his suit exacerbated the discomfort, until he was quite literally waiting on the edge of his seat for the circus to end.

A surreptitious glance at his chrono revealed there was still an hour to go. If he was still capable of it, he would have sighed.

This was a waste of time, and he didn't see the point of it.

He hadn't seen the point of a lot of things today. Not the point of a tent, when the circus was inside anyway—there were few outside places on Coruscant. Not the point of his presence. Not even the point of this mission at all.

Below, the latest act—something to do with fire—filed off.

Maybe this circus was a traditional Alderaanian one, funded by Senator Organa himself and some of his Gatalentan allies. Maybe he was using it to raise funds for his precious Rebel Alliance.

It didn't matter. Nothing was certain, his Master was adamant that they didn't move against Organa until the Death Star was complete, so what could he do if it did turn out that way? He would serve far more use with the Navy, or the Inquisitorius. Anything, so long as it wasn't as mind-numbingly pretentious and flashy and pointless as this

The Force sharpened into crystal clarity as the next act filed on. Despite himself, he sat up, curious. The acrobats looked like nothing special, especially with the red tint to his vision muting the bright colours of their leotards. So why was the Force. . .

He understood when they began.

It was, he remembered dimly, skyfaring. Padmé had taken him to see it once. A tradition from Gatalenta, where the acrobats hung from wooden scaffolding with brightly coloured scarves.

All the acrobats were clearly talented at it—most children from Gatalenta learned it from a very young age, Padmé had said—and it came naturally to them by adulthood. The most complex manoeuvres and routines shown here took years more to learn, though clearly these acrobats had done the work.

All, save one.

Vader leaned forward to squint at him, well aware that he was making the circus officials who sat near him nervous. That young acrobat, with the blond hair and blue jumpsuit. . .

He didn't have the same form as the others. His movements were less practiced, more instinctual; sloppy, yet full of grace. It was an odd line to walk, but he walked it as well as he walked the scarves high above the ground.

Vader watched, his suspicions mounting.

The Force moved around him. He burned with it, his movements fluid yet precise. Despite his lack of practice, he had no fear of falling as he hands moved across the silks.

Even so, Vader couldn't be sure. He wasn't sure.

Not until the boy fell.

It, like everything else, was so full of grace one might have mistaken it for intentional. But the other acrobats' momentary panic through the Force was enough to tell Vader: this was not a part of the performance. It was likely to be a very dangerous departure from it.

But as the boy fell, a scarf coincidentally swept towards him. He seized it, gliding to a smooth halt, and tumbling the rest of the way down. He hit the ground with the balls of his feet just as the others finished the sequence; they all descended as one. Then they bowed in unison.

One might never know that hadn't been the plan all along.

But Vader knew. And now he had no doubt.

"Sergeant," he said quietly to the trooper next to him.

"Yes, my lord?"

"Order your troops to surround this building, and ambush the company the moment the crowds are away. Take everyone prisoner, but leave the blond acrobat to me. I believe he is one of those gifted students from Project Harvester."

"What should I do with him, my lord?"

"Just keep him from escaping. Get his name if you can. We'll give him to the Inquisitorius or kill him. It is of no matter to me."

"It will be done, my lord."

Turning back to watch the boy shuffle out, Vader had no way of knowing that it wouldn't be done.

He had no way of knowing that hearing that boy's name would change the course of his life—and the galaxy—forever.


Modern AU

The doorbell rang, jerking Anakin out of his focus and sending him running to the door.

He swung it open, just in time for a small blond child to barrel into him.

"Daddy!"

"Thank you for dropping him off, Mr. Darklighter," Anakin said, patting Luke head awkwardly while he clung to his leg. "My turn tomorrow?"

"Of course. I'll see you then."

"Bye, Biggs!" Luke piped up. "Bye, Biggs's dad!"

The man chuckled—Anakin had never understood why Luke called him that when he knew full well what his name was, but it seemed a running joke by now. "See you tomorrow, Luke."

He and Biggs left, gently shutting the door behind them.

Anakin glanced down at Luke when they were gone. He still hadn't detached himself from his leg.

"Are you ever going to let go?" he asked, amused.

Luke's fervent head shake implied no.

Anakin gave an exaggerated sigh. "Well, alright then." He took a step forward, dragging Luke across the floor on his foot. The boy squealed and held on tighter.

"I'm going up the stairs now!" he warned, then lifted Luke into midair and gently knocked him against a stair.

"Ow!" Luke complained, though Anakin was pretty sure that hadn't hurt. Either way, it worked: he scrambled off the leg as quickly as possible and scampered up the stairs himself.

Once they were up there, Anakin headed back to his computer. He just needed to finish typing that sentence, then he could submit the story and hope the magazine published it—

"What're you doing?" Luke asked, poking his head above his desk.

Anakin smiled, and lifted him into his lap so he could see the computer screen. "Sending my story in."

"Is it gonna be published?"

"Hopefully."

Luke screwed up his nose at the screen, then jabbed a finger at one line in particular. He was only just starting to read, but he tried, "Da— Dar—"

"Darth Vader," Anakin supplied, tickling his sides lightly. Luke screamed and laughed. "That's my penname."

"Why do you need a penname?"

Anakin's smile froze. How did he explain that?

How did he explain that he didn't want Padmé to find out how different his views had become? She'd fallen in love with a political writer she agreed with; she'd left for reasons he didn't know. Finding out that his politics had changed so much as well might destroy any chance they would ever have for reconciliation.

"Because my name isn't that nice," he tried.

Luke's gasp couldn't be more horrified. "But it sounds like my name!"

"Yes, and you have a lovely name."

"But you—"

"How was your day at school?" Anakin tried desperately to change the subject.

Luckily, despite being his mother's child in a great many ways, Luke hadn't developed her argumentative skills yet. He accepted the subject change with a burst of glee.

"Great! I made a new best friend!"

"I thought Biggs was your best friend?"

"Yeah, but now I have another one. Her name's Leia!"

"Really?"

"Yep! She was playing with my favourite car, so we decided to share. And race!"

"What?" Anakin asked. He had to laugh. "How did you race?"

"Who could get their car to the finish fastest. But then she cheated and I pulled her hair and she hit me."

Anakin's face hardened. "What."

"And then we both got in trouble but we're still friends."

Anakin leaned forward, computer screen forgotten. "Well, okay. But what did you say her name was again?"

"Leia Naberrie." Luke voice was almost proud that he remembered it.

Everything stopped.

"What?"


Stranded Due to Inclement Weather & Huddling For Warmth

In hindsight, sending a the newly formed Rogue Squadron on a mission to Eadu, of all places, hadn't been the best idea. Sure, send the people whose notable skills involve flying to a planet where extreme rainstorms can make flight dangerous and/or impossible. But at least that stupid idea hadn't been Luke's.

The stupid idea to keep gathering the intel they'd come for even after their scanners picked up an Imperial Star Destroyer in the system, meanwhile, had been his.

Hey, it wasn't like they'd had any guarantee that it was Vader, or even that the Destroyer was looking for Rebels. And their X-wings had already been fried by the lightning no one had seen fit to warn Luke about; it wasn't like they could've made a speedy getaway as it was.

So, naturally, they'd left the X-wings hidden in one of the many mountains' many caves, and hiked on to see what they could find in the remains of the Imperial research facility. True, Draven had apparently ordered it blown to smithereens just over a year ago, but they could hope. After the whole farce with Queen Trios, the Rebellion was desperate.

Hiking was not fun. After all, Luke was a desert child. Rain had been enchanting the first time he'd seen it; now it was just annoying. It didn't help that every time he slipped, Wedge and the other Rogues were there to mock him mercilessly about it.

Until he slipped when he was a little too close to the edge.

His right foot went over first. If he'd stopped to think, if he'd been more used to this terrain, he might have been able to steady himself. But he didn't; he panicked, and that panic unbalanced him further.

For a moment after he slipped, he hung in the air. He met Wedge's terrified gaze, and knew he was about to die.

Then he fell.

He did not die.

It hurt like a bantha had charged him, backed up, then charged him again, but he didn't die.

He skidded down the mountain hard and fast, flying gravel stinging his face and arms. The rock he was trying his best to cling to tore through his flight suit, then his skin; hot blood seeped out to burn away a little of the cold. He left a dark trail in his wake.

When he hit the bottom, he landed too hard on his right leg and screamed, loud and ragged. He tried to get his elbows underneath him in order to sit up, ignoring the throbbing bruises on his back or the tearing pain in his arms.

But the moment he put any weight on his injured leg, he screamed again and collapsed.

Raindrops dripped off his hair and ran into his eyes; the mountain blurred above him. He couldn't see any sign of the pass he'd just been walking along.

"Wedge?" He shouted up. "Hobbie? Zev?" No reply. "Wedge!"

Silence. No, there was one sound: a regular, artificial hiss.

All the blood drained out of Luke's face. He craned his neck to see behind him. He felt cold suddenly—not cold the way he'd been since getting on planet, practically since leaving Tatooine, but in another way, inside him—

Darth Vader strode forward. Luke automatically flinched when the wind snapped the cloak in his face, but he would have flinched regardless. Darth Vader. How unlucky could he get? Darth kriffing Vader was here—

The Dark Lord's mask tilted up and down, as if he was examining the full length of Luke. Wondering which part would hurt the most should he jab it with his lightsaber. . .

Luke did his best to glare when the mask turned towards his face.

There was a terrifying amount of fury in Vader's voice. "What have you done to yourself, Skywalker?"

Luke blinked. That was not what he'd been expecting.

The Sith scoffed at the lack of answer, then fluidly crouched down next to him to examine his leg.

"It's broken," he declared, crossing his arms across his chest. Luke imagined him scowling behind the mask, then immediately wondered where that image had come from.

"Yeah," he bit back, "I would guess that's what happens when you fall down a mountagh!" His vision whitened momentarily as Vader picked him up, his leg protesting the movement loudly and violently. "Put me down—"

His leg was bent unnaturally again and he screamed, tears leaking out from under his eyelids and streaming down his face to mix with the rain. He closed his eyes.

Above him, he thought he heard Vader spit a quiet curse and then they were moving even faster, even. . . closer to the mountain?

"Where are you—"

"A cave to shelter in until the storm dies down," Vader snapped, "whereupon you will receive the necessary medical attention."

Medical attention? Why would he bother? Why wouldn't he just kill him right—

His leg throbbed again, and shattered any coherent thought he might have had.

With his eyes closed, he didn't notice the change in light as they entered the cave, but he certainly noticed the droplets stop falling on his face.

Vader propped him up against a wall. "Now go to sleep, Skywalker. You'll need it."

Luke did his best to scoff. "In this cold? I'll catch hypothermia and—" He coughed. "—die."

"We can huddle for warmth if the temperature drops too low."

Luke frowned for a moment, not sure if he was joking. Was there even a man underneath the armour? There must be.

"Sleep, Skywalker."

Luke didn't want to, but eventually he did. As he fell into unconsciousness, he wondered if he'd ever wake up.

The next morning, to his own surprise, he did.


Modern AU & Criminal AU

Anakin grimaced as he stuck the lock pick into the door, throwing a look over his shoulder. The street—more of a dark, dingy alleyway, to be honest—remained empty. No one was around to see him finally get the door open and stagger inside, nearly face-planting himself onto the threadbare carpet.

According to the sign outside, this house had just been sold. And according to the person he'd asked about it, doing his best to look casual, the new owner hadn't moved in yet. He had maybe a night to lie low in here, hopefully scrounge up something to eat, then set off the next morning when dozens of police officers weren't crawling every inch of the city looking for him.

They wouldn't turn out anything less for the mass murderer they called Darth Vader. Mayor Palpatine wouldn't want his scapegoat letting the cat out of the bag—he'd make them search for him day and night, if only to save his own scrawny neck.

Anakin was just a petty thief. Yes, he'd been an idiot to join up with whatever Palpatine had been planning, but it wasn't like he'd known! At the time, Palpatine was just an old man aspiring to be mayor. It wasn't supposed to spiral into. . . murder.

And Anakin wasn't the one who'd killed them!

But Palpatine had become the city's white knight; Anakin was a single father with a record of petty crime to try and make life better for his son. He'd condemned him, and they had believed him. And now he'd been in prison for ten years, and Luke had—

He swallowed.

He'd lost Padmé a long time ago. But he'd had Luke, precious Luke, and after he'd been thrown in prison he hadn't heard anything from him.

Luke had been nine. What had happened to him? Orphanage? Foster homes? Or had they tracked down Padmé's parents, her sister, and dumped him on them?

The last he'd seen of him was at the trial, not crying—he didn't yet understand—but scared. He'd mouthed it's gonna be alright at him, and Luke had tried to smile.

It hadn't been alright.

But Anakin would make it alright.

He was free. He'd escaped. And now, once the stir had died down a bit, he could clear his name. He could go and find Luke. Find him, and explain. . .

. . .everything.

He sighed, and scrunched his eyes shut for a moment. He could do that, now. He could do that and more.

But first he needed to eat, and rest.

He nodded to himself and glanced around the hallway. It was just as bare as a house about to be moved into should be, save for the rug; dust motes drifted through the air. Anakin hadn't dared turn the lights on, and the blinds were all pulled down; it was illuminated only by the thread of neon streetlights that seeped between the cracks.

Distantly, he heard a police siren. Then it faded.

It was so quiet he hardly dared to breathe.

Which was why he nearly screamed when the ceiling creaked.

His head snapped up. It sounded like someone was moving around upstairs—the house was inhabited?

He needed to go. He needed to go now

But he could hear voices outside. He crept closer to the window and peered out. Sure enough, it was two policewomen walking down the street, flitting their torches over every alley and shadow.

He couldn't go outside. Not without being caught.

But those footsteps were approaching the stairs now, getting closer. . .

He desperately looked around for a place to hide. There was none.

He was going to get caught, he was going to get caught

A figure appeared on the stairs—male, relatively small and slight. He paused halfway down, the face still in shadow, as if he'd heard Anakin's panicked breathing. "What. . ."

He flicked the lights on.

Anakin jerked back at it—and so did the man. He didn't scream—thank god—but blue eyes widened in a tanned face. Tanned, with a cleft in his chin and dark blond hair a few shades lighter than Anakin's. . .

The man—boy, really; he looked barely twenty—took the remaining steps down to the floor very slowly. His eyes didn't move from Anakin's face, as though he thought he might disappear if he looked away.

Anakin stared back. It couldn't be—the odds of this were astronomical

The boy reached out a trembling hand to touch Anakin's shoulder. "Father?"

"Luke," Anakin breathed, and surged forward. Luke's laugh caught in his throat as he hugged him, tightly, like he'd never let go.

"You—" A wet laugh. "You're out? They let you go?"

Anakin pulled back, grimacing. ". . .no."

Luke's eyebrows flew up. "You escaped?"

"I had to clear my name." Anakin grabbed Luke's hand and squeezed tightly, playing with his fingers. "I had to see you again."

"Clear your name?"

Anakin's heart sank. "You know I was framed?" You don't actually believe me a murderer?

"Of course," Luke said, "I don't remember much, but I remember you saying that at the trial. But how are you going to clear your name?"

"By discrediting Palpatine."

Luke's eyes blew wide. "How—"

"Another associate of his—Maul—spoke to me in prison. He and a few others have been gathering dirt on him for years, in case the worst comes to the worst. He wasn't able to use it before being prosecuted, but if someone could get their hands on it. . ."

". . .all of them would go free," Luke realised. "Where is this evidence?"

"I know where it is, I just need to get there." Anakin's hand tightened round his. "I was going to improvise, then come looking for you when I was finished, but given you're here. . ."

"Of course I'll help you," Luke said immediately. "I have a car—we can go right now, or in the morning?"

"Morning. But are you sure? If the police or the newspapers find out you helped me—"

"So what?" Luke snorted. "I've got my father back. Everyone else can go to hell."

Anakin had to smile at that. "Then I'll need some sleep, and something to eat—you'll need to pack a bag—then we can go."

"I can't wait," Luke said, and smiled.

And Anakin, smiling back, had never been so hopeful.


Awful First Meeting & Accidental Eavesdropping

Luke was a Jedi Padawan in a galaxy ruled by the Sith. He was used to danger—he was used to being woken up in the middle of the night and told to flee while he still could. But usually his Master woke him with a light touch to the forehead and a nudge through the Force—not with his screams.

Instinct had Luke stifling his own scream before it ripped out of his throat. He lay very still for a moment—just long enough to get his bearings. The small cot he'd woken on was hard underneath him; he made to move his elbows, only for them to knock against wood. He winced at the sound.

Yes—that was where he was. In the secret room under the floorboards in a tavern run by an old friend of Ben's. It was tiny, only space for his cot and his Master's—and his Master's was empty.

The dust in the room was faintly illuminated by light seeping through cracks between the floorboards above, only. . . it shouldn't be light outside. Luke checked his chrono. It was very early morning, local time.

Why were the lights on in the room above?

Why was his Master shouting? Who was he shouting at?

That was when he heard the familiar hiss.

Vader.

He'd found them.

Oh Force, after all these years, he'd found them—

A whimper broke out of his throat; he clamped a hand over his mouth, but no one above seemed to have heard. There were footsteps thundering overhead, the familiar hum and crash of a lightsaber duel—had Ben got up in the middle of the night to do something? Had Vader found him?

Well, that was clear. That booming voice was pretty unmistakeable.

"—I left you I was but the learner; now I am the master."

"Only a master of evil, Darth," Ben replied, then more crashing—and coloured shadows cast over the floor—as he lunged forward.

Luke knew what he was supposed to do if this happened. He knew he was meant to lie low, slam down his shields, and hide. If nothing else, Ben always warned him, Vader must not get you. Then, all would be truly lost.

I won't Turn! a younger Luke would declare fiercely. At sixteen, he was no less reckless but he knew better—he'd met the Inquisitors, and Ezra Bridger. And while Ezra may still be a Jedi, his brushes with the dark side were too numerous to count...

Luke didn't know if he'd be able to resist Vader.

So he kept his shields up and his head down, even as the lightsabers slashed and hacked above him. He rolled off the cot, gently untangling the blankets from around his legs, and crouched down. He'd slept in his clothes anyway—they'd been due to move on early that morning—so all he had to do was feel along underneath the cot for where he'd hidden his lightsaber.

His grip fastened around it, and the feel of the cool metal in his hand helped, somewhat.

They were still fighting above him. Luke gritted his teeth, every urge in him screaming to go up there, help his Master, finally take that monster down—

He got to his feet and reached for the low ceiling, for a moment intending to do exactly that—

And then Ben stepped directly over the trapdoor, so there was no way for Luke to push it up.

He let out a huff. Why was Ben always so accurate at reading his intentions?

The low murmur of their jibes back and forth was still going on. Luke paused in his conflict for a moment to listen.

"—your Padawan, Kenobi?"

"Far away from here," Ben answered serenely, "and far away from you."

There was a pause. "You're lying," Vader said—and was that triumph in his voice? "He's nearby." Two thuds—heavy footsteps—and Luke, peering up through the floorboards, thought the Sith lightsaber had a much more bloodthirsty hiss at he levelled it at Ben's throat. "Where is he."

From this angle, Luke couldn't see Ben's face—just the soles of his shoes. But he could well imagine the forcibly unconcerned eyebrow raise as he said, "Is he? I seem to remember sending him away."

"Don't lie," and there was suddenly something terrible in Vader's voice. "Where is Skywalker."

Obi-Wan sighed. "Oh, Darth," he said. His voice was almost sad. "Do you really think I'd tell you?"

A moment of silence.

"No," Vader growled. "If you had the audacity to hide my son from me in the first place, you certainly would not betray his whereabouts now." His voice turned deadly soft. "But that just means I have no further use for you."

Luke's brain had ground to a halt trying to process Vader's words—son?—so he almost missed what happened next, as Vader drove his saber through Luke's Master's stomach.

"Ben!" ripped itself out of him, his eyes blew wide. Ben glanced down once, something like regret passing over his face. . . then he disappeared, and his robes collapsed to the floor.

But Vader wasn't looking at Ben. His mask had snapped downwards at Luke's scream. His shields had collapsed in his shock, so he could feel that cold, inky presence reaching to latch onto him. The mask was scanning the floorboards, scanning. . .

Then his gaze met Luke's through the cracks.

Luke froze. He couldn't have moved if he tried.

Vader flung out a hand, and the trapdoor slammed open. Luke squinted against the sudden influx of light, but didn't take his eyes off the black silhouette of— of—

His father?

His father.

Supposedly.

At least, according to Vader, who was a Sith, and a liar, and had every reason to try and trick him into having some sort of connection to the dark side

"Get out of there."

There was a threat implicit in the words. Luke was sure of it.

Clipping his lightsaber to his belt—he momentarily considered lighting it and throwing it at the man, but that was a bad idea on so many levels—he stepped onto the cot and hauled himself out.

The moment he collapsed onto the floor again, he tensed. There was a faint tug on his lightsaber through the Force; he gripped it tightly and glared up at— at—

"So, you were listening," Vader observed. Luke couldn't hear any sort of emotion in the voice. "And now you know the truth." He paused, probably waiting for some reply, but Luke took great pleasure in saying nothing.

It clearly irked Vader slightly, which was satisfying, but it wasn't really worth it because then he just said with a gravity Luke couldn't deny, "I am your father."

Luke closed his eyes. So he'd interpreted that correctly. Vader was— he was—

"Luke?" The word was almost worried. He reached a hand out to him, but he flinched back. "Luke. . ."

His eyes fell on his Master's robes, lying discarded on the floor.

His Master. The man who'd raised him, who'd held his hand when he was ill, who'd protected him against people like the Inquisitors—people like him.

And he had just killed him.

He looked back at Vader—at his father.

As far as first meetings went, he thought somewhat wryly, this wasn't exactly the best.

Chapter Text

"Hmm. Surveillance already bypassed. Guns, but no visible triggers."

Luke eyed the room. It certainly looked empty of any other threats, just a straight walkway to the vault they wanted to crack open. The Triple-Zero personality matrix was inside, he knew. Even with all the effort they'd gone to just get him in here, this seemed. . . lax.

"Antique stealth microdroid dust?" Luke asked quietly.

He could hear Aphra's grin over the comm. "You got it, kid."

Luke pulled the sachet out of the compartment on his belt and tossed the dust into the air. As it drifted forward, beams started to glow crimson against the empty room.

"Lasers?"

"Lasers," he confirmed.

"Careful your superhuman reflexes don't fail you now, then."

"That," he eyed the criss-cross pattern warily, but with a growing confidence, "would be annoying. But look at this." He turned his head so the built-in holocam on the earpiece could observe the lasers. "Even you could pull this off."

"I'm gonna take that as a compliment, looking at that configuration. Just 'cause not all of us have crazy good reflexes doesn't mean we can't do stuff for ourselves."

"Yeah, well, those reflexes are the reason I'm in here and you're not, so be grateful for that." He lowered himself to his stomach and pushed himself forward. The nearest laser passed barely a centimetre above his head, but he got past it alright.

"Nah." He could just imagine Aphra planting her feet on top of the console and smirking. "You're in there 'cause you're small."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence."

He got past the lasers without triggering any explosions, which he counted as a definite win. The vault was easy to crack as well, given gratuitous application of the tool stored in his belt, and soon enough he was looking as the small sheet of metal and circuits they were going to all this trouble for.

"You got the matrix?"

"Of course. Heading back now."

"Do your best not to trigger any explosions. I'd hate to get the Ark Angel dirty picking up all the pieces of you."

"I didn't realise you'd care enough to do that."

"Trust me, kid," he eased his way under the last laser, and got up clean, "I'm debating it myself."

He dusted his front off, unconsciously squeezing the matrix pinched between his fingers as he did. "Well, you don't need to worry about that. I'm out and clean."

"Just like you were at the last place?"

He strode towards the door and began to hurry through the corridors. "Shut up—it's not my fault the caretaker turned up at the last minute."

"Well, it's your fault now."

He froze mid-step. "What?"

"That fancy advanced security system we hacked into? You wandered into the holos' range. I can see you on it. Which means"

He cursed quietly, then started running. The hallways flickered by like something in a dream. "They can see me too— agh."

He turned a corner, and the sudden appearance of battle droids forced him to skid to a halt. The split-second he had before the small alien—the curator, he assumed—saw him and he became the target of a half dozen blasters wasn't enough for him to react usefully. He just took half a step back.

"That's guy's Utani Xane," Aphra told him.

Luke eyed Xane carefully. He didn't recognise the species: he was about half his height, with a pale triangular face, two beady eyes and no discernible mouth.

Yet clearly he could speak. His tone was particularly dry when he said, "Mr. Lars, I assume?"

Luke fought down the twinge he always felt when he heard that name—Luke Lars is safer in this galaxy than Luke Skywalker—and just asked, "Uh. . . you know me?"

"Doctor Aphra and I have had our run ins in the past. I prefer to know who she's working with, so I know who to watch out for in my museum." Really, Aphra? You never mentioned this guy in your briefing.

"Now," Xane said, voice deadly serious. To Luke's alarm, he heard the telltale whirring of the battle droids' blasters preparing to fire. "Return the Triple-Zero personality matrix."

Luke took another step back. "Aphra. . ."

"Don't you dare hand over that matrix! Besides, we have bigger problems."

"What bigger problems?"

"Mr. Lars, you do not have the same criminal record as Doctor Aphra. I'm sure if you cooperate now, you will be let off lightly at your trial and return to whatever life you had before turning to crime." Luke almost snorted. As if. "Stop backing away, or my droids will shoot—"

"An incoming TIE fighter's a pretty big problem!"

"A TIE fighter?" he snapped, just as one of the droids relayed the same information. Dread pooled in his stomach. "What's the Empire doing. . ."

There was the rasp of a respirator, and a prickling cold crept up the back of his neck. Luke knew what—who—he would see before he even turned around.

". . .here."

"Lord Vader!" Xane exclaimed, because it was, this was Vader, the man who'd most probably killed his father, and oh stars— "This is a quarantined world, treaties clearly state that—"

"Enough."

That one word held all the power of the storms which hid the Ante's city. Luke's fear doubled at the sound of it. Whatever this is, I need to get out of the middle of it

"Do not move, Lars," the Sith Lord ordered, but if he really thought Luke was going to stand by quietly while he lit his lightsaber and attacked the droids, he was delusional. He dived to the side as their blasterfire peppered Vader, the matrix clutched tightly in his hand.

He glanced around and tried not to listen to Xane's dying screams. He made to shuffle away—surreptitiously—his heart in his throat—

"Lars." There was a lightsaber levelled at his chest.

Luke glanced up. "Lord Vader?" It came out as a question more than a challenge, but it conveyed his confusion perfectly well. Even if he would have preferred it not convey his fear with it.

"You are Luke Lars, associate of Doctor Aphra's?"

Hesitantly, Luke nodded. A part of him wanted to close his eyes against his imminent death—Aphra had gone noticeably quiet in his ear—but the rest of him was too stubborn to.

That was why he had a full view of it when Vader extinguished his lightsaber, and held out his hand instead.

"Come," he said. It wasn't a request. "I have need of you both."


"So, uh," Luke exchanged a glance with Aphra—neither of them knew how to play host to a Sith Lord. "Welcome to the Ark Angel."

Luke felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as Vader examined the interior. It wasn't like he hadn't noticed the man's disgust when he first laid eyes on the twisted hybrid that was their ship—closely followed by what seemed to be surprise that it actually flew—but he'd forcibly held himself back, then.

This was Darth Vader. He'd snap him in half with barely a thought. Expressing defensiveness would only make it happen all that much sooner.

But it didn't make it any easier to bear a second time.

The Ark Angel was his home. Vader wasn't allowed to just casually insult it like this—

Aphra seemed to notice which way his thoughts were going. "Sir Darth Vader!" she greeted enthusiastically, shooting Luke a look. He stuck his tongue out in response. "Welcome aboard! I'm a big fan of yours. Huge! So. . ." She fiddled with her fingers—the only sign that she was nervous at all, and only noticeable because Luke knew where to look. "What can we help you with?"

Vader turned his mask on her. Every movement of his seemed to have a sort of slow finality, like a death blow. It set Luke on edge.

Had Aphra's nervous chattering irritated him? Worse—angered him? Was Luke about to lose the only sort-of-family member he had left?"

But Vader only said, "This is private business. I recently encountered some of you and your partner's handiwork at Cymoon One. Your slicing abilities are very impressive."

"Nah, that was Luke," Aphra tossed over her shoulder with a grin, leading them deeper into the ship. "He's the slicer. I just reactivate old droids like this beauty." She waved the matrix in her hand.

Luke admired her feigned casualness—he was as tense as a bowcaster string. Their slicing at Cymoon One had been weeks in advance of the Rebel attack there—he hadn't known their employers were Rebels. Was Vader here to. . .?

That black mask had turned, and was watching him. Luke swallowed.

"I am here to hire your services," he said, not turning away from him. "There was recently an attempt on my life, but due to recent demotions I have been. . . barred. . . from accessing the necessary footage to investigate. I require a slicer to find me the assassin," his hand drifted to his lightsaber, "so I can present him with an adequate punishment."

Luke swallowed again and eyed the lightsaber. "Demotions?" he asked quietly.

Vader's grip tightened dangerous around the hilt; Luke decided to stop his questioning.

"I trust I don't need to clarify the trouble you are in, as a Rebel collaborator," Vader warned. "I would suggest you do this job for me." Or I'll just execute you here and now.

Luke glanced at Aphra; she met his gaze, and nodded.

When she turned back to Vader, her grin was back. She clapped Luke on the shoulder. "Well, Luke's your guy. I don't think even the Emperor has a computer system this guy can't crack."

Luke's face flushed red—from embarrassment or discomfort, he didn't know. Slicing wasn't his favourite talent of his, but he'd picked it up after his aunt and uncle had died. He'd had to.

Vader was still watching him. "I'm sure the Emperor would be dismayed to hear that," he said dryly; Luke paled, but Vader had already turned away.

"So, Sir Vader—"

"Lord Vader."

"—Lord Vader, very sorry. Where would you like us to start slicing?"

"The data vaults on Coruscant." Luke's stomach took a dive—those were the best in the galaxy. How was he supposed to— "I trust," Vader was looking at him again, "you can manage it?"

He got out through a dry throat, "Yeah—yes, my lord."

"Then I suggest you set your heading there immediately, Doctor Aphra."

Aphra nodded fiercely, but out of the corner of his eye Luke saw her palm the Triple-Zero personality matrix and slip it into her pocket. He didn't blame her. He didn't particular want to deal with two murderous (part) robots at once, either.

"Very well, Lord Vader, sir." She affected a shallow bow—for a moment Luke was convinced Vader would kill her there and then, but the man restrained himself—"I trust you'll enjoy your trip."

Then she went to carry out his instructions, and Luke was left to deal with him alone.


For the majority of the trip to Coruscant, Luke did his best to avoid Vader.

Did his best, and failed utterly.

The man seemed to have picked up an uncomfortable interest in Luke. Every time he walked into a room, that black mask turned to him and didn't look away until he left. His questions were always pointed and probing, forcing Luke on the defensive, or to reveal something he didn't really want to. Sometimes, Luke even felt unnaturally cold—not in the way Vader seemed to carry a chill with him wherever he went, but pressed up against him. It felt like being orphaned and alone again, being patted down by the Imperial police because he looked desperate enough to resort to stealing.

It was unnerving.

Luke had just taken to retreating to the engine room. This was his sanctuary—at least, it had become as such. Aphra, despite all of her self-purported stone-heartedness, had noticed that the sound of the engines and nothing else calmed his eleven year old mind; two years later, she continued to give him space there. This was his room, as much as he knew she walked in and out of it when he wasn't present.

That just made him all the more annoyed when Vader finally invaded that sanctuary as well.

He'd been working on the BT-1 unit again. Aphra had tacitly decided not to activate Triple-Zero while they were dealing with Vader—that would be left until after, provided they weren't just killed immediately after the job was done—so there was no way for him to wake BT up. They'd already tried everything, and he didn't know the base language of its core the way that matrix did. He'd just have to wait.

In the meantime, though, he could check the behaviour inhibitors were as strong as they could be. He didn't need the droid blowing the Ark Angel to hell and back when it was finally activated, him and Aphra with it—

The sound of the respirator in the room was so sudden Luke dropped his hydrospanner. His head snapped round—and there Vader was, looming in the doorway like some particularly dogged spectre, mask tilted to watch him carefully.

Luke contained his snarl, and swallowed. The only thing that kept him from bolting there and then—other than that he was blocking the only exit—was the fact the dark lord seemed. . . curious. Not quite non-threatening—more like, non-threatening for now.

So he carefully made to pick the hydrospanner up, clutching it tightly, and greeted, "Lord Vader."

"Lars," came the reply, with the slightest of head tilts. The head continued to turn, scanning the entire majesty of the cluttered room. "This is your work room?"

"This is the engine room."

"That is not what I asked."

The room was starting to feel slightly chilly. Luke shivered, then nodded. "Then—yeah. It's my work room, I guess."

Vader nodded. There was a slight pause, then a pressing against Luke's mind and, "You are a skilled mechanic, I understand."

His grip on the hydrospanner tightened. "I believe so, my lord."

"Have you much experience?"

Luke blinked. "Practical stuff, I guess. Maintain the ship so I can fly it properly."

"You are a pilot?" There was far too much interest in his tone; it was unusual.

"I'm a fantastic pilot," he said, almost defensively. Then, because Luke liked playing with fire— "Why do you care?"

Vader stiffened—whether at the insolence of the question or the insolence of his tone, Luke didn't know. "I do not," he snapped, then swept out of the room.

Luke was left unsettled, cold tendrils still sticking to the back of his neck, like strings ready to tighten. He couldn't relax in that room for a good few days afterward.


Enigmatic conversations or not, they arrived at Coruscant with both Luke and Aphra still breathing, so he considered that a victory. Vader was still, short of actually hanging off the ceiling, doing his best impression of a black, oversized mynock, but it was fine. It was fine. Everything was fine.

Luke kept muttering that to himself—especially when they exited hyperspace to a blaring call for identification and threats of force.

His mantra doubled at that.

"Luke, take the controls," Aphra ordered, sliding out of the pilot's seat. It never stopped being flattering that she considered him a good enough pilot to trust her ship with. "I'll go greet our friends."

Luke gritted his teeth, but slid in after her and took the ship in a sharp dive to the left. Aphra stumbled, but caught herself just in time for Luke to hear, "Oh, hello there, Imperial security—yes we're just preparing to transmit our cargo, passengers and whatnot—"

"Your transponder matches with our database," came the monotone drone of a trooper. "You are believed to be a wanted ship logged on Quarantine World Three for theft of dangerous Imperial weaponry. You are ordered to power down and wait to be boarded."

Luke frowned. "How're they gonna board us in such a busy—"

"You will be caught in a tractor beam and brought on board one of the Star Destroyers in the vicinity," Vader informed him, "whereupon your will be ship searched and confiscated, with you most likely arrested and executed for theft from a quarantine world."

Luke shot him a glance. "Don't you mean we? You're on this ship too!"

The temperature in the cockpit dropped at his insolence. Vader jabbed a finger in his face. "I am the Emperor's right hand; they will not dare touch me. I stand to lose nothing from this. You, however—" His voice turned smug, "—will lose everything."

Anger boiled in Luke; for a moment he opened his mouth to let all his scathing words tumble out, tell Vader exactly what he thought of him

"Unless you fly."

Luke's thoughts ground to a halt—and were forcibly restarted by another pot-shot taken at them by the pursuing security vehicles. "What?"

"You said you were a fantastic pilot." Vader crossed his arms over his chest. "Prove it."

Next to him, Aphra was still shouting into the comm. "—you've made a mistake! Whoever logged us as criminals has made a mistake!"

"Lord Vader doesn't make mistakes."

Luke went cold; this time, he didn't think it was something supernatural. "You told them which transponder we were using? I thought you hired us to do a job!"

"I did." Vader's tone remained unaffected. "You said you were a fantastic pilot."

"You did all of this as a test?" His heart was beating its way out of his chest, the viewport lit up with green and red flashes, the cerulean curve of Coruscant's atmosphere nearing at an alarming pace—

Vader's voice was almost amused, and that was what pissed Luke off the most. "Impress me."

He didn't have a choice, so he did.

The familiar sensation of flying enveloped him. His awareness cleared to a crystal sharpness; he imagined he could feel every life in every TIE fighter around him like stars as he ducked and dodged, the ship a living thing under his hands. . . Aphra's thinly-veiled panic, his own racing pulse. Vader felt oddly pleased with all this, but that anomaly was shunted to the back of Luke's mind.

He had other things to worry about right now.


They broke atmosphere soon enough, and spent another few hours being hounded by the Coruscanti police force. But, with Vader's guidance, Luke eventually found a place to put the Ark Angel down.

The moment he could, he sagged back in his seat. "You happy now?"

"Very much so." Vader still sounded amused—and smug. That was what annoyed Luke most. "We have landed in one of the lower levels beneath my palace; come with me, and you can do the job I have hired you for."

"Instead of random jobs you throw at us along the way," Luke muttered to himself. He glared at Vader, but—after an exchanged glance with Aphra—followed him.

It wasn't like he had much of a choice in the matter, anyway.


Vader's palace was quiet.

It was expected. No one wanted to cross the dark lord of the Sith, and Vader seemed like someone who liked his privacy. The corridors were cleaned and patrolled only by droids, all of which conveniently looked away when they caught sight of Vader. Luke, following meekly in his wake, felt the urge to get out his blaster and shoot. Not to hurt anyone. Just to disrupt the painfully strict order imposed here, leave some sort of mark. All was quiet.

But just as he had the thought, Vader's mask tilted sharply downwards and he felt a rush of cold.

Luke's hand fell away from his blaster.

"In here," Vader finally gestured, after they'd traversed a great many corridors. The whole place seemed bleak and unfeeling; not dusty, but like no one lived here nonetheless. How much time did Vader even spend here? Was he just a naturally austere person, or did he have his main place of retreat on another planet? Or both?

The room he showed them was small and dark, crammed full of monitors. Luke felt his mouth water looking at all the technology he could see in here—he couldn't necessarily recognise all of it, but he recognised enough of it that he knew he was going to have fun.

"I trust," Vader said, almost smugly, "this will be adequate for you to carry out your investigation?"

"You bet!" Luke exclaimed. Aphra shot him a look, but she couldn't quite disguise the grin tugging at her lips, either.

"Then come." Vader swept further into the room. Luke and Aphra followed, jumping slightly when the door hissed shut behind them and locked. "I will expect you to have found something of worth by the end of the week."

Luke swallowed his objection—even with all this fancy, top-range technology, that was a tall order.

"Great," Aphra drawled, "but what are we actually looking for?"

Vader tilted his mask towards her threateningly, but explained:

"Two weeks ago, I found the stabilisers on my personal TIE fighter corrupted and ruined to the point of near-fatality. Had I not noticed the damage during the pre-flight checks, it could have caused severe harm to the surrounding area during flight."

He said it so matter-of-factly that, for a moment, Luke didn't realise the implications. Vader was implying sabotage that could have cost him his life. If he couldn't control the direction of the starfighter, he couldn't control anything he was doing—he would have died. Was he simply choosing to overlook this fact? Or was he so confident in his own piloting abilities that he genuinely didn't see it as a threat, just a mildly irksome occurrence?

"You think it was an assassination attempt?" Aphra looked sceptical. "You sure you didn't just act a bit too recklessly on the last flight, your lordliness?"

"I am certain," Vader growled. "And I suspect Jedi involvement."

A moment of silence. Luke and Aphra exchanged looks. "What?"

"The Force has informed me so."

Luke shook his head. "Look," he started in a tone so impetuous Uncle Owen would've had his head for it. "I don't pretend to remember the Jedi, they were gone before I was born, but wasn't assassination against their code or something? Why would they—"

"The only Jedi left are pathetic weaklings, desperate to do anything to strike a blow against the rightful order of things," Vader snapped. The room froze—Luke felt like he was walking through a cold simulation of the calm he felt when flying, tiptoeing across eggshells, rage that wasn't his own nipping at his heels. "Desperation drives many to break their own word—and many break their own word and code even without it."

The cold only grew, some distant echo of I loved you! sounding at the back of Luke's mind.

"The Jedi were hypocrites," Vader finished. It occurred to Luke that the man had lifted his hand as he monologued, like an overly dramatic actor; even as he noticed, it dropped back to his side. "And they very much want me dead."

"Can't imagine why," Luke thought he heard Aphra mutter, but he couldn't be sure.

He took a deep breath, and tried to pull the conversation together. "So, you want us to comb through the footage and see who did it? Why ask slicers to do that?"

"Because the footage is not from my palace, or the landing pad here. The footage is from the Imperial Palace, from when I was speaking with the Emperor."

Luke frowned. "Can't you just request it?"

Vader paused, then ground out, "The Emperor and I have been having our difficulties. It is best that I resolve this on my own."

"Difficulties?" Luke asked before his brain could catch up with his mouth. "You mean the Death Star?"

A metaphysical pressure on the base of his throat warned him to shut up.

The Death Star had been destroyed by Rebels. Vader had been the only survivor. Luke knew no more than that, but he could guess that with all the money the Empire had no doubt poured into it, Palpatine had not been thrilled.

Hell, Luke wasn't even supposed to know about it, the Empire had sure tried to keep it crushed away and hidden, but teenage thief—especially one who associated with Aphra, and her tendency to dabble with every person in the galaxy who could be bad for her—couldn't get far without seeing the illegally aired footage of it blowing up. The Rebels had milked that victory for all it was worth.

And, Luke was beginning to remember, they'd said their star pilot was a Jedi. . .

"Okay then," Aphra said, voice forcibly cheerful. "So, you want us to hack into the Imperial Network, the most secure in the galaxy, to obtain and then scour the footage of the time your TIE was sitting out there like a fat, juicy target—" Luke doubted it had been unguarded, but he let Aphra have her moment. "—to find you your 'Jedi'?"

Vader crossed his arms across his chest. "Yes."

"Within a week?"

"Yes."

"Right then." She smiled, still faux-cheerful, but when she turned to Luke her eyes widened with dread. "We should get started."


Three days later, Luke was beginning to see why Vader was convinced a Jedi had been the saboteur.

The very first thing he'd done was look up the schematics of a TIE Advanced starfighter, just to check he was remembering the design right.

He was. The stabilisers were exactly where he'd remembered them to be: not exactly easy to get to, but it was a simple task for a dedicated mechanic to get to them—that was, provided they had the time.

And therein lay the problem.

Because on the second day, they'd managed to crack through to obtain the footage of two of the five holocams scattered around that landing pad. Aphra had continued to work on getting a third while Luke examined what they already had—and, more noticeably, was the didn't have.

"Try to get through to holocam 551," he told Aphra, squinting at the monitor. "I need the view from round there."

There was something over there, he was sure of it. The view from this holocam showed an impressive vista of Coruscant, with Vader's TIE fighter tucked away into the corner. And for two minutes—at the most—there it was. A flash of silver as a speeder sped by, then a silhouette, a shadow of someone sliding under the ship to get to its innards. . . then nothing.

He needed a closer look at that, and holocam 551 had exactly the angle he needed.

It could be hours before Aphra broke through, so he contented himself with cycling through the material he already had. And from what he could see, there was no definitive indication that the intruder was a Jedi.

But.

He looked at the schematics, then the footage, then the time frame, then again. Sabotaging the TIE fighter's stabilisers would be an easy enough thing in theory, but from the angle the figure had had to do it from. . . the lack of evidence of any sort of tool to help from the report Vader had given on the state of the TIE. . . the time limit they'd completed it in. . . He couldn't imagine someone being able to pull that off unless they could crush or move things with the Force.

Although, the idea of an intruder in the Imperial Palace sounded familiar. . .

Luke frowned, and completed a quick search of the holonet. Sure enough, there was a report a few weeks old about someone breaking into the low-security prison there. It was by no means near to the landing pad, but it wasn't implausible that it could be the same person.

Luke read the article carefully, doing his best not to wrinkle his nose at the usual Imperial pompousness. It was no use. All the holocams in the detention cells had been reportedly destroyed; there were no images of the intruder there, either.

At least, none that the Emperor wanted the general public seeing.

Luke leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. There was something here—something he was missing—

He hit replay on the footage one last time.

He barely blinked as the silver speeder flashed by, and perhaps that was why he saw it.

For a fraction of a second, the silhouette's reflection shone off the curved wing of the starfighter. He flicked through, frame by frame, until he found the clearest image. A female figure, a human face, dark hair, beige robes—the woman certainly looked like a Jedi, but something else nagged at it.

The image was at an annoying point of clarity where he could tell that the face was recognisable to him somewhere, somehow, but he couldn't tell where.

It wasn't a personal memory. He'd never met this woman, he was sure. But there was something intrinsically familiar about her all the same—he thought there might have been news stories, at some point, maybe as far back as eight years ago, when he'd first been left on his own—

Alderaan. He'd seen her face on Alderaan.

That was it.

He remembered now.

Eleven years old, newly picked up by Aphra and sent to the market when they stopped off in Aldera to restock. An elderly woman had tutted at him when she saw him.

"Eleven!" she'd exclaimed when he told her his age. "The same age as Princess Leia, may she rest in peace. You know she only died a few weeks ago?" She'd shaken her head, and shown him a picture. "What is this cruel galaxy coming to, when we can't look after our younglings?"

Princess Leia.

Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, who'd been reported dead of a flash illness.

Princess Leia Organa of a massacred planet, turning up on Coruscant dressed as a Jedi and attempting to assassinate Darth Vader?

It couldn't be her.

But Luke checked the name of the prisoner she'd been there to rescue, if his theory was correct.

The rebellious Lord Mellowyn. The Governor of Birren.

"Aphra," he asked aloud, "weren't the Organas closely related to Birren in some way?" She was a historian—archaeologist—wasn't she? She ought to know.

Aphra just looked surprised at the question. "Yes? The Alderaanians settled Birren—the governorship would have passed to them provided Mellowyn didn't name any heirs and they hadn't, you know, died." She gave him a look. "Care to explain why?"

He just shook his head. He sounded mad, even to himself, but it all fit.

Except for one thing:

Why?

Princess Leia Organa, alive. Princess Leia Organa, a Jedi.

Luke didn't believe it.

But he had to, later on. Because when Aphra finally got through to the third camera, and got hold of a good quality still of a nineteen-year-old Jedi with a princess's face, there was nothing else he could believe.


The only snag in the perfect picture he'd built up was having to report it to Vader.

Vader, who was notorious for not suffering fools gladly.

"This is preposterous."

Luke swallowed at the harsh words, and tried not to rub his throat. The faint pressure there was a trick of his mind, surely.

"Look at the evidence, my lord." He stressed the honorific, trying not to anger him even more. Already he could feel that terrible cold curling round him, suffocating him—he'd hardly stopped feeling it since arriving on Coruscant. "It's far-fetched, but I can think of no other explanation." And certainly not for lack of trying.

"No other explanation than that a dead girl is alive and plotting against me?" Vader's voice was low and dangerous now; what little patience he might have ever had was running out fast. Honestly, by now Luke was dead whether he was right or wrong. He had nothing to lose.

So he lifted his chin, reached for that elusive bubble of calm inside him, and said, "Yes, my lord."

Vader gaped at him for a moment, but then the room chilled and there was a pressure around his throat—

Luke squeezed his eyes shut, scrabbling to hold onto that calm—you're flying, imagine you're flying, Beggar's Canyon beside you and the sky beneath you, sand flying in the wind—and tried to force it into his voice. "There aren't any, my lord, and it makes sense." He said it so forcefully he almost convinced himself. "She could well have faked her death in order for no one to question where she went when she became a Jedi!"

The pressure disappeared. Luke rubbed his chest surreptitiously, then glanced up at the dark lord.

Vader had taken a half-step back, his hand slightly out, unmoving. The overwhelming expression Luke got from him was shock, but he wasn't sure whether that was his own delirious mind running wild.

"That. . . is possible," Vader admitted. He tilted his head to stare right at Luke—he fidgeted, feeling like he was being examined from head to toe. Whatever had just happened was far beyond his realm of understanding.

He decided to ignore it.

"So, you'll follow it up?" he asked hopefully. If he didn't, then everything Luke had done was be effectively useless, and uselessness was not a quality Darth Vader was rumoured to value.

"I shall look into it further," Vader replied cryptically, and that was really all that Luke could hope for.

But then he added— "And I will report back to you and Doctor Aphra if there is anything to be found."

A sigh hissed out of him. That— that was more than he'd expected.

Luke thanked him, somewhat shakily, then turned to leave the room.

For a moment he paused, sure he could feel Vader's gaze burning a hole between his shoulder blades.

Then he continued, and the door slid shut behind him.


Luke went straight to his and Aphra's shared quarters, and slept. He didn't see Vader until the next morning—surprisingly early the next morning, in fact, just after he got up.

The computers and monitors in the cramped room were already hot—symptomatic of hours of use. Luke was tempted to ask whether the man slept at all, decided he liked his larynx intact, and kept his mouth shut.

Vader's head jerked towards him a little, as if he'd sensed the thought, but he thankfully made no comment.

"I have followed up on your theory," he said to him instead, slight disdain at the word. It was apparently still too farfetched for him. "The shuttle which the Governor of Birren's rescuer stole was tracked to the Arkanis sector. From there, the signal was lost, but we are to follow up the lead anyway."

"Are we?" Aphra asked, yawning slightly. She'd never been one for rising early.

"Yes," Vader growled out, "we are. You are being hired to investigate so you will investigate."

"Even Luke's poodoo theory?"

Luke turned to defend himself, found there was no way he could, and shut up.

"While his ideas about a dead princess being alive are ridiculous," Vader said for him, "the thought that the rescuer and the saboteur are one and the same is not. There is clearly nothing else for you to find in here. We will use the practical approach instead, and go to investigate it ourselves."

Luke said, "I suppose in a non-Imperial ship so as not to arouse suspicions?"

Vader looked at him for a long moment, then nodded.

"I'll prepare the Ark Angel," Aphra declared, waving her hand. She shot Luke an amused look; he scowled back. "I guess we'll be leaving today?"

"There is no time to waste."

"Great. Deadlines." Although her back was turned to him as she waltzed out the door, Luke could see her eye roll. "My favourite."


They were ready to go almost within the hour, and Luke once again found himself awkwardly playing host to a Sith Lord.

Aphra seemed even less keen on the prospect than him, so she fled to the safety of the cockpit. Luke grimaced at her as she winked, but seeing as the alternative was letting Vader roam free all over their precious ship, Luke decided to stay to keep an eye on him.

That didn't mean he had to talk to him, however. There were always plenty of droids to mend on the Ark Angel; now was no exception. Luke spent hours crouched on the floor over one particularly stubborn R4 unit.

After a while, he got annoyed at Vader hovering, watching him, like some sort of massive spectre, so he told him he could work on another droid they had lying around. Half an hour later, the poor thing was nothing but individual wires, circuits and panels on the floor, but he figured it was a small price to pay to get Vader off his back.

Temporarily, at least.

"You told me you are an adept mechanic?"

Luke gritted his teeth. "Yes, my lord," he said, trying to focus on what his hands were doing. He just needed to install this one piece, then he could move on to—

"What do you suppose an appropriate next step would be to fix this droid, then?"

Luke pinched his lips together, then wiped his hands on his trousers—they were covered in engine grease—and made to stand up. "I'll have a look—"

He turned his head, only to find Vader in the way. He stepped to the side, as respectfully as it was possible for him to be, and Vader moved to block him again.

"My lord?" he asked, voice fraying a little with irritation. It would probably get him killed, he mused darkly. "How am I supposed to tell you what's next if you won't—" He stepped to the side; Vader followed. "—let me see what you've done."

"Use your feelings," Vader ordered. Luke outright scowled at that—what sort of bantha poodoo was that? "What should I do next?"

"I don't know!" Luke shrugged. "Power converters? I can't see it!"

Vader relaxed marginally, and stepped aside. Luke stared at the droid, and scowled even harder.

Vader said, voice smug, "Correct."

"What was the point in that?" Luke complained, almost mulishly. He knew full well that he sounded whiny; he just didn't care.

"You have a gift, Lars. Where did you learn mechanics?"

It seemed. . . odd, but Luke wasn't convinced the two questions were linked. Rather, they seemed more like an observation, then a distraction.

"I was a moisture farmer on Tatooine," he said. "I learnt mechanics there, what with tending the vaporators, and Aphra taught me the rest."

The temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees at the mention of Tatooine—some small, crazy part of Luke urged him to ask why—but Vader just said, "I see. And your parents approve of you running around as a criminal?"

"My parents are dead." He didn't quite mean to snap, but the question had touched a nerve. "I was raised by my aunt and uncle. They're dead too," he added before Vader could ask. "An attack by Sand People."

The temperature dropped again, but Vader's tone was almost. . . not sympathetic, but understanding when he said, "I see." Then— "What were their names?"

Why did he care? So he could look them up? Use even more leverage against him? Why in all the galaxy did Vader think Luke wanted to be asked all these personal questions? Why did he expect a response?

Luke touched his throat lightly. That was the answer to that.

"My aunt and uncle were Owen and Beru Lars," he said. "Uncle Owen was my father's step-brother, so I'm not related by blood." Hopefully the detail would be enough to sate Vader, so he didn't ask the major question Luke was desperately trying to avoid—

"So their name technically isn't your name?"

Luke gritted his teeth. "No."

"Why don't you use your father's name?"

Blast it. Blast it, blast it, blast it

Luke sucked in a breath. He had a very strange feeling, like a pivotal moment was fast approaching, and everything was going to be knocked over. Vader seemed to feel it too from the way Luke—and Luke's hesitation—had his undivided attention. Something was coming. . .

. . .and Luke let it come. He couldn't stop it if he tried.

"Aphra refused to take me on if I used my father's name. She said it was dangerous."

"Did she say why?" Questions, questions, more questions—

"No."

"Do you know why?"

"I. . ." Luke hesitated again. "I have an idea. I've picked up some stuff, from travelling around the galaxy." The run in with the pirate—Hondo?—had been particularly telling—

"And what have you picked up?"

Luke opened his mouth, then closed it again. "I. . ."

That feeling was building in his chest. Building, building, building—Vader was leaning forwards more, impatience in his tone—his head pounded and hands dropped into his lap—

"What," Vader said, darkly and in a way that was impossible to ignore, "was your father's name?"

Luke squeezed his eyes shut—

"Anakin Skywalker."

The words were quiet, and left his mouth in a small sigh. It was almost an anticlimax for him, that feeling disappearing at last, but for Vader it was the opposite. He just stayed staring, stiffened. He could have been a statue for all the movement he showed.

Luke dared to say, "My lord. . .?"

Vader stood up so suddenly Luke flinched. He stared down at him for one long, terrible moment, then strode out the room.

The sound of metal crumpling followed him out.


There wasn't much in the Arkanis sector. Arkanis itself, Geonosis, Luke's beloved homeworld and a lot of pirates. But not much.

So really, Luke shouldn't have been surprised when Vader decided to begin looking for their saboteur on Tatooine. He had the vague idea that it might have something to do with the man's strange behaviour from the previous day, but since he had no real reason to think that, he banished it from his mind. Instead, he watched the brown and yellow planet of his youth grow closer through the viewport.

He hadn't been back here since his aunt and uncle had died.

He swallowed, and tried to bury the thought. They were soaring over Mos Eisley now, intimately familiar from the week he'd spent scrabbling for a living before Aphra had decided to pick him up, but he couldn't help but stare at the horizon. Somewhere over there was his old homestead.

Was it still intact? Or had the wind and the sand reclaimed it, now a hollowed husk in the desert?

He turned away from the viewport when he realised there were tears on his cheeks.

Aphra made to descend and dock in one of the bays, but before she could hail the local authorities Vader seized the controls with the Force and yanked them back into the sky.

"Hey!" she cried. "What're you doing?"

Vader had no patience for her outburst. He stared straight ahead, all the lines in his body vibrating with tension. "Fly forward. Towards the Jundland Wastes."

He looked straight at Luke, as if he could sense his surprise he knew where the Jundland Wastes were, let alone it was where to go. The cold that dogged Vader everywhere mellowed slightly, a single freezing tendril dragging itself down Luke's cheek. It was almost like a caress, he thought, but the sensation vanished the moment he thought it.

Vader's head snapped forward again. "Get us there now."

Aphra got them there.

The Jundland Wastes were uncomfortably close to where the Lars homestead had been—despite himself, Luke pressed himself against the viewport to watch when they flew over it. He caught maybe a glimpse of the once-beige domes at best, but it was enough to see their charred remains. There'd been a fire there.

Had the Tuskens who'd killed his aunt and uncle burned their home, too? Had it been squatters playing with fire who led to this? Or had it just been a natural flame, one of the many prices enacted by the twin suns they lived and died under?

Luke felt Vader's gaze on his back, watching him, as he stared. The cockpit had been plunged into a biting cold again.

It only grew colder the closer they got to the Wastes, but Luke could almost feel something. . . else, as well. Something. . . bright? He didn't know; when he tried to lean towards it, mentally—because it was a feeling inside his head, somehow?—he flinched back. It felt like he'd been doused in cold water, like the discomfort when he heard sand grinding in an evaporator's parts. Every time he tried to feel the light, all he felt was. . .

Vader twitched when he reached out one last time.

. . .darkness.

Darkness, and anger, and. . . worry? Yes—worry. Worry from the darkness, and worry from the light, because whoever he could feel could feel him too, and they could certainly feel the cold corona of a dying star that was. . .

Vader.

Luke threw the man a look. Vader kept staring straight ahead, but he felt one of those tendrils touch him lightly on the shoulder.

They landed on a rocky outcropping not long later, just a stone's throw away from an old hermit's hut. And emerging from that hut, strolling calmly towards them, was. . .

Luke squinted against the harsh sunlight.

Ben? Old Ben Kenobi?

He looked terrible.

Deep wrinkles lined his face, his expression permanently set to anxious. His thinning hair had gone grey—he truly lived up to his name—and he moved like every motion pained him. Even so, he clutched a silver cylinder in his right hand.

Luke stared. Was that a lightsaber?

Was Ben—

"Kenobi," Vader hissed. "You're alive."

Ben's worried gaze flicked to Vader. After a moment of studying him, his expression shifted to sorrow, then to a sort of calm acceptance. "Come to kill me, Darth?"

Vader took a step forward, lighting his saber with a bloodthirsty snap-hiss. "I would certainly like to."

Ben snorted, then his gaze shifted onto Luke and Aphra. . . and froze.

"Luke?" he asked urgently, taking a step forward despite the murderous Sith Lord in that direction. "Luke Skywalker? Is that you?"

Something like a growl burst out of Vader's vocoder. Luke took a slight step back. "Old Ben?" His gaze fell on the lightsaber again. "You— you're a Jedi?"

"Yes, I am—now, Luke, step away from Vader, he only means you harm—"

"How dare you, Kenobi—"

"What. . .?" Luke was dimly aware that the cold from the cockpit was intensifying despite Tatooine's burning suns, that Vader gave something like a snarl when Ben took another step forward, that the Sith Lord was standing in front of him in a ready stance, almost protecting him, but. . . He couldn't deal with it. He couldn't. Everything from his past, his childhood was coming back at once, and he—couldn't

A light hand settled on his shoulder. "Try to take deep breaths," Aphra advised chirpily. "I find that often helps with crises of loyalty."

"What? No—this isn't—" Luke shook his head. "I—"

Ben, looking concerned, stepped forward again. Vader lunged forward to force him back.

"Luke?" Ben called. "Luke, are you alright?"

"What is going on?" he asked quietly. He didn't know where all this conflict inside him had come from—it felt like the fires of hell were meeting the waterfalls of Naboo, the steam hissing up and clouding his judgement, the crashing echoing through his skull. . .

He clutched Aphra's hand on his shoulder. "What. . ."

"Luke?" Ben came closer again, and Vader reached out through the Force, seizing him around the throat, dragging him into the air.

Do not address the boy like that! Luke heard, but it wasn't sound, it was a thousand red-hot pokers branding it on the inside of his skull, it was—

Vader seemed to notice his agony then, because he turned, and shock rang through Luke, his brain, his teeth, like vibrations through a massive bell.

"Luke?" Vader asked, and Luke clenched his eyes shut. That too was dizzying—the bass vocoder overset with another voice, deeper and richer and directly into his mind, but they were both too loud too much and—

He fainted.


He was only vaguely aware of things after that.

At some point, lightsabers stopped clashing and flashing, both Ben and Vader rushing to his side. There were some heated words, then the blue of a stun blast, and Aphra's "What? It worked!"

He was carried back to the ship gently, in arms that seemed too large and unyielding to be Aphra's. But he wasn't lucid enough to really puzzle it out, so when unconsciousness beckoned again, he welcomed it with open arms.

Just before he slipped away, he thought he saw someone on the nearby rooftop, staring down at them. Her face looked familiar.

The strain of that recognition was what finally pushed him into oblivion.


He woke up slowly on a soft surface, something heavy weighing down on him.

Rising from unconsciousness was like the time he'd fallen into a lake on one of the many planets he'd visited with Aphra. He hadn't learned how to swim yet, but the water seemed denser than natural, and he'd found himself floating up with little to no effort. There had been something inevitable about it; watching the light warp and play across the surface, drawing nearer, a strange sense of calm struck him.

It was like that now. No matter how much he shied away from that dim light prodding at the edge of his consciousness, he was inexorably pulled towards it. He opened his eyes, and it flooded in.

He squinted, despite that the room he was in was much darker than he'd thought. The only light was sliding in from under the door; there were muffled shouts creeping in that way as well.

As he became increasingly aware, he could make out words, but that sort of focus hurt his head. He made to sit up instead, swinging his legs over the side of the bunk—his bunk, in his room, he now recognised—and hissed. His head was pounding now.

With nothing to do but wait for it to abate, he rubbed the fabric that had been covering him. It wasn't the blanket—duvet, more like; Luke got very cold off of Tatooine—he was used to. It was heavier, harder, a darker colour.

"Hey, Luke!" came from beyond the door. He jumped, startled, and winced.

The door hissed open to reveal Aphra's silhouette. She wasn't exactly smirking at him, he knew—she was probably just trying to hide that she was genuinely worried. But it sure looked like a smirk, from what little light played over her face.

"You're awake! Glad you could join us."

He glared, albeit half-heartedly. "What—" He swallowed; his throat was dry as the Jundland Wastes he'd fainted in. "What happened?"

"You fainted," Aphra said, quite unnecessarily. "And believe me, we've all been beside ourselves with worry about you."

He grumbled, "Shut up," and held a hand up to block the light.

He made to push up off the bunk, only to stagger forwards. When he caught himself on the doorframe, Aphra made no move to help. With a final glare at her, he staggered into the main room.

The two men there, one masked, one not, instantly turned their heads to look at him.

"Hello, Luke," Ben greeted cheerfully, despite the fairly obvious binders around his wrists and ankles. In fact, he looked trussed up like a roasted porg, yet Vader still watched him like some dangerous predator about to break loose.

He even twitched at the words. "Do not speak to him, Kenobi."

Ben raised his eyebrows. "I'm sorry, am I not allowed to address your s—"

"Kenobi."

Luke's headache spiked again.

"—staff? Surely if they're as loyal as you claim, you will have no problem."

Aphra rolled her eyes. Luke was mildly astounded. "Oh please, we're hired slicers. Mercenaries. I wouldn't be caught dead in an Imperial uniform." She grinned. "It wouldn't suit me."

"Naturally." Ben, at least, seemed amused by her. Vader was just deadly quiet. "And what about you, Luke?"

Still rubbing his forehead with a grimace, Luke glanced from Ben to Vader. The latter looked odd; after a moment, Luke realised he wasn't wearing his cape.

The implications of what that meant the strange blanket had been stopped him in his tracks.

"I—" he made to answer, but winced again when the temperature dropped and Ben started choking. Luke clutched at his head.

"Vader," Ben got out between his gasped breaths. "You're—hurting—"

"You?" Vader mocked. Ben gagged as he squeezed tighter. "Good."

The pain in his skull was pounding, pounding—

There was a light, warm touch against his mind and the pain receded slightly. Luke sucked in a breath.

Then Vader snarled something, that touch disappeared, and the pain rushed back in, too much noise for his mind to handle. His vision flickered; he thought he was going to faint again—

"Him," Ben choked. "You're—hurting—him."

Vader's mask turned to Luke. The cold. . . not receded, but settled, drawing closer around him like a shroud. Luke's headache faded to just that—an ache. Ben stopped gasping.

"He can't shield," he explained, wincing as he rubbed his throat. "Our conflict in the Force is like boulders tossed around in his mind."

Vader looked from Luke to Ben, then back again.

There was a cold touch against his mind, like ice down his back, but the ache vanished. He felt like he could breathe.

"That may be so," Vader growled, "but I will shield him from the effects of it. I will not have you poisoning his mind with Jedi lies."

"Worried about your loyal companions betraying you?" Ben asked. There was something bitter in his voice.

"Kenobi—"

"So, Luke fainted because he's got this weird Force voodoo going on, and you two trying to rip out each other's throats upset him?" Aphra interjected.

Luke had to admit—her ability to offend two mortal enemies into siding against her was on point. Both Jedi and Sith Lord looked ready to rip out her throat then.

She just smiled in response. "Glad that's covered up."

"Reckless," he said quietly.

"Hypocrite," she shot back.

He appreciated the gesture.

Her diversion had only worked for so long, though. They were glaring at each other again, and sensing it was about to explode, Luke asked Ben, "So, why did you try to assassinate Vader? Beyond the obvious, that is."

Ben blinked—evidently, he'd been caught off guard. "I beg your pardon?"

"The sabotage of his TIE fighter? Could have killed him?" Aphra waved her hand. "Ring any bells."

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about. Knowing Darth, it was probably his own reckless flying that led to—"

"You may not have done it, Kenobi," Vader cut in, voice deadly quiet. "But your apprentice certainly did."

Ben went pale.

He got out, "My— my apprentice?"

"The Princess Organa."

Ben glanced at Luke. His throat bobbed, but his voice was perfectly smooth when he said, "I don't know what you mean."

"Liar!" Vader's hand moved before Luke could see it; a moment later, a violet bruise smattered Ben's right cheek. "Your apprentice tried to kill me."

"I can hardly blame her." Distaste coloured his features as Ben raised a finger to touch his cheek, wincing at the contact. "Though I can't say I approve of a Jedi using sabotage or assassination, if it works—"

"It didn't work! It will never work. Your precious order is dead Kenobi, it is never coming back, and you will never destroy me!"

"The typical dogmatic view of a Sith Lord."

"The Jedi—"

"How much longer 'til we reach Coruscant?" Luke murmured to Aphra. His head was starting to pound, but not from the Force, this time. How much longer do we have to listen to this?

"A few hours. You were out for several days." She threw him a grin. "Don't worry, I'll fill you in on all the squabbling you missed."

He sighed. "Please, don't."


The moment they landed in the docking bay beneath Vader's palace on Coruscant, Vader frogmarched Ben away to some dingy cell, and Luke and Aphra were left to collapse onto their assigned bunks. Luke was fairly sure the room had originally been for servants, had Vader had any, but he didn't particularly care.

"D'you think that's the end of the job, then?" Luke slurred, half asleep already. He wasn't sure he was wholly recovered from his headache—no matter how effective Vader's shielding was, that much conflict still hurt.

"I hope so," Aphra admitted, one of her rare spells of seriousness showing itself.

Then she dumped a bunch of parts on her bunk, and the spell was broken. "Well, feel free to nap, but we've still got stuff to fix."

"We've always got stuff to fix."

"Case in point."

Luke cracked his eyes open to stare at the content she'd just upended on the mattress. "You're missing the hydrospanner," he observed.

"True. Nice spot, kid." She grinned at him, and ruffled his hair. He was too tired to stick his tongue out in response. "I'll be back in a sec. Try not to get into too much trouble while I'm gone."

He snorted. "I won't."

No sooner had her footsteps faded, though, than another pair took their place. They grew closer and closer, until they stopped outside Luke's door.

The door hissed open.

Luke raised his head from the pillow, still half-asleep. "What—"

"You will stand up and come with me."

The voice was a woman's, and as she stepped closer she lit a lightsaber, the cerulean light playing across her face. For a moment, Luke recognised her from somewhere, but his mind was foggy. . .

"You will stand up," she said again, desperation starting to harden her voice, "and come with me."

The fog increased. "I—" He shook his head. "Why?"

A pause.

"What?"

"Why? Who—" He squinted at her—and then he recognised her. "You're Leia Organ—"

She moved to wrap a hand round his hair and yank him upright. He cried out—and felt a spike of cold concern from somewhere outside himself—but was quickly silenced when she extinguished her lightsaber and jabbed the emitter under his chin.

"I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but. . ." She gripped his shoulder, despite being shorter than him, and pushed him forward. "Walk."

He craned his neck to try and look at her, flinching away from the lightsaber's cold hilt. "You are Leia Organa, right? You tried to assassinate Vader?"

"A spur of the moment decision, but no less than he deserves," she bit back. "Now, walk."

He conceded, taking a few steps forward. The door hissed back open; he was shoved into the corridor. They turned left—towards the turbolift to Vader's quarters.

Luke hadn't been up there—hadn't dared to go up there. "What—" He swallowed as the lightsaber was jabbed further into his throat. "What are you doing?"

"Ransoming your life for the safe return of my Master."

"I thought Jedi weren't fans of murdering innocent people." Though he'd heard they weren't exactly fans of sabotage and assassination, either.

"You're an Imperial."

"I'm technically a freelance splicer, pilot and mechanic partnered with a rogue archaeologist."

"Semantics. You're working with Vader."

"It's not like he lets you say no."

That rattled her, he could tell. Her grip on his shoulder tightened uncomfortably, her breathing became heavier and heavier. She didn't like that she'd been driven to do this anymore than he did.

"Just shut up."

He obeyed for a minute as they stepped into the turbolift and headed up—then ignored her. "This isn't gonna work, you know."

"Oh really? What makes you so sure?"

"Vader hates Kenobi; he doesn't care poodoo about me. He'll just let me die, and you'll be one your own in the middle of a Sith Lord's palace."

"Right now I'm on my own in the middle of a Sith Lord's galaxy," she snapped. "And he will listen to my demands."

"No, he won't."

"Skywalker," she said, shaking her head. He wondered where she'd learned his name. "You have no idea who we are to him, do you?"

He didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet. The turbolift came to a stop and she pushed him out.

He glanced around as much as he could, suddenly drenched in that now-familiar cold. The rasp of the respirator reached his ears moments later, just after his eyes landed on Vader. The corridor was empty aside from the three of them; standard Imperial minimalism was showing its face.

"Organa," Vader hissed. His lightsaber hissed out at the same time, but for some reason he seemed frozen in place.

"Vader," she replied coldly. Luke winced as the lightsaber was shoved further into his chin.

He saw the mask tilt, until Vader's gaze was fixed on that lightsaber. He waited for the spark of amusement, of disdain—surely Vader would just lunge, let the Jedi kill him, and then kill her? He was going to let Luke die.

The thought hit him like a punch to the gut. He was going to die.

He was going to—

But Vader switched off his lightsaber, and took a step back. "What do you want," he ground out, and oh Force there was so much anger in the words. . .

He felt Organa stiffen against him, just as he did too. Apparently, despite her grandstanding, she hadn't been convinced that it would work either. She fumbled for words.

Apparently she fumbled for too long, because Vader reiterated, voice low and deadly, "What. Do. You. Want."

"I want you to free my Master," she said.

There was a moment of silence, and that familiar wash of anger hatred fury hit Luke against, though it dissipated against the shields still around his mind.

What surprised him the most, though, was the fear.

Fear. . . for him?

What was going on?

"As you wish," Vader said.

Luke gaped as he summoned a comlink to hand. He—

What

Why?

The word rang in his mind.

And what was more, an answer rang back.

Because, said a deep, rich voice—like Vader's through the vocoder, but also notOwen Lars was my stepbrother.

Luke stared at him. His eyes traced the blank mask, the gleam of light, the contours.

Owen Lars was my stepbrother.

Vader had stormed out the moment Luke told him his name.

Vader had roared at Old Ben when he'd tried to talk to him.

Vader had given him his cloak when he was unconscious.

A beat.

Vader was Uncle Owen's stepbrother.

That—

That meant—

Luke tried desperately to catch Vader's eye, but the man—his father—turned away.

He stared down at his comlink and barked out the order to whoever ran his prison cells, each word loaded like a blaster at full charge. Once he was done, he dropped the comlink. It crumpled even before it hit the floor; Organa jerked reflexively at the impact.

Vader had no time for it. "Now," he ordered, "let the boy go."

But Organa wasn't done yet. She took a step back, and dragged him with her.

"Only once you swear to let me and my Master go free," she pushed. "I've heard about you—you don't break your word, supposedly. If I let him live, you will let us escape alive?"

The anger stifling the corridor increased tenfold, but Vader held out his hand. "Yes."

That was all Organa needed, apparently, or maybe she could sense the truth in the word. She shoved Luke away from her and ran off. He toppled forward, almost hitting the ground, but his father caught him before he could.

Vader placed one hand on his shoulder and the other on his cheek. He tried to turn his head left and right, to examine for injuries, but Luke shook him off. "You— you're—" He was so confused.

He felt that cold presence reach for his mind—gently, hesitantly, like a parent picking up a newborn—and he let it. He was too shaken to care.

Vader's voice was almost warm when he said, "I am."

Luke shook his head again, and threw himself at Vader. He nearly knocked himself out on the armour, but he wrapped his arms round his father tightly. After a moment, Vader embraced him as well.

There were footsteps coming closer—not Organa's, he could tell—but he ignored them.

"You're my father," Luke whispered, and buried his face in the man's shoulder.

He barely noticed it when Aphra rounded the corner. She sagged in relief when she saw Luke, unharmed—she'd known he'd got himself into some sort of trouble when she returned to the room to find him gone—but then she noticed what was happening.

And then she had nothing else to say but—

"What the hell is going on?"

Chapter Text

Vader had never flown an X-wing before this dogfight, with one of the survivors of the Inquisitorius dogging his footsteps. Even then, it was embarrassing how easily the ship slipped out of his control over the remote jungle planet he'd been sent to. He was the greatest pilot in the galaxy, and now he was tumbling at breakneck speeds, burning through the atmosphere, and onto the surface below.

Although he supposed it wasn't like he'd been trying all that much to live.

He clutched the controls and half-hoped he was about to die.

Why was he even here? he asked himself for the umpteenth time that day. Padmé was dead. Luke—he forced himself to acknowledge it, as he had every day for six months, as he would for the rest of his life—was dead. Why. . .?

Leia.

Because Leia was his daughter, even if she hated him, and he still had a legacy to respect. After everything he'd done in the service of terror, after all the pain he'd caused to his loved ones. . . he had to make sure their sacrifices hadn't been in vain.

How could he face them, if he ever saw them again, if he didn't?

That was his mantra. He repeated it to himself as the ground neared, the canopy green and close and unyielding.

But he made no move to level out his fall, or save himself, as he plummeted.


He woke up an indiscernible time later, the back of his head sticky with blood.

He gasped as his eyes flew open, waiting a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light streaming through the cracked cockpit. Thank the Force the planet's atmosphere was breathable—the small, silver mask that covered half his face was struggling, but it was working. He could breathe. His life support seemed similarly intact.

For a moment, he let himself feel grateful—the Princess would have killed him if he'd damaged the compact, padded suit she'd struggled to get him. He was fairly sure she'd only done it in the first place out of a spiteful, bitter respect for what her brother had sacrificed to bring him back; she would not fight so hard a second time. He did not want her to.

It was good that his life support hadn't been damaged, he told himself sternly. A miracle, even.

So what was it that hurt so much. . .?

He found out when he went to shove the cockpit open and collapsed, wincing. There. The nose of the X-wing had been smashed in by the impact, on top of his legs. They weren't broken, and he was sure that he could eventually get free, but pain signals were being consistently fired across his nerves.

He couldn't move like this. He needed help.

For a moment, he eyed the X-wing's controls. It look like the comm unit was still intact. . . maybe he could try calling for help? As much as everything in him rebelled against it. . .

The Inquisitor.

He cursed out loud.

He'd completely forgotten about the Inquisitor!

Had he managed to shoot them down, too? Or were they still circling overhead, watching for their prey? The thought irked him—he was the hunter, had been for years, this was why the New Republic had given him this task. They hadn't wanted to, but they'd had to.

He was the best starpilot in the galaxy. That could never change. . .

. . .especially with his son dead.

Dead. The word rang in his mind. Every time he remembered, it was like a punch to the gut all over again.

Luke was dead.

Luke, who'd survived twenty three years on and off Tatooine, in the midst of a war, only to throw it all away for a man who deserved nothing of it.

Luke, he reminded himself, who had given it all for him, and would give it all again if he meant his father survived. And in this case, surviving meant searching the Force for this Inquisitor.

So he did his best to shove any and all deprecating thoughts to the back of his mind, and cast his senses out like a net, searching, searching—

There was no Inquisitor nearby.

That wasn't what caught his attention.

The Force felt dark, in a way that it hadn't since Palpatine had. . . died. It was a mass of creeping shades and shadows. But if he focused. . . there was light as well. A few sparks, hidden among the darkest folds, but they were there. The shadows couldn't snuff them out.

That still wasn't what caught his attention.

What caught his attention was impossible, unbelievable, and broke his heart all over again because he knew it was wrong, because—

One of those spots of light was near (and dear) to him. As familiar as the twin suns they'd both lived under, and as bright; it drew nearer, nearer, until Vader's heart hammered in his chest and tears pushed into ducts long since burned away.

A shadow climbed onto the crumpled nose of the X-wing. Confusion radiated from it—of course, his shielding had been terrible for those early years—but then there was a snap-hiss, some careful manoeuvring, and a lightsaber beam shot through the viewport. It hummed as the transparisteel melted around it.

After a few minutes of cutting—and panicking, on Vader's part—it fell free, and the figure kicked it to the side. That was when Vader got his first full view of the person.

The orange light of this planet's dying star shifted over messy blond hair, a tanned face with a cleft in the chin, glinting off the edge of a nose that was so much like a certain senator's it made Vader's chest hurt twice as much. That nose wrinkled as the boy frowned down at Vader, those blue eyes scanning him from head to toe in obvious concern.

Luke Skywalker asked, "What happened?"


"What happened?"

Vader studied the cuffs around his wrists. He was not surprised they were there. He could not even blame Rebel High Command for putting them there. He was a dangerous enemy who destroyed everything he touched.

His chest ached.

"Darth Vader," repeated the questioning voice, loud and clear. Mon Mothma. And didn't that bring up bitter memories of the Old Republic, of the Senate, of Pad"You have agreed to answer all our questions. What happened on the Second Death Star, between Commander Skywalker, Emperor Palpatine and yourself?"

Murder.

Death.

Pain.

"Vader."

Mothma blinked in shockand she wasn't the only one. "Excuse me?"

"My name is no longer Darth Vader. I am no Sith Lord. I am just Vader." He didn't dare claim the name Anakin Skywalker. He would not defile that legacy.

Mothma's lips twisted. "Be that as it may, Vader, what happened on the second Death Star?"

Vader closed his eyes. The sound of his respirator was very loud in the echoes of the interrogation room.

He didn't answer. He couldn't answer. To talk about it would be would be

He shook his head.

Mothma took a deep breath, and placed her hands palms down on the table. "I will ask this one last time, Vader," she said gently, but with a core of steel. "What"


"—happened?"

Vader blinked, hard, and realised his face was wet.

Luke was still staring at him. "Are you alright?"

Vader glanced down at himself. His life support was intact, his limbs were still in the mechanical state they'd been in when he'd crashed, but. . . "Am I dead?"

Luke frowned. "No? That would mean I was dead as well."

But you are, Vader wanted to say, but the words stuck in his throat.

Luke glanced around, eyeing the X-wing, then held out his hand. "Come on. There's an Imperial base on this planet—I don't want to get spotted. We should get out of here."

"An. . . Imperial base?"

Impossible. Not necessarily more impossible than the fact that Luke was standing in front of him, apparently alive, but nonetheless impossible. Mothma had told him before sending him on this mission that there had been an Imperial base, but it had been destroyed by the Alliance almost immediately after Endor. This was entirely—

His breath caught in his throat. That was something he could do now, with only a breathing mask, and it only reinforced the pang in his chest tenfold.

"What—" he swallowed. "What's the date?" This was impossible, but. . . nothing more so than his son being alive, standing in front of him. That was a miracle.

Was he hallucinating?

He was probably hallucinating.

But he hung onto Luke's every reaction anyway as he furrowed his brow. "The date?"

"The year."

Luke's brow cleared. "Oh—twenty AFE."

AFE. After the Formation of the Empire.

Vader blinked. He still had a great many questions to ask, because that. . . That was almost four years ago.

Well. Four years ago from where he'd been before. It was the present, here and now.

So the darkness he'd felt in the Force?

That— that was him.

Him and— and Palpatine.

Anger swelled in him; he tasted bile at the back of his throat. Why? He was dead. Why couldn't he just stay dead. Why couldn't anyone just stay dead

"We need to go," Luke said, and Vader stopped dead. "Are you coming with me?"

Come with me.

His old Master was alive, yes. But so was Luke.

I feel the conflict within you, left get of your hate

His son, his dead, tortured son, was alive.

It is too late for me.

"Yes," he said. "I'm coming."


It was getting dark, and Luke admitted that he'd been on a solo mission when he'd crashed his X-wing himself, so they should probably find shelter for the night. There were mountains to the north, complete with caves; they trekked over there for a few hours, and set up camp in the driest one they could find.

Luke seemed to have caught onto the fact that Vader didn't want to talk, and he respected that despite the burning curiosity Vader could sense from him. He chattered inanely as they walked, occasionally pausing for breath or to listen around them for approaching Imperials. There were always none—Vader was monitoring the area with the Force, although Luke in his untrained state couldn't be expected to know that—so he quickly got back to chattering again.

Vader watched him in awe.

He had never met this boy. Not truly. He'd heard him scream across the Death Star's hangar as Obi-Wan was cut down; he'd taunted him, shaking with rage, on Cymoon-1. But he'd never had a conversation with him. He'd never had anything as precious as these moments, where he was animated and enthusiastic and friendly. He'd only ever seen these moments through the blue of a spy's hologram.

This boy was not the tortured last of the Jedi, doomed to defeat his father and his father's Master or die. This boy was not the angry Padawan-in-training, viewed through the steam and shadows of a carbon-freezing facility.

This was a farm boy who still held the twin suns in his eyes.

Vader loved him.

When they finally reached a suitable cave, it was small—all the better for conserving heat—and dry. There was also, as something so convenient it seemed like indulgence, a small hole in the roof.

"Good for starting a fire," Luke observed. And it was cold as the sun dropped below the horizon, with a few trees outside for wood, so that was what he did.

"Han taught me how to do this," Luke said as he knocked two flints together, sparks flying. "You remember me talking about Han earlier? Han—"


"Han!" The Princess snapped, her face as pale as the snows of Hoth as she stared at Vader, the body he was cradling, its face. The hand holding her blaster aloft trembled. "Han!" A hand flew to her mouth to stifle a sob. "Han!"

"What is it?" he asked. Vader had found Leia standing a little way from the Ewoks' celebration, away from the others, and Han jogged over to them now. His face was worried. "What's wrong"

Then he clapped eyes on Vader.

He swore. His hand flashed to his blaster, bringing it up to fire

And the Princess wrestled it out of his grip.

"WhatLeia!"

"Han," she got out through gritted teeth. Perhaps it was the tears on her cheekbones; perhaps it was the waver in her voice. But Han listened as she said, "Look."

Han looked.

First, he seemed to notice the searing red gash across the side of Vader's mask from before Leia had realised who he was carrying, and looked mildly mollified by that. Then his gaze slid down to the body in Vader's arms.

"Luke?" he asked, taking a step forward. Vader flinched at his voiceit was more vulnerable than anything he'd ever heard from the smuggler, but Luke did have that effect on people"Kid!"

Vader knelt down, and settled Luke onto the ground. Han was on his knees in an instant, tapping Luke's shoulder, feeling for his pulsethen feeling for it again.

And again.

And again.

Behind him, Leia let out a quiet sob.

"He'she's dead," Han said shakily, like he couldn't quite believe it. Then he was on his feet again, fumbling for his blaster, glaring daggers at Vader"You killed him!"

Vader didn't deny it.

It was his fault Luke had died, because of him his son was dead—

Han fired.

Despite the point-blank range, the shot went wide. Han's hand was shaking too hard and it hit Vader in the arm instead. The flesh part of his arm, admittedly, but the pain was nothing.

He wouldn't have dodged it even if Han's aim had been true.

Tears soaked Han's face. "You!"

Leia placed a hand on his shoulder. "He was your son," she hissed. Vader didn't even feel a twinge of surprise that Luke had told her. He couldn't feel anything at all. "He was your son, and you killed him! How could y"

"Son?" Han asked, but heand everyone elsedecided there were more important things to focus on. "Luke is" He choked on the words. "Luke is dead!"

The words were like a punch to the chest.

Luke was dead.

Vader fell to his knees.

Gently, he reached out to rest a hand on Luke's head and tilt it to face him. His son's eyes were closed, slightly scrunchedforever frozen in the rictus of pain he'd died in. He did not look like he was sleeping.

In Vader's experience, dead loved ones never did.

"Get away from him!" Leia snapped. "Youyou monster, you—" She broke off with another sob. "Luke—Han—"


"—Han taught me a lot of stuff actually," Luke ploughed on. "How to keep the Falcon from falling apart, how to survive, how to rile Leia up in three words or less—" He broke off when he saw Vader's face. "Are you alright?"

Vader jerked back. "It's fine."

"Are you sure? If I'm annoying you, just say—"

"No! No," he repeated at Luke's surprise, "no, it's fine. You just. . ." He swallowed. "You—"

"What?" Luke looked genuinely worried—about him, his father, a man who'd done nothing and didn't deserve any of this

He look down at his hands. "You remind me of someone I used to know."


Luke insisted on taking the first watch and would accept no protest of any form, so Vader tried in vain to get some sleep.

It didn't work. He woke up sweating after only a few hours, images of violet lightning flashing behind his eyes, screams starting and never stopping—

Father, please—

No. No, no, no.

And then there was the other part of the dream, where she smiled at him, flowers in her hair, and hugged their son, Leia casting him an odd but not venomous look, the entire family gone to play in the waters around Varykino. . .

That part of the dream hurt the most. It was the part that hurt more than any of his others dreams combined.

Because unlike those dreams, this one had no hope of ever coming true.

Tears leaked out of his eyes but he forced himself to look. In the dim cave, the light of the three moons was enough to see by. He traced with his eyes the shape of Luke's nose, his chin. . .

He was alive.

He'd also fallen asleep on his watch, Vader observed with more fondness than exasperation, so there was no point in Vader sleeping now. He pulled the emergency blanket off him—when had he put that on? It must have been Luke, an observation which stuck a needle in his heart—and gently tucked it round his son.

He stirred slightly, murmuring, but didn't wake.

Vader took a deep breath, and gazed at him for a few moments more.

They were fine. Luke was alive.

But for how much longer?

Four years—no, three—was not nearly enough. He deserved more. He deserved better than the fate the Force had laid out for him, better than the death his father had doomed him to.

This was time travel. And though it was hardly a common occurrence, Vader imagined what Obi-Wan would say in response to it.

That is the way of things, Anakin. You have to let him go for the greater good. The Force has chosen a path, and we, as Jedi, must follow it.

"The Force can go to hell," Vader whispered.

He was in the past. He could change things. His past self was here—he could— he could go to him, use whatever words necessary to convince him to change. To save his son.

Luke had believed there was light in him. The least Vader could do was believe there was light in himself.

He would have to contact Darth Vader soon, he realised. He was the most powerful Force user in terms of raw strength to ever walk the galaxy. His presence here would not go unnoticed for long—he wouldn't be surprised if Palpatine was already contacting his past self, there has been a great disturbance in the Force—and he couldn't—

He took a breath.

He couldn't risk leading the Empire to Luke, or he might risk robbing his son of the three years he did have.

He needed to leave.

But he couldn't make it to Darth Vader alone.

In the silence of the pre-dawn mists, Vader made his decision.


By the time Luke was awake the next morning, Rebel X-wings were already combing the mountains looking for him.

Vader had tinkered all night, building some sort of beacon; he switched it on when he heard the engines' familiar purr and they were at their doorstep within the hour.

He prodded Luke awake when he spotted the garish orange flight suits trekking their way down the mountain. His son yawned and groaned, stirring slowly. Vader smiled slightly at how vulnerable he looked in that moment; he had certainly never seen him in any state like that before.

He was quietly in awe that he felt safe enough to sleep in front of his father.

But then, he didn't know he was his father, did he?

"What is it?" Luke mumbled.

"A group of Rebel pilots have landed and are approaching us. I believe they are your squadron," Vader informed him.

"The Rogues?" Luke pried his eyes open at that, almost panicked. Judging by what Vader had learned from their antics after Endor, he was probably worried about being caught off guard by them and teased mercilessly.

At least he was around to be teased by them. Antilles—


"Antilles seems weirdly down, don't you think?" a Blue Squadron pilot from a few tables overone of the only tables not gawking or glaring at Vader and his entouragemused. "Why'd you think that is? We blew up the Death Star! The Emperor's dead! Vader's. . ." He threw a glance at Vader, flanked by his guards, sitting in the mess hall and staring at his plate, and assumed wrongly that he couldn't or wouldn't hear him. ". . .neutralised, whatever that means. We've won!"

"Not yet," his friend chided.

"Well, no not yet, but nearly! What's his problem with the galaxy today?"

Vader almost wanted to butt in and inform him what, exactly, was wrong with the galaxy, but the pilot's friend beat him to it. "Didn't you hear? Skywalker died on the Death Star. You know they were close friends."

"Luke's dead?" There was a moment of real sorrow thereLuke had had a great many friends in the Alliance; it appeared this man was one of themand then he tried to lighten the tone with, "Damn. He owed me twenty credits."

The joke fell flat. Vader doubted he'd ever expected it to do anything but.

The pilot scratched his head. "I. . . kriff. What was Luke doing on the Death Star?"

"Facing Vader and Palpatine, I heard. Jedi business." His friend waved his fork like he was trying to imitate one. "I don't know. But I bet it was Vader—" He didn't have to look to feel the pointed glare shot his way. "who killed him."

Vader clenched his fists under the table, the cutlery started rattling, his guards exchanged alarmed looks. . .

But it calmed down soon after. The man was right. About all of it.

Vader had killed his son.

"Then why's he here? Why's he not dead? He killed Luke!"

"I don't know." His friend sighed. "But it must have been Vader. After all, he killed the kid's father; why not the son as well?"

Vader's cupgiven to him under the mistaken assumption that he could drinkcrumpled where it stood.

"And now we're all left to mourn him. Us, the Princess, Solo, Antilles"


—Antilles had never been the same after Luke's death, Vader had been told. Now, seeing the faint concern on his face get wiped away by the sight of Luke, alive and well, Vader could tell the difference for himself.

This version of Wedge Antilles smiled more. It was a more cheerful smile as well—both cheeky and exasperated at once—and it provoked a similar one in Luke.

Watching them together, Vader felt a pang in his chest. These weren't soldiers—at least, not the self-sacrificing Jedi and pilot they would become. These were boys.

They shouldn't be fighting in a war.

He shouldn't have been fighting in a war against them.

Vader had a great many regrets. This was just the tip of the sarlacc. But it seized him and dragged him down nonetheless.

"Hey," Antilles asked, once he'd fully lectured Luke about not crashing his X-wings in places they couldn't find him, "who's this?"

"Oh—this is my companion, he crashed his ship here too. We banded together to make it easier to survive. He's—" Luke frowned at him. "I don't think you ever told me your name."

"Couldn't get a word in edgewise?"

"Shut up, Hobbie." But Luke flushed—he probably thought it was true.

Not wanting to make this anymore awkward for him than it had to be, Vader supplied, "My name is. . . Ani."

He winced inwardly the moment he gave it, but it was too late now. He already had memories of Padmé and his mother every time he looked at Luke; this would be no different. He hoped.

"Alright, this is Ani," Luke said. "He was flying what looked like an Incom fighter, from the wreckage—it was an X-wing, right?"

Knowing full well he was digging himself into a hole he wouldn't be able to climb out of, Vader said, "Yes."

"You with the Rebellion?"

"Uh," Vader said, "no. I'd like to," he added, at the sheer panic that crossed Luke's features—I am not an Imperial, I will not sell you out— "but as of right now, no."

"Then where'd you get the X-wing?"

Vader swallowed. "I found it in a junkyard. Put it back together for fun," he lied. "I flew here to test its hyperdrive, but I think it's faulty because I was planning to shoot to the next system over. And then it crashed," he added wryly, "so I'm not sure that was the only thing wrong with it."

"We could drop you off at your home planet, I'm sure," Luke offered.

"No," Vader said, a little too quickly judging by how Luke started. "I've wanted to join the Rebellion since my son died," he explained, ignoring the pain in his chest as he said it. It was true. "This seems as good a chance as any."

Luke and Wedge exchanged looks. They both knew they weren't technically supposed to bring back random recruits they met on missions—there was the risk of Imperial spies, after all.

"You'd better contact High Command to get authorisation," Wedge suggested, then grinned, "Commander."

"Shut up," Luke grumbled, and followed his second-in-command out of the cave to set up a relay through the X-wings. "I'm on it."

Vader was left with the rest of Rogue Squadron, a situation he found he didn't particularly want to be in.

"What happened to you?" one of them asked bluntly. Another hissed at him to be quiet, but he ploughed on, "Why do you need a breathing mask?"

"I was severely injured," Vader answered. The words were practically on rote by now; he'd had to explain himself a lot more than he was used to since joining the Alliance after Endor. "My lungs were damaged. The mask. . . the suit—"


"the suit has to go," Leia said, crossing her arms across her chest. Her constant and consistent disdain for him was clear in her voice. "The Council's made a decision."

Vader raised the area of skin where he used to have eyebrows. "May I ask how they came to this decision?"

"They want to send you after all these Inquisitors which are suddenly popping up after Palpatine's death," she explained. "But they don't want you terrorising anyone you might run into because you're. . ." She waved a hand up and down him: the black mask, the durasteel limbs, the overdramatic cape. ". . .you."

"I understand," he said. And he did. "I will submit to whatever reforms they have in mind."

Leia narrowed her eyes at him. He knew his docility made her suspicious, but they'd had that shouting match alreadyshe knew exactly where his docility came from, and she didn't like talking about it anymore than he did.

She didn't like talking to him at all.

"Good," she snapped, and swept out of the room.

The reforms to the suit were a relief, almost. No more heavy life support, or terrifying maskhe didn't even have a respirator. The medic assigned to him had been disgusted with him at first, then disgusted at the job done on him on top of that. She'd set about fixing it as much as she could, as fast as she could, no matter what her opinion of him was.

It resulted in no mask but a clear breathing mask that covered half his face. The suit


"—keeps me alive," he explained. "It's quite light—lighter than what I had before, at least."

"And are those prosthetics?"

"Yes."

"You lost your limbs and your lungs?"

A faint smile quirked his lips. "It was an accident at work."

"An accident at—"

Fortunately, that was the point which Luke and Wedge returned, stalling any further questions.

"They're sending a shuttle to pick me up anyway," Luke explained, "since I don't have a ship anymore. Leia said that Ani can come on the shuttle as well, provided he's not allowed to know where the base is until High Command has talked to him." He glanced at Vader. "Is that alright with you?"

It took him a moment to find his voice. "That's perfect."


The shuttle ride was a surprisingly short one, for how long it had taken Luke's squadron to find him. Vader hadn't spent nearly as much time as he wanted with Luke on the shuttle when they were touching down on the planet Luke wasn't allowed to name.

Vader knew the name of it anyway. He'd ordered an attack on this base four years ago himself.

But that would be difficult to explain, so he kept his mouth shut.

Vader watched Luke run a hand over the lightsaber at his hip—the lightsaber he'd lost of Bespin, he recognised with a twinge. He still wasn't used to people being able to see his face—to see his eyes—so he didn't glance away fast enough when Luke looked up and noticed him staring.

"It was my father's lightsaber," he explained, his voice unnaturally loud in the silence of the hold. His face lit up at the mere mention of the man. "He was a Jedi."

Vader wanted to cry.

He wanted to show Luke his lightsaber, the lightsaber he would make himself someday, which he'd been carrying since Endor. He wanted to show him what a great Jedi Luke could—and would—be.

But he'd left that lightsaber in the crashed X-wing—

This lightsaber is your life. . .

—and now he'd probably never see it again.

"Then," he tried, the words as clumsy as all attempts at affection were for him, "from what I've seen, I'm sure your father would be proud of you."

I am proud of you.

Luke's cheeks coloured. He lowered his face, slightly bashful, but he was still smiling. "You think?"

Then my father is truly dead, Luke had said, before he walked to his death.

Vader swallowed. "I am sure."

Luke opened his mouth to say something else, then there came an announcement over the comms that they were starting the landing sequence, and a few minutes later they were climbing out into the murky atmosphere.

Vader had cast his senses out before exiting, so he was expecting the petite storm of ferocity and worry that was Leia Organa to descend on Luke immediately, but his son was not.

He staggered back under her hug, then cringed when she started her rant.

"—reckless, gonna get yourself killed—"


"killed," Leia snapped at Vader, eyeing him and his prison with distaste. "Luke was killed. Killed by Palpatine, and his murderer's Empire is still thriving. And you're just going to sit there and let it?"

He blinked at her slowly. The rasp of his own respirator was irritating to his ears. "What would you have me do?" he said finally. His voice was just as apathetic as it had been for weekssince the Council had interrogated him, since he'd been locked in this cushy prison and started providing the necessary information, since. . . everything.

"Anything! Luke gave his life," she snarled the words, "to bring you back to the good side—you are not going to throw it away like this!"

"I am providing your Rebellion with information"

"And that information is fast becoming outdated. It's of limited value. How long before they decide you're more useful as a death to break Imperial spirits?"

"I hadn't realised you cared whether I lived or died."

"Oh, I care. I want you to die," Leia said baldly. "But I don't want Luke to have died in vain, and I don't want to believe I'm the biological daughter of a man irredeemable in every way, which is how it looks at the moment." Vader jerkedthat was the first time she'd acknowledged their biological relationship to his face. "So prove me wrong, Anakin, and prove Luke right."

Vader winced. She was right.

It hurt.

But he deserved the pain—then my father is truly dead—so he dealt with it.

"What would you have me do?" he asked. He tried to reach for something other than apathy inside him as he said it. The familiar anger wouldn't come, no matter how much he coaxed itwho was there to be angry at anymore, except himself?but one thing did come.

It came when he remembered Luke's determined I feel the good in you, let go of your hate, the way he'd smiled slightly when the door to the walker had slid open, his hand tossing his lightsaber away from him as he declared I am a Jedi, like my father before me. . .

Vader clenched his fists.

Please, Father!

Please!

Luke had given everything to save what was left of Vader. Vader would give everything he had left to save Luke's Rebellion.

"Apparently some Dark Side cult of the Emperor's has a few surviving members." Leia wrinkled her nose. "The Inquisitorius? They've been wreaking havoc since Palpatine died, and the Council would very much like a Force user to go after them."

"And they think I'm the best option for that?"

"Well, our only other Force user is dead," Leia deadpanned, "seeing as he went and got himself killed"


"—killed one day!"

Luke tried for an awkward grin, meeting Vader's eye over Leia's shoulder. Vader looked away hastily, heart hammering in his chest, throat tight.

It wouldn't happen this time, he swore. It wouldn't.

He wouldn't let it.

After a moment, Leia detached from her—unknown—brother, and approached him. "You're Ani?" she asked. He nodded. "Then you need to come with me. Luke," she looked to him, "you need to go to a debriefing of why you crashed." He had the decency to wince at that. "I'll take him from here."

Luke gave a mock salute, then scampered off. Leia rolled her eyes.

"This way," she told Vader, gesturing forward.

Horox III, he remembered, was a Rebel outpost, not a base. It only had a few hastily erected buildings around the main airfield, where Leia was leading him now. He could still hear the laughter of Luke and his friends, echoing through the stagnant atmosphere.

"Mon Mothma is who you'll be talking to," she told him. "She'll assign you your role in the Rebellion, see if you're up to the task." And test your loyalty, she didn't need to add. This period had been particularly bad for Imperial spies, he knew—he'd been the one to send them in.

But if it was Mon Mothma interviewing him. . . that was perfect. Of all the leaders of the Rebellion most likely to believe his story and help him, of course it would be Padmé's friend.

Nevertheless, it was with a mounting tension that he entered the small building that was apparently designated as the outpost's command. Things were going favourably so far, true, but. . . he couldn't trust that.

Everything relied on this conversation going right. He couldn't get to Darth Vader on his own.

And if he didn't change the past, what was the point of even being here?

Leia led him into a room, where a guard checked him for trackers, weapons, listening devices and anything else that might threaten them—they'd already done it on the trip, but it was best to be prepared, he knew—then he was pushed onwards.

The final room he came to a stop in was brightly lit but sparsely furnished, with only a round table and several chairs around it. Vader took a seat in one of them at his escort's gesture, then his escort left the room. The door clicked shut behind him.

Vader took a deep breath, feeling the oxygen rush down his throat and into his lungs, and closed his eyes. Tried to calm his nerves.

Then he reached out in the Force around him—Leia had moved on, was heading back to where Luke and his friends lingered on the airfield, but he could feel the command staff around him like buzzing bright lights. He delicately picked out of one person's mind where the holocams in this room were placed—and where the people monitoring them sat.

They weren't too far away. It was barely an effort on his part to reach out, cloud their minds slightly. He couldn't afford to have anyone but Mothma know about this.

She came in moments later. He opened his eyes as she strode in, her white robes swaying in time with her movements, just in time to see the calculated, appraising stare she fixed him with.

"I understand you want to join the Rebellion," she said.

"No," he answered candidly, making sure the minds of the people monitoring this were still clouded. "I don't want to join. But I'm a Jedi, and I need your help."

She stiffened, her eyes widening slightly the only sign of the alarm—and surprise—radiating into the Force.

Her hand slipped into a fold of her robe, where he assumed a blaster was hidden. "That's a bold statement to make," she said levelly, meeting his gaze. Her eyes moved across his face, but he saw no horror at his scars.

Instead, her gaze fixed on one scar, the scar that bisected his right eyebrow, and he sensed the realisation begin to dawn in her mind.

"I was a Jedi, before Order Sixty-Six. My name was Anakin Skywalker." He waited for that to settle it—though her mind was shielded, he heard the words Padmé and Commander Skywalker flicker across it—then repeated, "I need your help."


Vader still didn't know how he'd convinced her to help him—nor even how he'd convinced her to keep it a secret. She'd sat down across the table at some point, he'd lost his grip on the staff watching them at some point, but he wasn't sure when or how.

He just knew that she had helped.

She'd acquiesced to his one request—I need to get near to Vader—and granted him a single Imperial shuttle.

That would be enough. It had to be.

He knew where and when he had been at this point: over the shipyards of Kuat, having repairs done to the Executor. He set his course for there and waited.

For a single moment, he stretched out to the outpost below, felt Luke's bright presence for the last time. It was calm, dimmed with sleep, and he shook himself out of his inaction.

The longer he stayed here, the more likely that the Emperor could follow the Force here.

He punched the button and leapt to hyperspace.

Four sleepless days later, he arrived at Kuat.

He remembered the Imperial codes—at least, well enough to fool the exhausted deck officer who hailed him. He docked on the ship, he met the troopers escort. . . and he knocked them all unconscious.

He could have mind-tricked them, he supposed. But it was getting tense, and he was nervous.

He stole armour to disguise himself, despite the hell it was trying to get it on over his respirator, and marched through the halls.

It wasn't long before he was marching on Darth Vader's quarters.

The door slid open with a hiss when he entered the right code. He tore the helmet off his head, then, and dropped his shields—just in time to feel the festering darkness this galaxy was so rampant with jerk in shock.

Its source whirled round, cape snapping at his heels; Vader didn't need the Force to feel his past self's glare fixate on him, feel him reaching out to strangle him for the audacity of coming in here—

Vader batted the attempt away.

His counterpart jerked back in shock. The lights shifted over the contours of the mask—Vader had been assured by the Rebels and the emotions he felt in his subordinates that that mask was terrifying, but right now he didn't see it.

Right now, knowing what he knew about him, Darth Vader was not a terrifying man.

He was a pathetic man.

"You do not want to kill me," he told him, and let him feel the truth of the words in the Force.

Darth Vader told a step forward and reached for his lightsaber, switching it on. Its buzz was the loudest thing in the room.

"Jedi," he spat, even if they both knew it was a lie.

"I am not a Jedi," Vader spat back. He had expected this sort of reaction, planned for it—but he was irritated by it nonetheless. "I am a warning."

Darth Vader immediately stiffened at that.

He pointed his lightsaber at him. "You are a person, one whom I shall have no qualms about killing if you don't—"

"If you kill me, Luke will die."

He froze, then dropped his hand. The lightsaber fell back to his side, unlit. "What did you just say?"

"If you kill me, your son, Luke Skywalker, will die," Vader said calmly—except he wasn't calm, because everything depended on this— "Is that clear?"

"You lie. I—"

"There will be no dreams to warn you this time, Anakin—"

"That is not my name—"

"—only dreams to haunt you after he is dead. You will have no warning, unless you listen to me. I am your warning." He spread his arms wide. He felt Darth Vader's gaze fix on his breathing mask, the brown hood over the top half of his face. "Kill me, and you kill him too."

His past self took a breath. "If it is Skywalker's destiny to die—"

"We are not liars," Vader interrupted. "Do not lie to yourself. He is your son." Darth Vader was oddly quiet. "It will destroy you when you lose him, and nothing, no power in the Dark or Light Side of the Force, will bring him back or make it stop hurting. It will rip you apart, and others will kick you back into shape just long enough for you to do something useful, and then you will fall apart again. A shattered man. You will lose everything," Vader stressed the word, "but nothing compares to losing him."

Darth Vader still wasn't moving.

"Just as nothing compares to losing her."

That got a reaction from him. A burst of static spat from his vocoder, then he was striding forward, feet kicking up his cape behind him, until they stood face to face.

Vader was so used to looking down at everyone that it was odd, staring directly ahead. It was even odder trying to work out where on the mask he should look to meet his counterpart's eyes—but that had been a common thing, he remembered. No one knew where to look to meet his eye.

No one, except Luke. . .

Darth Vader was staring at him intently, so Vader made it easier on him by lowering the hood.

He jerked back.

Vader knew what he was seeing. His health had improved massively since Leia had foisted medical intervention on him, but they'd left his face alone. There'd been more important things to worry about than skin long since scarred.

He looked exactly the way he had when he'd sat in his hyperbaric chamber, staring at the only mirror present, mourning the man he'd become.

"You. . ." Darth Vader seemed at loss for words. "Who are you?"

Vader didn't know.

"A shattered man," he said.

Darth Vader shook his head. "That's not an answer. Why are you here?"

"I don't know why the Force sent me here, to this time," Vader said candidly. "But I am here because I have seen the future, and I won't allow it to happen again."

"And what would you have me do?" his counterpart snapped. "What will prevent the terrible future you prophesise?"

Vader knew that wasn't what he was asking. He waited, until he said—

"What will help me save Luke from— from. . ."

He couldn't finish the sentence. Half-turned his head away even as he said it.

Vader watched him for a moment. The only sound in the room was both of their breathing, automatically in sync. They were the same person, after all.

"Leave the Empire," he said. "Leave everything else behind, while you still can."

Darth Vader turned as if he'd been slapped, taking another half step back.

Come away with me.

Leave everything else behind while we still can.

"I will not," he got out heatedly, the words more reaction than rhetoric. "Luke will turn to the Dark Side, help me overthrow Palpatine, and they we will rule the galaxy as father and son, I—"

"Luke will not turn!" Vader shouted. The words tore out of his throat, leaving it aching and raw, but he didn't care. "I have seen it—I have lived it. He will not."

"And what else have you seen?" Darth Vader was trying to hide the panic and desperation in his voice, but despite the vocoder, it wasn't working. "What will happen?"

How will I lose the only family I have left?

Vader looked away.

"Luke will come to you on Endor," he said. "At the site of the second Death Star's construction. He will hand himself in to the local garrison; they will give him to you. And he will beg you to come away with him."

Come away with me!

Come with me.

"He will insist there is still good in you. He will urge you to let go of your hate, and come with him.

"You will ignore him."

Then my father is truly dead.

"You will take him to the Emperor. Palpatine will taunt him with the destruction of the Alliance and his friends until Luke attacks him. You will defend him. The two of you duel.

"Luke puts away his lightsaber after a few minutes, and says he will not fight his father."

Darth Vader sucked in a breath out of sync with the respirator. "Foolish child," he muttered.

"He will maintain this stance until you threaten his. . . friends." He did not trust his past self enough to tell him about Leia. "Then, he will become angry and attack, overpowering you and slicing off your hand. Much the same way you had when the two of you first met.

"Palpatine will tell Luke to kill you, and take your place at his side."

Fulfil your destiny. . .

"Luke will refuse."

"What." Darth Vader stepped forward again, hand twitching. "Stupid boy. Palpatine—"

"Luke will throw away his lightsaber, saying that he is a Jedi, like his father before him. And Palpatine will believe him.

"He electrocutes him, mercilessly, until he is screaming and crying and dying for help, and you. . ."

Vader's voice broke.

He squeezed his eyes shut and continued, "I just stood there. Frozen. I did not move to help him. Luke, my son, was writhing on the floor in agony, and I didn't move. I barely blinked. I couldn't hear anything except a high-pitched keening.

"Then he was gone.

"Palpatine may have gloated in the interim. He may have drawn out Luke's death, prodding him, before announcing that he was going to die and letting him take the full brunt of his power. That seems more like him, but I don't know what happened. I was barely aware of my surroundings.

"But I felt it when he vanished.

"It was like a cord in my chest had snapped, or a piece had been hacked out of my heart. It was a light in the dark going out, and when I realised what had happened—what I had let happen. . ."

He was shaking now. His voice, his arms, his legs. He was shaking all over, his eyes squeezed shut. That one image, that one horrible image of Luke lying lifeless on the throne room floor, was branded into his mind. He was sure Darth Vader could see it too.

"I was apoplectic. I lost all control. I think I seized the Force and threw Palpatine down a reactor shaft, killing him, but I don't know and I don't care. I just know that he died.

"And so did Luke."

He opened his eyes again, well aware that his cheeks were soaked. His past self had barely moved throughout the whole story.

"So that, Vader, is what will happen if you don't leave the Empire. It will die anyway, as will its leader, and you will only lose your son because of your inaction." He lifted his chin. "No nightmares here, Anakin." A shake of his head. "The dream is real this time."

Darth Vader watched him carefully as he turned to leave.

"That is your warning. And the choice is up to you."


Vader left his past self on those parting words, and strode back out of the room. Darth Vader let him go. When he strode through the hallways sans his disguise, no one stopped him. He assumed orders had been sent out there, as well.

He took the shuttle he'd come in, and went.

It was in a dusty bar on Dantooine, several weeks and hyperspace jumps later, that he finally sat to reflect on all that had happened. The sun was setting over the fields, and he was just thinking about how there used to be a Rebel base here when he felt the light touch of a Force presence behind him.

His heart stuttered. Was that—

He turned.

The boy made an odd ghost, his otherwise bright colouring muted and blue. Vader was familiar with how it worked, having been visited by Obi-Wan multiple times after Endor, but his old Master had never thought— never mentioned

"Hello, Father."

"Luke," he breathed.

His son sat himself down in the seat opposite him, and turned his gaze towards the sunset. The window was grimy; a variety of amber and gold hues radiated out from each spot of dirt and grease, giving the view a strangely ethereal look.

He supposed it was fitting, given that he was talking to a ghost.

He clutched a hand round his drink, bought from the credits he'd scrounged in the shuttle. "I'm sorry."

Luke's smile was sad. "I know you are. I forgive you. You have to know I've never held it against you."

"You should. I handed you over to him, I practically killed you—"

"I've let go of that. If I hadn't, I couldn't be here. It's not the Jedi way."

"Luke—" He shook his head. "I've tried to change things, here. They could be different, you could survive—"

"I know. That's why I'm here."

"Why—" He blinked. "Why are you here? Why did you never come before?"

"I'm not a Force ghost. I never did the training to become one. I will never be able to manifest myself whenever I like, however I like. I will never see Han and Leia again, until the day when they both pass into the Force as well." He blinked harshly. "Nor you, Father."

"Then how are you here now?"

"The Force itself sent me." He held out a hand. "I'm here to take you home."

Home.

There was no home there—not anymore.

Not without Padmé and Luke.

He shook his head fervently. "No. I can't—I have to make sure I change things here. I'll not leave you, I've got to save you—"

"You already have." There was some weight behind the words, according to the mystic look on Luke's face, but Vader had no idea what it could be. "The timeline has split, Father. Look."

He nodded towards the screen above the bar, playing the Imperial news. Flashing letters appeared on the screen.

EMPEROR PALPATINE ASSASSINATED. LORD VADER TO ASSUME THE THRONE.

"I work fast," Vader muttered.

Luke laughed. "You do. And this galaxy is moving towards the better because of it." He held out his hand. "Now it's time to return to ours."

Vader eyed the hand. "If I go. . ." He took a deep breath. "I'll never see you again?"

"I'll always be with you, Father," Luke promised, "if only in spirit." Then— "I, and my mother."

Vader's head snapped up.

He croaked, "You've met her."

"I have."

Vader had so many questions, so much he needed to know. Did she hate him? Did she mourn?

Was she proud of Luke, Leia, all they'd accomplished?

But Luke was holding out his hand again, and Vader was powerless before that look on his face.

It was a look of utter serenity—the Jedi Luke could have and should have been, had he lived.

The Jedi he still might be, in this galaxy.

"Come with me."

Come with me.

Vader took his hand.

Chapter Text

As a general fact of his life, Vader did not like Tatooine. The sand got in his joints; the sun made his suit feel more like a sweltering prison than life support; the locals were always dim and uncooperative towards him.

And if he had other, more personal reasons for hating a dustball most sentient beings agreed was the planet furthest from the bright centre of the galaxy. . . no one needed to know.

No one, except the Emperor, which was why Vader was fuming right now. Palpatine knew full well how much he hated Tatooine, knew full well that he would rather he never set foot on this planet again. So why assign him the oh-so-important task of negotiating with Jabba for safe passage through Hutt Space? They would have vanquished the Hutts soon enough, wiped their stain from the galaxy, so why bother in the first place?

He knew why.

He'd failed him.

It wasn't anything in particular, but there'd been a string of Rebel attacks recently and he'd failed to punish the perpetrators. . . adequately. Some had escaped.

Some hadn't.

Palpatine, nonetheless, was severely displeased with his overall performance and was not shy about informing him so. Therefore, this.

He did not allow himself to feel relief as he strode into the heavily shadowed entrance of Jabba's palace, but it was more pleasant in there than outside.

The Hutt was waiting for him when he strode in, flanked by stormtroopers. The gaggle of bounty hunters and other filth fell silent at his appearance. Another man might have briefly wondered what he looked like to them—an angel of death, clad in black? A shadowy embodiment of the Empire that so threatened their wealth?—but he was Darth Vader. He had been Darth Vader, right hand of the Emperor, for nearly fifteen years now.

He did not care what they thought of him.

"Jabba," he thundered, crossing his arms across his chest. He knew he was standing over the trapdoor, could sense the rancor shifting beneath him, but that wasn't something he cared about either. "I am here to represent the intentions of the Emperor, and they are these: You will ally with us, allow us to pass through your space in search of the Rebels, or we will destroy you."

It was a fair ultimatum, he thought. Far fairer than Jabba deserved, or than Vader had advocated for. Saying the words even left a bad taste in his mouth.

But what irked him even more than the ultimatum itself was just how hilarious Jabba seemed to find it.

His booming laugh rang throughout the entire room. Bib Fortuna smirked to himself slightly, then made a sharp gesture with his right hand. Nothing happened.

He gestured again, even more sharply.

This time, a young boy came forward. Malnourished and beaten down, his face skeletal, he looked just about ready to collapse and never get back up again. He stood trembling next to Fortuna, face stony as the Twi'lek hissed something at him. He didn't flinch at the grip on his shoulder, despite the way the nails seemed to dig in deep enough to draw blood.

Vader narrowed his eyes at him. Something. . . something about the way the Force flickered around him. . .

"Your directness is impressive, little man, but these negotiations have yet to begin," Jabba said in Huttese, the words powerful for all their rasping.

A scuffed silver protocol droid staggered forward to translate. "The honourable Jabba—"

"I need no translation, Hutt," Vader spat. "I have stated the Empire's terms. You will accept them."

"Perhaps. You are clearly a very powerful man, Vader. And since I have no interest in making an enemy of the Empire," he waved one hand; Fortuna used his grip on the boy's shoulder to shove him forward, leaving crimson scratches embedded in his skin, "I have a gift for you."

Vader watched dispassionately as the boy kneeled before him. "I do not respond well to bribes."

"No bribes here. Simply a. . . gesture of goodwill. I have heard you are assembling a new order of Jedi such as yourself"

His lightsaber was lit and levelled at the Hutt before he even thought about it. "I am no Jedi. Push me, and I will demonstrate it personally."

"Heh. Maybe so. But I have heard about your servants, the Inquisitors, and would like to offer one of my finest slaves as an addition. You will find him similarly. . . gifted."

Finest slaves? Vader glanced at the boy and snorted.

But they were always looking to indoctrinate new blood into the Inquisitorius, and a young boy—already a slave, beyond that—would prove easily malleable. . .

He reached out with his mind to assess whether or not the Hutt's claim was true, if he did have the Force—

And reeled in shock.

It was with great effort that he didn't move, only tilting his head as if to observe the boy. But inside, his mind was spinning. Because this boy— this boy was a powerhouse.

"Similarly gifted?" he asked aloud, somewhat dryly, in an attempt to cover up his momentary lack of composure. He had no time for political games, but as long as Jabba kept talking—he did so love the sound of his own voice—he could continue to study his. . . gift.

He was small for whatever age he was—he looked to be around eleven or twelve—and it belied the power he held. He glanced up at Vader through his raggedy blond hair, then quickly glanced down again when he noticed Vader still watching him.

"He has been known to cause. . . unusual. . . things to happen. The trader who gifted him to me said he was lucky."

"Lucky." There was no such thing as luck—perhaps one of the only true things his old Master had ever said. There was only the Force.

And the Force was certainly with this boy.

"I accept your gift," Vader said. "He will be a fine addition to the Emperor's collection."

"Good. Now the negotiations can truly begin."


The negotiations were long, and pointless, and Vader was more than done with that disgusting planet when he finally boarded the shuttle to return him to the Devastator. The stormtroopers that had accompanied him into the palace now escorted the boy to follow. He gave little resistance, weak and injured as he was, though through the Force Vader was please to feel anger spark every time a trooper accidentally jostled him. The boy was so bright, brimming with fury; he would make a marvellous Sith.

Because Vader had no interest in giving him to the Inquisitors.

He had more potential than all of them combined. If properly trained, not broken in and conditioned to bow before a poor leader, he would be unstoppable.

Not to mention, making him an Inquisitor would put him within the Emperor's reach.

Vader had tired of Palpatine's rule. It had taken years, but he was finally sick of his petty punishments, this Death Star that swallowed so many Imperial resources, constantly bowing and scraping and calling someone Master.

He had joined the Jedi to be free of slavery. He had joined the Sith to be free of the Jedi.

He would kill his Master to be free of him, as well.

His plans had been disjointed before now, parsecs from fruition. They were still no closer, but they were clearer—and despite Vader's ineptitude with foresight, he knew this boy would be important in them.

He studied him in the light of the shuttle as it ascended to the Star Destroyer waiting in orbit.

He wanted to train him as his apprentice—so he would.

But how would he go about it?

He had already begun to vet officers to support him in his coup, root out the Emperor's spies from his ship. He could viably keep the boy in his quarters, acquire some measly mat or cot for him to sleep on; it would no doubt be luxury compared to what he was used to. But. . .

How would he keep people from suspecting anything? He could not hide a person, not easily—they would require food, water, sanitation. . . The boy would inevitably be discovered.

And if he was, Palpatine might seize him. He was young now, but when older he could prove a valuable replacement for Vader as he ailed further.

So he couldn't keep his presence a secret. How, then, could he keep him close enough to train, but without anyone asking questions?

The shuttle had docked with the Devastator before he had the answer.

Few were waiting to meet him, as per his request. The captain was starting to grow accustomed to how much he hated unnecessary pomp. But one person who was standing by the ramp when it was lowered, falling into a respectful half-step behind him when he disembarked, was his aide.

"I trust your negotiations were fruitful, my lord?"

"They were." He accepted the report the man offered him and perused it noncommittally. The ship had not fallen apart in his absence; that was all he needed to know. For now, he had more pressing, important matters to think about than his aide—

He stopped walking mid-step. Half the entourage nearly crashed into him.

His aide, however, neatly side-stepped and stood, back straight, to meet his gaze. "Is something wrong, my lord?"

Vader was silent for three cycles of his respirator.

During this time, he studied the man, mind whirring. He had quarters near to Vader's, spent a great deal of time with him, naturally, and no one thought twice of it.

Someone might think twice about Lord Vader taking on an eleven-year-old boy as his aide, he supposed, but no one would dare question him. And if Palpatine himself questioned. . .

He could tell him the truth—part of it. Tell him the boy was mildly Force-sensitive, and that he felt a aide with the Force would be of more use to him than one without it. And if he could train the boy to shield his true potential, to continue with that deception. . .

He turned his head away and kept walking.

The stormtroopers escorted the boy to the quarters kept free for when Inquisitors accompanied Vader onboard; his aide went to his rooms for the night; Vader went to his hyperbaric chamber to solidify his plan.

Tomorrow morning, his aide might find himself slightly short of breath.

It would hardly be the first time. Being aide to Lord Vader was practically a death sentence; few had lasted more than three weeks. This one had lasted five, which was impressive, but Vader would not mourn his passing in any way.

That would be step one.

Step two was to summon the boy to his quarters.


Luke's shoulder hurt.

Bib Fortuna's fingernails had left their marks, digging so far down he bled, the cuts stinging as mercilessly as they'd been inflicted. But he didn't allow so much as a flicker of pain to cross his face when the stormtroopers took him by that shoulder—the disdainful amusement he felt from them implied it was deliberate—and pushed him onto the shuttle. He just let his anger grow.

Every time they bashed into him—also on purpose; he could tell—he let it grow more.

He could sense some cold being watching him. If he lifted his head slightly to peer forward, he was fairly sure it was the negotiator Jabba had gifted him to—Darth Vader, they'd called him.

Luke had heard stories about Lord Vader. The mystical power he wielded. If Jabba was to be believed, Luke's talent for unusualness was the same.

And despite himself, Luke hoped Vader would teach him how to use it.

He shouldn't. He should be looking for an opportunity to escape, like he always did when passed onto a new Master, until they grew angry and punished him. He always let them grow complacent after that, but mainly because there was nothing he could do.

His unusualness only enabled him to reverse stones thrown at him, keep the sand out of his face, or—on one particularly stressful occasion—toss his Master clean across the room.

He'd been quickly sold, after that.

In his untrained, helpless state, his gift was just as much inconvenience as assistance. Because of it, he'd survived where a boy taken as a slave ten years before shouldn't have; because of it, he'd been passed around like a lucky charm, to be toyed with and amused by, until he was more trouble than he was worth.

Trouble.

Luck flocked to him like flies to a carcass, but so did trouble.

His head down, a smile curled his lips. He hoped Lord Vader was ready for it.

The man in question wasn't looked at him anymore. Instead, he was staring straight ahead as they got off the shuttle into a massive hangar and strode through a corridor. But Luke could feel his attention latched onto him anyway, like the cold sludge of oil sliding down his back. He wondered what he was thinking.

A trooper kicked the back of his foot. "This way," he ordered, the mechanical tone unsympathetic and unyielding. Vader kept walking straight ahead, but Luke was led into a set of chambers a few doors down from where the Dark Lord stopped.

He blinked when he saw them.

He'd been owned by several rich Imperials before; he knew what luxury looked like. The upper elite he assumed Lord Vader belonged to were rolling in it, bought from the blood of billions of slaves. The room he was showed into was not luxury—a far cry from it.

But it had a bed. It had a wardrobe. It had a refresher.

That was more than Luke could remember having in his entire life.

The trooper shoved him inside. "A meal will be delivered to you this evening. Inquisitors' clothes are in the wardrobe. Lord Vader will send for you in the morning."

Then he left, the door hissing shut without a word of goodbye. Luke heard it lock behind him.

So. Whatever an Inquisitor was, they were still slaves. Or, at least, not allowed to leave.

Or it might just be him who wasn't considered trustworthy yet.

He didn't blame them.

But, as long as he was being left alone. . . He checked inside the wardrobe. The dark grey and black uniforms that greeted him were a welcome sight; they looked much cleaner than his current rags. Less chance of infection.

Speaking of infection. . .

He glanced down at his shoulder. It was by no means the worst injury he'd ever received—almost negligible, really—but as long as he had access to a 'fresher, he might as well clean it out.

Then, he decided, he would sleep.


After a night cycle's worth of meditation and musing on how to proceed with this sudden plan of his, Vader sent for the boy.

He could sense him as he meditated, a bright ball of spite and anger and pain in the Force that only dimmed slightly in sleep. He would be a perfect vassal of the dark side.

So Vader didn't waste any time the next morning. He entered the Inquisitors' quarters once the boy had woken, not bothering to announce his presence as the door slid open.

The boy yelped, an inordinate amount of fear flashing through him for someone Vader was fairly sure hadn't done anything.

But he had been a slave, he supposed. He was no doubt used to being punished for the slightest infractions.

Playing upon that fear would be the smartest course of action. Ignite more anger in him, more hatred, until he was consumed by it.

But Vader found himself strangely hesitant to do so.

The boy had been a slave—still was a slave. It hit a little too close to home to torment him thus.

The detonator, tucked into a compartment on his belt, was heavy.

The boy had recovered from his shock, now—instead, he stared at Vader with narrowed blue eyes.

"I am sure you have questions," Vader said to fill the silence.

"I hadn't realised I was allowed to ask them," he bit back, slightly belligerently. So that was the way he was. Vader had no doubt he'd be as obedient as ever, eventually, but first he was trying to test the waters. Get a feel for how harsh his new Master would be.

That thought also gave a nasty twist in his gut, and he made his decision.

"You can do whatever you want," he told him coolly. He reached into the compartment on his belt and tossed the detonator to him. The boy flinched, but caught it and stared in confusion. "You are no longer a slave. I will not pay for an operation to remove the transmitter from your body, but you can control where you go, so long as you carry that detonator." Jabba's minions had already confirmed that the range of the transmitter was tied to the detonator, not a particular location.

The boy frowned, studying it, then looked back up again.

With a the wariness of anyone who has lived on Tatooine, he asked, "But?"

Vader folded his arms across his chest. "But I will treat you no different than I would any other Force-sensitive." He could see the understanding cross the boy's face as he processed what Force-sensitive would mean—and how it tied to his gifts. "You are a threat if you run amok throughout the galaxy. You are a powerful Force-sensitive, one of the most powerful I've ever encountered; you can either let me train you, show you how to use the power you wield, or you will make life very, very difficult for yourself."

"You mean you'll make life difficult for me?"

"Yes."

The boy snorted. "Life has always been difficult to me."

"Have you ever had a Sith Lord hunt you through every war-torn corner of the galaxy?" Vader asked, his voice going deadly soft. "Have you ever had to navigate the worlds alone? Even without me as your enemy, I doubt you would last long before being snapped up by slavers again."

There was a moment of silent. The boy's fear coloured the Force, but he swallowed and said, "What would training with you be like?"

"It will not be easy." Vader's words were harsh; he would rather win the boy over with cold truths than pretty lies. He doubted he would believe anything pretty, anyway. "You may die from the pain of training. The dark side will give, but it takes and it takes."

He could see he had the boy's interest—or, at least, he'd won his respect with his honesty. But he seemed genuinely curious about his own ability when he asked, "And what does it give?"

"Power beyond your wildest dreams."

He snorted, and looked away, but Vader could feel his yearning through the Force. He wanted power, lusted after it.

He was tired of being powerless.

He wanted more.

"You are too powerful for the Inquisitorius. I will train you instead, as my apprentice. I expect you to be totally obedient to me, as your Master, or face my wrath, but you need not be to anyone else on the ship. When you speak on my behalf, they will obey you."

The want and the yearning increased. They began to show on the boy's face as he glanced down at the detonator in his hand and carefully, oh so carefully, turned it over. And over. And over.

Vader could sense that he was hesitant to trust him. Understandable.

But the boy was clever enough to recognise everything he said as the truth. He didn't know how to survive in the galaxy on his own, he was a child, and he was scared. Vader would make up less harsh lies if he was lying, and he wouldn't bother inflating Luke's importance just to scare him. If he left, he would be hunted down.

And he wanted to learn about this ability of his. He wanted to never be powerless again.

Fear, anger; curiosity, cleverness, lust for power. It was a near-perfect mix for someone to embrace the dark side.

There was only one thing missing: hate.

So Vader said, "And if you are talented enough, when the times comes that the Hutts are no longer assets to the Empire, I will allow you the task of destroying them."

The boy's hand closed around the detonator.

"Alright," he said, "I'll join you."

Vader smiled underneath the mask. The dark side seemed to revel in its victory, wrapping itself around that bright presence—and it was bright, it was blinding. He would make a powerful Sith.

Certainly powerful enough to overthrow his Master.

He tilted his head and observed him.

. . .powerful enough to overthrow him?

Perhaps.

Vader was the Chosen One. The greatest treasure of the Sith, once the most powerful Jedi. But. . . perhaps.

And perhaps he should take measures now to prevent that from happening.

Or to prevent the very real threat of the boy going to Palpatine, revealing his secrets. He was clearly smart enough to work out that if Vader considered his power worth using, the Emperor would.

On second thought, the risk of him trying to play both of them was a great threat indeed. He was young, he was whole, and most importantly, he was powerful. Palpatine would have little to no qualms about replacing Vader with him, as his Sith apprentice.

Perhaps Vader should kill him now. Annihilate that threat before it could even form.

But even as his hand drifted towards his lightsaber, his ambitions rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Mustafar and whispered that you could rule, with his help.

His hand dropped back to his side.

"So what is your name, young one?" he asked, falsely gentle. If he wanted the boy's loyalty, he would have to earn it, and that involved forming an emotional connection—at least on the boy's part.

The boy watched him, suspicious, but after a moment he admitted, "Luke."

"Luke." It wasn't a bad name. It was, even, a name she had suggested for their child all those years ago, but he shoved that thought violently aside when he felt the room begin to cool. "No last name?"

"I've been in slavery for as long as I can remember. I've never known it."

Vader was almost sympathetic—almost. Names mattered when you were a slave, especially on Tatooine; they were something no Master could ever take from you. To have never had one in the first place. . .

Names are all we have left, Ani, his mother had always said.

One day, you'll understand.

"No parents?"

"Dead."

"Have you any idea how old you are?"

"I have an idea," Luke snapped. "Fourteen, fifteen. Ish."

Vader raised the patch of skin that used to bear eyebrows. That was a far cry from the estimate he'd made, but he supposed malnourishment and abuse had taken their toll on a young slave's growth.

"I see," he said. He did see. It wasn't like he himself had any more than a vague idea of when his birthday was.

Deciding that was enough personal information to be getting on with, he clasped his hands behind his back. "Would you prefer to commence your training now, or tomorrow?" Giving the boy the choice would allow for the illusion of control, something he'd no doubt craved for years. He would not give it to the Inquisitors—did not care, in fact, whether or not the Inquisitors were loyal to him—but Luke was different.

If he played his cards right, Luke would give him the galaxy.

He wondered briefly if this was what his Master had felt when he'd first laid eyes on Anakin Skywalker all those years ago, but quickly dismissed the thought. He had more important things to worry about.

Luke was still watching him carefully.

He didn't trust him. Clever, but problematic. That cleverness could be a threat to him, or an asset.

Whether or not he convinced him he was worthy of trust would determine which.

"Tomorrow," Luke said. It was clearly a test—how much was Vader willing to give, to wait, for this?—but that response suited Vader fine. Either option would have been fine; he would never give the boy control, unless he was sure that he had control in turn.

"Very well, then," he said. "I shall return tomorrow. In the meantime, you may entertain yourself with any of the number of datapads and chips in this room," he nodded to the shelf stacked full of them, "or access the holonet. Meal will be brought to you at twelve-hundred hours and eighteen-hundred hours."

"Will I be allowed to leave?" he asked immediately.

Vader hesitated. He didn't want to restrict him—that would not help gain his loyalty—but nor did he want too many officers learning of the existence of a new 'Inquisitor' on board. News might get back to his Master, leading to questions he couldn't answer.

"You may access the training room directly opposite," he finally said. "However, for reasons I will explain to you later, your presence on this ship will remain a secret. If you are seen by anyone other than those I send to you, you will find yourself invoking my. . . displeasure."

He'd already stated his threats; this one rolled off Luke's back like water. But he nodded.

"Yes, my lord," he said. Whether the title was habitual deference, a sign of genuine growing respect, or just him adapting to the obsequience expected of him from now on, Vader didn't know. But he lowered himself to one knee as he said it, and bowed his head.

Soon, Vader thought, everyone would bow to him like that. The way he bowed to Palpatine.

He nodded once. "Good."

Then he left the room.


Luke lifted himself out of that uncomfortable kneeling position the moment Vader was gone.

His sixth sense—Force-sensitivity, had Vader called it?—told him the man had been pleased by the gesture. He didn't know why he'd done it, other than his experience of powerful men expecting the devotion of everything from the people who served them, but he supposed that so long as it softened Vader up he didn't care.

He glanced around, wondering what he was to do now. Vader had mentioned reading datapads, but that was useless. He would have to cultivate that skill later, no doubt, but until then. . .

He contemplated going back to bed, then grimaced. If training was anywhere near as physical as it sounded, sleeping wouldn't be a problem in the future. It would probably be better to try and actually get some muscle onto his bony frame.

With that, and another grimace, he punched the button to open the door—not locked, this time!—and headed to the training room.


The training began the next day, when Luke was woken violently by a cold blast of something against his mind.

He choked and bolted upright, clutching his head. That searing lance was cold—colder than anything he'd ever felt, so cold that it burned, and it was burrowing into his brain and it hurt

Defend yourself! a voice barked. . . directly into his mind? It just made his head spin further.

He clenched his teeth together. Focused on that cold, cold lance and pushedno, you don't get to see inside my head, that's the one thing that's mine, get out of there—

The lance vanished.

Vader strode into his room when Luke was still clutching his head. "That was good," he praised, though Luke could feel only impatience from him. "Now, get up and get into the training room."

"Yes, Master," he grumbled, and got to his feet.


The training room was much the same as it had been yesterday. No viewports, one door, but the walls were lined with racks upon racks of weapons. One of them—the very top one, well out of Luke's reach—held silver cylinders like the one Vader carried at his belt. Luke had peered up at them the previous day, wondering what they for, but quickly moved onto exploring the other weapons. It wasn't like he'd had anything else to do—he had no idea how to use any of them.

But he didn't have long to examine them today. Vader strode to the middle of the room, where he gestured for Luke to sit down on a mat on the floor.

Not seeing any point in resisting petty things like that, Luke sat.

Vader stayed standing, folding his hands behind his back and towering over him. "What do you know about the Force?"

Luke shuffled back slightly so he didn't have to crane his neck to look at the mask. "I. . . not much , my lord," he said. "I can guess that it's the reason strange things happen to me, why I can feel other people's emotions sometimes, and how you managed to invade my mind this morning."

Vader nodded once. "Good. Is that all you know?"

After a moment, Luke nodded his confirmation.

"Then I will explain what it is to you in full. It's a energy field created by all living things. Some people, including you and I, are born with the ability to manipulate it and bend it to our will. Cults of Force-sensitive beings have existed for almost as long as life itself, but the two largest, most recent ones are the Jedi and the Sith."

"I thought the Jedi were wiped out," Luke said without thinking, then bit his tongue. He knew how Masters reacted to slaves speaking out of turn; slaver or not, Vader wouldn't let that slide—

But he did.

Vader just let him speak and, when he was finished, said, "Not quite. Hunting down the remaining Jedi is the job of the Inquisitorius. They also find other Force-sensitives and either recruit them to serve the Empire, or destroy them."

He paused, as if to gauge Luke's reaction to the news, but Luke said nothing. Vader had already threatened as much.

"Who are the Sith, then?" he asked instead.

"I am a Sith Lord. So is the Emperor. Where the Jedi use serenity—the light side—to achieve the bare minimum of their potential," the disgust in Vader's voice was palpable, "we use our passion and emotions. The dark side—the only way to true power. That is the side of the Force I will be teaching you."

Luke nodded. That seemed logical. Why mess around with the scraps, if you could have it all?

In his experience, you took what you could get and you didn't give anything back.

"Are the Inquisitors Sith Lords?"

"No." Luke blinked in shock, then— "The rule of two is a fundamental part of the Sith. There is only ever a Master and an apprentice. Palpatine is the Master; I am the apprentice. The Inquisitors are our servants to help hunt down surviving Jedi."

Luke frowned. Something here didn't add up.

"So," he asked, "what am I?"

Vader hesitated, then there was a flash between their minds—an image. A red beam, a blade, run through a wrinkled man who looked a lot like Emperor Palpatine. . .

Luke's eyes blew wide.

"You're my apprentice," Vader said.

Luke shook his head. "But—"

"The nature of the rule of two is that the Master teaches the apprentice, until the apprentice is powerful enough to rise up and destroy him, then take on his own apprentice. It's not unusual for the apprentice to train someone to assist them in their coup, with said trainee becoming the apprentice once they become the Master."

"You want me to overthrow the Emperor with you?" Luke said that probably a bit too loudly, but he didn't care. He shot to his feet, fists clenched. He was— He'd been a slave, yesterday! His detonator was still in his quarters! And now. . .

"Yes," Vader said, voice cold, "you were a slave." Luke forced himself not to blink at the casual reading of his mind. "And do you know whose authority has allowed slavery to flourish?" Luke didn't answer. "Palpatine's. Once I am Emperor—and I will be Emperor, with or without your help—I will abolish it entirely, the way not even the Republic managed. And, as promised, I will give you the honour of slaughtering the Hutts."

Luke went still, thinking. All the options he'd had yesterday flashed to mind. He could run, and be chased. He could stay, and be trained. Or. . .

He lifted his gazed to meet Vader's, knowing he'd sensed that thought, but considered it anyway. He could stay, be trained, and if he got cold feet he could run to the Emperor with the knowledge that Vader was plotting against him.

It was risky—there was no guarantee, especially with the Empire's brutality, that Luke wouldn't be punished severely as well. But if Vader thought he was powerful enough to use him instead of kill him, wouldn't Palpatine as well?

It was risky. But so was everything, apparently, when he was Force-sensitive.

"Alright," he said, meeting Vader's stare. Belligerent, he had always been called—and he was nothing if not belligerent now. "I'll help you in your coup, if you teach me how to use the Force."

I'll do what you want, as long as you give me power.

Vader only nodded, but Luke could sense his triumph through— through the Force.

Huh. He had a name for it.

"Then I shall begin your training now," he said, and placed a credit chip in front of him.

For a moment, Luke fought the urge to pocket it. But he just stared instead, before shooting Vader a questioning glance.

"Lift it."

Luke pinched his lips together, scrunched up his nose, and focused

"Use your anger, your hatred. They will make you more powerful."

Luke obeyed.

Cold rushed through him. His focus sharpened to a crystal clarity; everything around him rung like a bell; a tingling rushed down his arm, through his mind, as he stretched out his hand to lift it. . .

It took a great deal of time, and effort, but by the end of the hour, it was hovering in front of him like a puppet dancing on his strings.


The boy picked things up fast. Vader had to give him that. It took him an hour to reliably levitate the credit chip, send it twirling around his head, even, and after Vader threw two more in he adapted to that quickly, keeping them all in orbit like planets around a star.

Once he was done with that, Vader summoned the three credit chips to hand, breaking the spell. The pleasure the boy radiated as he played with them was probably the happiest he'd sensed from him, but it wouldn't help him in the dark side. So he stopped it.

There was a stab of disappointment—the anger the boy was so full of—then the flare receded, and he was again looking up at Vader expectantly. Not obedient or faithful, but willing to listen.

Vader knew he'd have to keep him that way. Now that the boy had figured out what was going on. . .

He'd sensed the duplicity in him, and he knew that Luke knew he'd sensed it. It was as much a challenge as anything else: prove that he was worthy of loyalty, or Luke would betray him.

He could just end the danger now, he supposed, his hand once again drifting, as always, to the lightsaber at his belt. . .

But killing Luke felt like killing his dreams; even if he was sure he could eventually make Emperor without him, he wanted an apprentice with this much raw power under his command. And something further held him back, a whisper of the Force, something. . .

He didn't know what. But the Force had never led him astray—only people had done that—so he would trust it. He wouldn't kill him.

He would earn his loyalty instead.

And that, he thought begrudgingly, meant compromise.

"In order to keep your status as my apprentice a secret from the Emperor, it must be a secret from everyone," he said, folding his hands behind his back and beginning to stride the length of the room as he talked. "He has spies everywhere. And if he learns of your existence, he will kill you and punish me." A not-so-subtle jab at the backup plan the boy had no doubt been forming. "Which might set our plans back a few years."

Luke didn't fail to pick up the sarcasm in his voice; the corner of his lip curled up in a smirk.

Vader could respect someone who appreciated sarcasm.

"So we will keep it a secret by presenting another perfectly reasonable explanation for why you are near me all the time. You will be my aide."

There was a moment of stunned silence. Luke blinked. "Your aide?"

"Yes."

"Don't you have an aide?"

"He can be taken care of. The stormtroopers who escorted you to your room already have been."

To Luke's credit, he didn't flinch at that. Perhaps he'd worked in Imperial service before.

Instead, he worried at his bottom lip. "There's one problem with that, my lord."

"And what, exactly, is that?"

"I can't read."

Now it was Vader's turn to stand in stunned silence. "You. . . can't read?"

"No. An old woman taught me my alphabet when I was little, but I barely remember any of it." A slightly deprecating smile tugged at his mouth; Vader wasn't sure who it was deprecating towards. "I'm not sure I'll be able to reply to emails when I can't read."

"I see." It was hard to keep the anger out of his voice, despite that it was a minor thing. Irksome, messed with his plans, but. . . minor.

He could have the aide teach him, he supposed. But he knew Palpatine had spies near him—he'd been planning on dispatching this aide as fast as possible even without the discovery of this boy—and there was no guarantee the man wasn't one of them.

No, he realised with daunting horror. He would have to teach him himself.

He could teach Luke how to read, and perform the functions of an aide. The boy was smart, it might take. . . three months. Two, if he pushed it. He could kill off his current aide, go through the usual round of fodder that were his subordinates, then install Luke the moment he was ready and he had a suitable infraction to kill the previous aide for.

Two months was a long time to keep a teenage boy on his ship without his Master knowing.

But he could do it.

It was risky, but he could do it.

If anything, anyway, it was Luke's life on the line, not his. Palpatine wouldn't kill his servant for something that was expected of him. And he didn't care what happened to Luke, as long as he got into power and had a strong apprentice once he did.

He knew it wasn't that which bothered him about him.

Teaching someone to read was oddly. . . paternal. It implied care, or closeness, or. . . love.

The only child he would ever have been paternal towards died nearly fifteen years ago in its mother's womb.

If he had stopped to think about that fact that that was around how old Luke believed himself to be, it might have given him pause. But he didn't.

So instead he thought, Loyalty means compromise.


They didn't begin the reading lessons there and then. Vader was the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet: he had a job to do, so he left Luke alone on the training room floor, doing his best to practice his levitation. The whole time he stood on the bridge, staring out at the stars, he mulled over the daunting prospect of what he'd have to teach him.

They began Luke's reading lessons the next day.

Vader had acquired—surreptitiously, of course—materials used by most younglings to practice writing. The standardised Imperial books would do, he decided.

And if he felt Luke bristle slightly at being compared to someone a quarter his age, well, Vader cared nothing for it. If anything it was amusing.

Luke felt that amusement. It just kindled his anger further, the way Vader was teaching him to do.

He had only vague memories of his mother tracing the letters in the sand, then Obi-Wan tracing the letters on paper, so he just had Luke do that: trace the letters over and over, until he'd nearly gone mad. Aurek, Besh, Cresh. Aurek, Besh, Cresh. Aurek, Besh, Cresh.

He had him recite them out loud as well, the sounds each letter made, in Basic and other languages that shared that alphabet.

Then he opened the children's books he'd brought and made Luke read to him from them.

He stumbled through them, sounding out each letter before he strung them together.

"Thesh, Esk—THE—Mern, Osk, Thesh, Esk, Resh—MOTHER—LOVES—HER—CHILDREN?" He frowned, then couldn't conceal the delight on his face at Vader's nod of approval. "MY—FATHER—LOVES—" His face fell instantly, biting his lip. "'My father loves me.'"

Vader had only taught him the basics for how to shield so far, so through the Force his longing was stark—a punch to the gut.

Vader. . . didn't sympathise. But he understood.

He'd grown up a slave as well; he'd never known his father. But he'd had his mother, and she'd been enough. This boy—this boy, the same age as what his child would have been—had no one.

He hated him.

His rage roared in his chest; something shattered, something had fallen off the shelf of his study. Luke glanced up at him in alarm, but he wasn't staring at him, he was staring through him, to where his child should be, not this upstart, his child, who should've been his apprentice, who he would have ruled the galaxy with

But his child was dead.

Padmé was dead.

Vader was alone.

He had no child to rule with—instead he had a Master, and this slave boy to get rid of him with.

That was the truth of things. That had been the truth of things for twenty years, and it was time Vader accepted it.

"Keep reading," he said tightly.

Luke blinked harshly—how dare he, he had no right to cry, at least he was alive—and continued, "PAL— PALPA— Palpatine," he realised. "'Palpatine loves us all.'"

He shot Vader a look. "Did you mean for this book—"

"No. Keep reading." But even Vader found himself amused at the utter ridiculousness of that statement. Of course, he understood that his Master's propaganda and persuasive techniques permeated every walk of life, that the young and malleable needed to be moulded into the Emperor's image, but this. . .

He shook his head, and listened to Luke as he struggled through the rest of the sentences.


Within two months, Vader had gone through three aides and decided Luke was ready to take their place.

He told the boy so after a particularly tense sparring match. Once he'd started to build up some muscle, Luke had taken to lightsaber duelling like a fish to water. He was small, he was fast, and he was used to running from people who he knew would hurt him. It made him very hard to hit.

Luke wasn't thrilled at the concept that he'd soon be doubling his tasks—he'd started to enjoy perusing the datapads in his room, and improve his reading skills like that—but he didn't object. He was sensible enough not to.

Instead, he just lowered himself to one knee, as he did every time he was given an order, and said, "Yes, Master."

Vader was pleased with his progress. It may be months or years yet before the boy was fully ready to take on Palpatine, but it was certainly a promising start.

Whatever promise Luke showed as a Sith apprentice, he lacked as an aide.

He was adequate—if he wasn't, things would start to look very suspicious very quickly—but barely. It took him far longer to read simple correspondences than would be expected, and while he was brutally organised in how he did his jobs, carrying each of them out methodically and on time, he was slow.

It was not bad, per se. Vader reminded himself of that every time he got the urge to forsake all his plans and strangle him there and then, that strange nudge from the Force the only thing holding him back. It was not bad, and it could and would get better.

But they were expected to visit Coruscant soon.

Luke shielding was excellent. But they were expected to visit the Emperor, and Vader wasn't sure how well he would hold up against that.


Uncertainty or no uncertainty, they arrived on Coruscant the day before the fifteenth Empire Day.

Vader had been ordered to report directly to his Master the moment he arrived, so that was what he did. As he stood in Palpatine's presence for the first time in months, he tried to conceal his nerves. If he discovered Vader's plans. . .

The first hint that something was wrong came from the fact that Palpatine dismissed the Royal Guards when he kneeled. They always stood watch whenever Palpatine debriefed him; their absence was. . . suspicious.

But Vader kept his head low despite the prickling along the back of his neck, and finished his report.

When he did, Palpatine was quiet for a moment.

"All seems well, my apprentice," he said finally. "But I fear you are omitting something."

Vader stiffened. "Master. . .?"

"You have said nothing of the aide you have had for several months now."

"He is an aide," Vader said, slightly sharper than necessary. He had never been skilled at deceit. "He is irrelevant."

Palpatine sighed. "My friend," he asked, "did you really think I would not come to know of the apprentice you are training in secret?"

If it hadn't been regulated, Vader's breathing would have stopped.

Everything slowed, and sharpened. He could sense the black hole that was Palpatine before him; Luke's shadowy flicker, waiting for him outside the throne room, was behind. And he was there between them.

"Relax, Lord Vader, I bear you no ill will."

Vader did not relax.

He lifted himself out of the kneeling position to stand, just in time to feel Palpatine's oily mental fingers reach out to caress his shields. He slammed them back into place before he could steal much, but Palpatine saw enough.

"You feel he is too powerful to be given to the Inquisitorius," the Emperor said, leaning back in his throne.

Vader said nothing.

"My friend, I gave you command over their training for a reason. I trust your judgement. If you feel the boy would reach greater heights under more. . . personal tutelage from you or myself, I shall respect that. By all means, train the boy. A personal operative without the markings of an Inquisitor may come in useful for us."

Vader's shock may have rung the Force like a bell, because his Master laughed.

"I allowed Dooku to train Ventress, did I not? And she had a great many uses, until Dooku failed to eliminate her on my order." His gnarled hands tightened on the armrests as he leaned forward, and said in a softer voice, "So I will allow this, but when I order the boy dead, you will kill him without hesitation, and you will not fail." He sat back again. "Are we understood, Lord Vader?"

Vader bowed his head. "It is understood, my Master."

"Good." He waved a hand. "Shall we invite your young apprentice in, then? I would meet with him myself, and see what power has the Chosen One so excited."

Breathe in, breathe out. The rasp of his respirator was monotonous—soothing—as he said, "Of course, my Master."

The order was given; moments later the doors to the throne room opened to admit Luke. He looked very, very small against the grandeur of the Imperial Palace.

His steps faltered slightly when he caught sight of the Emperor, and felt that oily presence latch onto him like mud unable to be shaken off, but he kept walking. Up and up, until he stood at the base of the stairs and knelt. The way he knelt when Vader gave him orders—elbow resting on his leg, head down, eyes closed.

"My child," Palpatine greeted, intensely but not unkindly. "You are the young man Vader has been training these past few months?"

Luke flinched at the unexpected question and his mind instinctively sought his bond with Vader for confirmation. But he found none, Vader had closed his mind off, so he swallowed and made his own judgement of the situation. "Yes, Your Majesty." He didn't volunteer any further information than that. Nor did his lift his head.

"And how have you found his teachings?"

Once again, Luke swallowed, and once again, he addressed the ground when he said, "He is a harsh Master" —and indeed, many of Luke's bruises and scars attested to the fact that he did not take failure lightly— "but one worthy of serving."

The words rang true.

There was a pang in Vader's chest. Earning the boy's loyalty had always been the goal—constant compromise, teaching the boy to read, forcing himself to let the minor infractions slide and only punish him for the severe ones, resolving to be, no matter the cost, better than whatever slave master he'd had before—but he hadn't realised it had been working.

Palpatine was clearly surprised as well—and irritated, if the curl of his lips was enough to go on; it would be harder to directly force the boy to do his bidding if he was only loyal to Vader—but he covered it up with a smooth, "And I trust you will serve him well?"

Luke's smiled slightly as he said, "Yes, Your Majesty."

Palpatine had nothing to say to that. Instead, he just waved a hand sharply, almost irritable— "Good. And," he added, sickly sweet, "you shall serve your Emperor with him?"

Luke blinked. A trickle of surprise, the first Vader had felt from him, trickled through his shields.

"I serve my Lord Vader," he told him. "Naturally, I serve the Empire with him."

I serve the Empire.

Not Emperor.

Anger crackled through the Force, fast as lightning, before it was promptly reigned in again.

And then Palpatine laughed.

He was still laughing, low, under his breath, when he got to his feet and gripped his cane, limping down the stairs to stand directly before Luke.

He placed a hand on his shoulder. "Rise, young. . .?"

The boy supplied, "Luke, Your Majesty."

"Luke." Palpatine reached for his chin as Luke stood. The boy didn't resist as his face was turned left and right, examined from all angles under the Emperor's narrowed gaze. "Have you no last name?"

"No, Your Majesty. I—" He swallowed. "I was a slave for most of my life, before I was given to Lord Vader. I don't know my family."

Palpatine dropped his hand from Luke's chin, and ran it possessively across the front of his uniform. Luke stiffened in discomfort, but didn't dare tell him to stop. "A slave? That is a pity." His hand ran over the breast pocket, where Luke kept his code cylinders, and plucked on item out of it. "Is this your detonator?"

Luke took a deep breath, seemingly fighting to stay calm, then nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty."

"Is the transmitter still active?"

Vader balked at the question; Luke pinched his lips together. But he nodded stiffly again. "Yes, Your Majesty. I— I haven't had the chance to have the operation to remove it." Haven't dared, in case the records might look suspicious and you went snooping.

"I see. You had better get on with that." Palpatine rolled the detonator in his hand, then flicked off the safety catch. Luke tensed, but didn't move—didn't dare while Palpatine's finger hovered over the button, millimetres away from ending his life in a storm of fire and blood—

Palpatine's eyes were fixed on Luke's every twitch, but in the Force Vader could sense his attention on him. He forced himself to stay still.

Calm.

No reaction at all to Palpatine's murder of the apprentice he'd put such work into.

Palpatine's word is law, he chanted in his mind, for his master's benefit. If he chooses to end Luke's life here and now, I will respect it. That is the way it is meant to be.

After an age, Palpatine's thumb slid off the button.

There was no audible sigh of relief from Luke, but his shoulders sagged as the Emperor flicked the safety back on.

"Good," Palpatine said, and reached for his chin again after he'd tucked the detonator back into his pocket. "You are clever, child, and very powerful. You will serve me well." The slightest emphasis was put on the last sentence, so there was no confusion with what he wanted from Luke.

Every person in this galaxy belongs to me, boy, and you are no exception.

Luke took the hint. He bowed at the waist and said, "Thank you, master."

Vader didn't need the Force to know that Palpatine was pleased.

"Now," the Emperor said, settling back onto his throne, "go. I know you are a very busy man, Lord Vader—" A simpering smile. "—I shall not keep you for long."

Vader bowed. "Thank you, my Master," he said, then took Luke's shoulder and guided them both out.

They walked several corridors before they found an empty one. Vader paused there, turning Luke to face him. He scanned the boy with his eyes and with the Force. He felt. . . stunned, by everything, but nonetheless whole.

"You did well," Vader said softly.

Luke blinked. He opened his mouth to ask a question Vader couldn't answer, then closed it again. "Thank you, my lord," he said finally, thankfully, and they kept walking.

Because Vader had no idea what to say. He didn't know how to articulate the freezing terror that still stopped his heart in his chest in spite of the pacemakers, nor the burning in his lungs so unlike the fires of Mustafar.

Loyalty meant compromise.

Compromise, meant—occasional—kindness.

He didn't know when that kindness had become care.


Emperor Palpatine watched his apprentice guide the boy out of his throne room, then summoned his guards back in the moment he sensed they were away.

"I have two tasks for you," he commanded as the leader knelt before him. "There is information I need to know. Firstly, install spies on the Devastator with express orders to do nothing except ensure that Lord Vader's aide has no major operations, until I specify otherwise." He paused until the man nodded. "Secondly. . ."

Palpatine trailed off, still staring after Vader and that boy—that boy, who burned the Force when he moved and looked far too much like a queen and a slave for his liking. . .

"Find me that child's name."


The trip back to the Devastator was silent and tense. Upon landing, even the news that the blueprints of the newest TIE Advanced had been delivered to him for his perusal did little to calm his frayed nerves. If it had been anyone else delivering the message he would have thrown them against the wall.

But it was Luke delivering the message, frowning at his datapad which had seemingly received hundreds of messages during their short audience with the Emperor. And it was hard to miss the ounce of longing in his voice as he relayed the news, something Vader chose to latch onto instead of pondering his master's implicit threats for hours on end.

"You are. . . interested in ships?" he asked him.

Luke jerked his head up from reading the next email, and nodded. "Yeah, I— mechanics and flying," he explained, turning pink, "were what I was best at, on Tatooine. Sometimes Jabba or Fortuna would make me fly the ship if they wanted to go anywhere, 'cause I have fast reactions so wouldn't go down after an assassination attempt. . ." He trailed off, and swallowed. "Why?"

Why, indeed? Vader didn't know.

Compromise to kindness to care.

"You conducted yourself admirably in the Emperor's presence," he said. "Would you like to examine the blueprints with me?"


Luke wasn't sure when it had started, but he was enjoying Vader's company.

He realised it when he was sitting opposite the man at his desk, the positions they'd taken so often for his reading lessons. Only now he was putting those lessons to use in a setting where he actually wanted to use them, and he noticed—

He was comfortable.

He didn't know if he was happy. That feeling was as foreign to him as the snows of Hoth, or the lilt of a parent's lullaby. But he didn't hate sitting in here, with Vader, talking about something the man was clearly passionate about. He enjoyed it, even.

The night cycle had long since begun. The blue of the holo stretched eerily across Vader's mask, the cold of his presence nipping at his heels, but Luke was used to it.

This, here and now, was familiar. It wasn't familiar the way pain was—it was familiar like the suns: hot, reliably so, and when they set he knew they would rise again.

He must have drifted off at some point while Vader was speaking, because he jerked awake to the sight of the man staring right at him.

"It is nearing the middle of the night cycle," he said, almost. . . hesitantly? "You should sleep, young one—until I can find another aide to replace you, you have many busy days."

"You're replacing me?" He tried to inject some hurt into the question, but he yawned halfway through and he didn't think it was very effective.

"Now the Emperor knows of your existence, there is no point in pretending. And I am under the impression you might appreciate the extra time to practice your abilities."

"That would be nice," he mused tiredly.

With a wave of his hand, Vader shut off the display of the blueprints. "So sleep, now. If you are so interested in mechanical blueprints, I shall have some datapads on them installed in your rooms."

Luke's heart leapt at the thought of it, though he was slightly confused where it was coming from. Vader had seemed. . . softer. . . towards him recently; his behaviour outside of the throne room was a prime example of that.

But he shook off the thought. He was too tired to be psychoanalysing his boss.

"Alright," he said, then clambered out of the chair and headed back to his rooms.

Sure enough, the next morning, a stack of a dozen datapads was sitting innocuously on his bedside table.

And when Luke requested tools so he could work on some machines himself, Vader didn't think twice about giving them to him.


It was a few days later that Vader decided to consult his chief medical officer on a matter of utmost importance.

He commed him straight from his office, not bothering to go down and inquire in person. He didn't want to draw too much attention to this.

The hologram flickered, then resolved itself into a blue facsimile of a man who was most certainly not his chief medical officer.

"Who," Vader snapped, nerves frayed already and this wasn't helping— "are you?"

The man—human, pale-skinned, frowning—gave a perfunctory bow then explained, "The old chief became suddenly ill on his shore leave, and died. I'm the new chief."

"I see." He didn't have time for this. "My aide requires surgery which will no doubt be invasive. When would your medical staff be able to perform such a surgery?"

The man swallowed, suddenly tense, and said, "My lord, we would have to know what the surgery is for, first—"

"To remove a transmitter from somewhere inside him," Vader said impatiently. "I recognise that you will need a scanner to do so, but I'm sure one can be acquired."

The chief medical officer had paled significantly. "My lord," he said, "if memory serves, your aide is severely malnourished, is he not?"

Vader paused. "Yes." It had been months since he'd left Jabba's tender care and started to put on weight, but he supposed it took more than a few months to undo a lifetime of harm. "What of it?"

"There may be. . . complications. . . with the surgery, especially with one as dangerous as this. Unless he's at full health it could be potentially fatal." Vader was silent for long enough that he rushed on, "Of course, if my lord thinks it's worth the risk—"

"No." The word surprised him just as much as it did the officer. "It is not." A pause. "How long would you recommend before attempting it?"

"Another year at minimum, my lord, but I can't say for sure."

Vader detected no falsehoods in the man. If he was lying, he was very good at it; if he wasn't. . .

And what reason would he have to lie?

"Very well," he said finally. He could go to Jabba and request he deactivate the transmitter, he supposed, but every fibre of his being rebelled against that. He would not show weakness.

So conceded with, "I will check back with you about it in a year. Dismissed."

"Yes, my lord." The holo winked out.

Vader felt the brush of a familiar Force presence at the door and glanced up. Luke stood there carefully, hand on the lightsaber at his belt.

"Master?" he asked. "Are you ready for sparring?"

Vader looked at him. It was odd to think—had always been odd, even when he was a little boy and had it himself—there was a bomb inside him, just waiting to go off.

"My lord?"

Vader jerked his head up. "Yes," he said. "I'm coming."


Six months passed after that, almost relaxing in their monotony. Luke was dismissed as Vader's aide, but remained at his side as his 'apprentice', as little as anyone aboard the Devastator understood what that meant. He did little else but train with Vader, then practice while Vader was working, although it wasn't uncommon for him to follow the Dark Lord like a shadow around the ship, his black uniform making him nearly indistinguishable from the man's cape.

It was, Vader assured him, highly useful for him to get to understand how a warship worked. Especially since Vader would need someone to take over his duties once he assumed the throne, and Luke was a likely candidate for the job.

Luke wasn't opposed to that idea, he didn't dislike the running of the ship, the fear and awe and respect in people's faces—the fear and awe and respect and power that he'd never had before—but he much preferred training.

He much preferred panting as he darted around the room, the dark side cold and tingling and a constant presence at the back of his mind as he dodged and blocked lightsaber swing after lightsaber swing, the red blade humming in his hands. . .

Because at any other moment, the power eluded him.

He was angry, of course—he was always angry—but he burned with it. He didn't freeze like Vader did, stuck in one moment of fury and using it to see the world in warped shades of red and grey. He was angry at a person and it was hot; hating them was cold, colder than a knife sliding between his ribs, but it wasn't a mindset. Not the way Vader's was. He hated Tatooine; he hated slavers; he hated the Emperor for all his threats and manipulations.

But he didn't hate the desert. He didn't hate the slaves. He didn't hate his Master, for all that he knelt and grovelled at the Emperor's feet.

Hating one thing didn't mean he hated the world.

It made him weak.

So he preferred the burn of the lightsaber and the strain on his muscles, because that was when he felt powerful. He could win a fight, he could draw on those emotions actively, but not passively. Unless he focused, he just touched. . . the Force.

He knew Vader was disappointed with him. That made him angrier, made the flames burn higher and brighter.

But when they burned out, there was nothing left behind but ashes.


Luke was not ready to face the Emperor.

The thought nagged at Vader all the way on the shuttle ride down to Coruscant. Luke sat in the seat next to him, staring out at the ecumenopolis with a grim, hard gaze. His eyes were blue, as blue as the skies on Tatooine. Vader had never seen them flash yellow.

The boy's grip on the dark side was tenuous at best. Palpatine would no doubt sense it—and Vader worried what he would do about it. Order he train him harsher, until he hated everyone and everything, including Vader? Take him for himself to train? Or worse—kill Luke there and then, for being too weak?

Vader didn't know, and he was afraid.

He didn't know why he was afraid—a Sith Lord? Worrying?—but he was. He hadn't put this much work into the boy only to fall here—

No.

That wasn't it.

But he didn't want to think about the twist in his gut, so he turned his thoughts away from fear and joined his apprentice in studying the cityscape they descended towards.

They landed. They got out. They walked through the corridors, still not speaking, until they stood before the throne room doors and waited to enter.

There was a light touch against his mind. Vader—thinking it was his master—instinctively tightened his shields, but no. It was Luke.

He let him in.

It'll be alright, you know.

The boy was, to all appearances, staring straight ahead with a faint furrow between his brows, but Vader could feel his compassion through the Force.

He almost snorted. Compassion. No wonder the boy was so weak.

But he couldn't stop himself from responding to the reassurance with a mental tap—not an agreement, not a disagreement. Just an acknowledgement.

The throne room doors opened.

Vader strode forward, Luke automatically falling into that respectful half-step just behind him. Palpatine watched them from the throne as they approached.

This time, he didn't dismiss the guards.

It was normal, Vader tried to tell himself as he slid to one knee. At his right hand, Luke did the same. It was normal for the guards to stay as he was debriefed. This was perfectly—

He finished his report slightly more curtly than intended, and tensed as he waited to be punished for it. But Palpatine barely seemed to be listening to him.

Instead, his narrowed eyes were fixed on Luke.

"Fascinating," he said, almost dryly. "Now tell me, Lord Vader: how goes your apprentice's training?"

Vader sensed Luke stiffen beside him, and knew he had to choose his words carefully.

"Not without its setbacks, Master," he said, and it was true, "but nonetheless proceeding quickly." Faster than one could expect, certainly—the boy worked himself to the bone, and was extremely talented on top of that. He did well, despite all his. . . inadequacies.

Palpatine blinked slowly. "Really," he drawled, Vader tensing further with every syllable, "because all I sense is weakness."

Luke flinched. Vader had the urge to rise to his feet, to argue—but he could sense that was what Palpatine was inciting him to do. He kept kneeling, and said, "Weakness can be eradicated, Master. In time, Luke will—"

"I did not say it was in the boy."

Vader heard the tiniest intake of breath from Luke, but he was too focused on processing what Palpatine's was saying. "Master—"

Pain splintered through his body, his suit, his mind. It lasted a moment, the violet crackling fading away as quickly as it had come, but once his vision cleared again Palpatine was standing before him, a sneer on his face.

Vader took one, careful breath through a spluttering respirator. That charge hadn't been enough to damage his life support, only enough to interfere with it, temporarily.

That didn't stop him from insisting fiercely, "There is no weakness in me."

"But there is." Palpatine rested a hand on his shoulder. "You have grown attached to this boy, Lord Vader—do not deny it, I can see it in your soul. And his." He smiled sickeningly, with a mocking glance thrown at Luke. The boy still knelt, but he was shaking. The Force screamed of fear. "If it is any consolation, the boy cares for you, too."

He reached out; Vader's lightsaber was tugged off his belt and into his grip. He pressed it into Vader's hand. "I want you to kill him."

Vader did stand then—he shot to his feet, and took several steps back. For all that Palpatine wasn't a tall man, he suddenly seemed to tower over him.

Every line of Luke's body was pulled taut.

Vader's hand tightened around the lightsaber. "Master—"

"I do not allow weakness in my servants. Kill him."

"I am not weak!"

"Then prove it," Palpatine challenged. "Kill him."

Another heartbeat.

"I grow tired of asking this, Lord Vader."

Still, Vader didn't move.

That flash of pain again—the floor collided with his knees, lightsaber rolling away from him, and he clutched his head against the agony the lightning inflicted.

"You are the Jedi's Chosen One, Lord Vader"—another blast—"I"—pain—"expected"—pain—"better!"

He pulled back, and sneered, "Anakin Skywalker was stronger than you."

"I killed Skywalker!"

"Yet he is clearly notdead!" His vision blacked out completely for a moment. Then it was back, and Palpatine was sneering at him still. "Your reluctance to dissever yourself from his son is proof enough of that!"

Everything stopped.

This time, it wasn't because of the lightning.

Vader tilted his head up to stare the man in the eye, not bothering to mask his shock.

He said, "Son?"

Palpatine took a step back. "You didn't know?" he asked, glancing between him and Luke. The boy had finally lifted himself from his kneeling position—when had he done that? While Vader was being tortured?—and he didn't seem quite able to comprehend anything that was going on.

Palpatine cackled.

"You didn't know?" There was a barely restrained glee to his voice. "Lord Vader didn't think, when he received a Force-sensitive teenage slave who looked like his past self and his wife, to check on his background?"

"What," Vader ground out, the threat in every word, "are you talking about."

Palpatine's yellow eyes caught his gaze and wouldn't let him look away as he said, "Oh, it was difficult to track him, I assure you. Slaves so rarely leave lasting traces. But if you had done so yourself, you might have found that a certain Luke Skywalker was kidnapped by slavers aged just two years old from a moisture farm on Tatooine, and sold to a master on the other side of the galaxy."

He turned his gaze back on Luke, who stood gobsmacked. "Anakin Skywalker's son. A father born a slave and made free on Tatooine, only to have a son born free made a slave on Tatooine." His lip curled. "It is. . . poetic."

He summoned Vader's lightsaber again and held it out. "Now kill him."

Vader looked from the lightsaber, to Luke, to his master. Why? he implored, half to himself.

But Palpatine caught the question and hissed, Because you are mine, Lord Vader. I trained you, I made you. Anakin Skywalker is dead, along with his wife, and his child should be too.

You are mine, and you will do as I say.

Vader stared at his lightsaber. He had built it himself, piece by piece, but nothing seemed more alien to him in that moment. When Palpatine pressed it into his hand, he ran his thumb over every ridge, every dip, until it found the activation button.

Then he switched it on, and shoved it forward.

His master was two feet away—easy reach of the lightsaber—if only he was fast enough—

He wasn't.

Palpatine took a sharp step back and blasted him, hard, and this time the Force Lightning brought him to his knees. He was wheezing badly—that had done some damage, but he didn't think it was fatal.

So he wasn't going to let that stop him

The thrum of Force pikes had whirred to life the moment he'd lit his saber; now they winked out, along with the lives of their wielders in the Force. A surge of rage echoed in their wake.

Vader idly called his lightsaber to hand, turning to look.

Palpatine laughed.

Luke was standing with his eyes shut, hand outstretched, face strained. He was shaking.

"Good, boy," Palpatine praised. "Use your aggressive feelings."

Luke turned on him, eyes sparking yellow, and reached out a hand—

—only for that hand to fly to his neck the next moment.

No, not his neck, Vader realised with growing horror. His breast pocket, but it was too late, because—

The detonator landed in Palpatine's hand.

The man wasted no time in flicking off the safety and placing his thumb on the button.

Vader's lightsaber hissed to life.

Palpatine laughed again. "Stand down, Lord Vader," he ordered. "I believe you know what my threat is."

Vader stared at him, then at Luke.

His lightsaber clattered to the floor.

"Good," Palpatine praised. His gaze was fixed on Luke, and it was. . . hungry. It flicked to the dead guards, necks twisted at odd angles, then back again, and Vader knew what he was thinking. "You have great potential in the dark side, boy. If I cannot have one Skywalker, I will have the other."

Vader took a step forward. "Master—"

Stand down, Lord Vader.

Palpatine's finger twitched. Vader stilled.

"Then again," Palpatine mused, "perhaps you're not worth the risk."

And then he pressed the button.

There was a bright flash, a boyish shout and the cold touch of the Force seizing him and throwing him back, away from the blast, and then—

He woke up on the floor, someone calling for him.

"Master? Master!"

That someone was also tapping the side of his mask, prodding his arm. "My lord? Lord Vader?"

He couldn't quite compute what was going on. His life support was going crazy trying to compute itself—something was definitely wrong, but it didn't seem fatal. Small miracle.

But he couldn't think. . .

The person prodding him paused. Took a deep breath.

Then. . .

"Father?"

Vader blinked.

Father?

What—

Everything rushed back.

He sat up suddenly, his helmet colliding with someone's chin; they jerked back with a yelp. That yelp—Father

Vader turned to see Luke rubbing his face, anxiety clouding his features.

He frowned at him.

"My lord?" he asked, and Vader felt an odd loss at the familiar title in place of the other, familial title— "Are you alright?"

"I. . ." He lifted his hands. They hurt, but they were working. The same with his legs. "I believe so. But you—"

He seized the front of his uniform, inspecting him closely. "How did you survive?"

Luke didn't shake off the grip—rather, he gripped Vader's hands with his own. "What do you mean?"

"The detonator—the transmitter—"

"I. . ." For some reason, Luke looked bashful. "You know I asked for those tools, a while back? Well, after studying as many blueprints as I could find, I decided to take a risk and disable the detonator, even if I couldn't disable the transmitter still inside me."

"That's. . ." Vader shook his head. "Foolish child." The sheer insanity of that, the risks—even if he'd managed to get hold of correct plans, if it had gone wrong. . . "Then what was that explosion?"

"While I was at it, I also rigged the detonator to blow when someone pushed the button." He definitely looked sheepish now. "I figured, after the first meeting with the Emperor, that it might come to this."

"You were right." Insanely stupid, but right. "How did you get it to be so powerful?" The detonator was tiny; the explosion had been massive.

"The explosion. . . wasn't actually that big. I just threw you out the way of it and you hit your head. Palpatine. . ." He grimaced. "See for yourself."

Vader lifted his head. He could see a black-clothed body that might well be his dead master, but he couldn't see in detail from here.

"Help me up," he instructed. Luke obliged. He slung an arm round his shoulders and they staggered forwards for a few steps before Vader found his feet again.

When he neared his master, it was with something like awe.

Palpatine's face was contorted in fury, even in death. The shrapnel from the tiny detonator had punched through his chest like a ship through hyperspace, and his robes were wet with blood. He was unmoving.

When Vader looked at Luke, his gaze was on the throne.

The empty throne.

Vader took one step forwards. Then another. Then another.

Until, dreamlike, he settled into his master's seat.

It was the highest point in the room. From here, he could see everything—the view out the windows, the corpses of the guards. . . and his son kneeling at his feet.

As if Luke felt his gaze on him, he said, eyes on the ground, "The Empire is yours, Master."

Master. Again, it wasn't the title he wanted to hear.

So he stood, and walked towards the kneeling boy. Resting a hand on his shoulder, he said, "Rise, my son." He did. Vader tilted his chin up to meet his eye. "This Empire is ours."

Two would rule this galaxy.

The rule of two.

Luke was silent for a moment, then— "You are Anakin Skywalker?"

"I was, once."

"So—" He swallowed. "So, I am Luke Skywalker?"

For a moment, he was tempted to say no, you are a Vader, but then he remembered his mother's voice. His mother's name. Names are all we have left, Ani.

One day, you'll understand.

"Yes," he said. "You're a person, and your name is Luke Skywalker."

Luke let out a breath. The brightest smile Vader had ever seen split his face. "I have a name," he said, "I have a name."

He threw himself at Vader.

Vader caught him just in time to hug him. He bowed his head over his shoulder and tried not to cry.

After a moment, Luke drew back. "What—" He shook his head, laughing shakily. "What next?"

"We undo Palpatine's evil, I assume."

He didn't breathe a word of it, but Luke seemed to pick up on his plan nonetheless. His head jerked up, his smile shifted to something sharper, and Vader felt the dark side thicken.

"I believe I offered you revenge on the Hutts?"

Chapter Text

The first time Vader laid eyes on Luke Organa, he thought he was an angel.

That was what lit his suspicions.

It was five years after the day of the foundation of the Empire—five years since he'd last seen an angel. Vader ordinarily wouldn't have noticed him among the bustle of people in the ballroom, almost every important or influential senator milling about and trying to curry favour with one another. Vader was standing off to one side, looming, because the Emperor had demanded his presence at this petty ball. He hated this planet, hated Empire Day, and would much rather be off crushing some Rebel upstarts instead of staring around a scene that reminded him so much of her it hurt.

He could imagine her here, the proper Senator for Naboo instead of whatever pretender had been assigned in her place, wearing her smile like she'd wear whatever elaborate headdress she'd chosen this week. . . The image strengthened, as did the longing, and he could see her, properly. She would be wearing a dress that appeared subtly Imperial but not too enough to alienate the senators with Rebel sympathies, quietly talking them round and charming them in the way that only she could. She'd sway them back to their side, achieve in moments what took him years of bloody warfare to enact, and then she would turn to smile at him. And he would smile back, for the first time in an eternity. . .

The image dissipated like smoke. It stole the breath from his lungs as it went.

Because she wasn't where she should be, standing with him and Palpatine against all threats to their rule. She was dead.

He let the words ring in his mind. Let the angelic light that always seemed to surround her fade away, and reveal the image for what it was: a corpse.

Grief and anger fought for dominance. He turned, sharply, away from the dancing guests.

The sun was just starting to set over Coruscant, tingeing the light golden. The crystalline windows stretched from floor to ceiling, surrounded by intricate carvings—five years under Palpatine's jurisdiction had seen the Jedi's cherished austerity swept away without a trace. They were massive; incredibly detailed and delicate. The scenes, however, were of great violence: long-forgotten wars of Sith and Jedi, slave masters corralling various aliens like chattel, dogfights against a vast vista of stars. One in particular showed a Jedi starfighter going up in flames, big enough to be life-size.

Beside it, dwarfed in comparison, stood a little boy.

He was stood in the shadow of the starfighter when Vader first noticed him, looking up at it in barely restrained awe and glee. A single shaft of sunlight landed on his blond hair, which glistened like a sunbeam itself.

Then he shifted, and the sun hit him full on.

The eye plates in Vader's mask automatically adjusted to changes in light, but he was left dazzled nonetheless. It brought back a painful memory he'd done everything in his power to suppress, of a slave boy and a beautiful girl who stepped into his shop.

Are you an angel?

This was the same feeling. The same. . . familiarity. . . the same essence of fate, of destiny, everything twining together and untwining like in some greater pattern. . . There was even the ghost of Padmé in his features.

Vader had seen angels, in a past life. He'd visited Iego to save the life of the woman he'd once mistaken for one, and seen what they really looked like. But the comparison sprung to mind anyway, especially with how the child seemed to glow with his own inner light.

Almost against his will Vader walked over to stand beside him.

His shadow blocked the light, casting the boy into darkness. He turned, pale eyes—blue? Vader couldn't tell through the mask—widened at Vader, trailing all the way up his legs, his cape, his control box, then finally to his mask.

In his hand, he held a toy starfighter.

He clenched it tighter.

The silence stretched on forever, and Vader could feel someone's eyes on them. Not Palpatine's—no, he would know if it was—but someone else. . .

"Mister?" The boy broke him out of his daydream with a querulous inquiry. His Force sense whispered of, confusion, nervousness, curiosity. . . but no fear. None at all.

He was braver than most. Or, perhaps, he was simply too young to know what to fear.

Vader folded his hands behind his back, and stared at the boy.

He was Force-sensitive.

There were shields around his mind. Strong shields; someone had clearly taught him the skill, though he doubted they'd told the boy exactly what he was doing. It didn't matter: Vader saw it plain as day.

He should kill him, he mused. It would be a good way of relieving stress and grief—he kept seeing her everywhere—a way to show exactly what would happen to senators who left their children unattended, and it was the rule he'd set down. All Force-sensitives were to be killed or turned.

But he looked like his angel.

That shouldn't matter. He reached for his lightsaber and held it loosely in his hand, his thumb on the activation button. He should just light it here and run it through his chest; it would be quick, it would be relatively painless. The music might stop briefly if the boy screamed, heads turning. . . then their owners' self-preservation would kick in, they would turn away, the music would start back up again, and the galaxy would keep turning.

He should do it.

"Luke!"

The shout broke him from his reverie, the boy's head turning away and the spell broken. Vader hooked his lightsaber back onto his belt and watched as a man wearing the plain uniform of a pilot or escort hurried up to them.

He paled at the sight of Vader, and bowed. "My— my lord, I apologise if Luke has been causing trouble—"

"It is nothing."

"Look!" The boy—Luke—pointed a finger at the Jedi ship in the carving. "It's—"

"Yes, Luke, it's a starfighter," the man said, looking more and more harried by the moment. "Now, would you like to come outside with me? We can look at all the speeders and ships parked outside! So long as you don't touch any that aren't ours."

"Really?" Luke turned away from the carving and tottered towards him.

The man cast Vader a look, then heaved Luke into his arms and balanced him on his hip. "Yes, now let's—"

"Can I fly one of ours?"

The man chuckled warmly—and, to Vader's surprise, he did too. The man cast him an odd look, seemed to feel Vader's glare and maybe even the invisible fingers on his throat, then began walking away.

"No, Luke, you know you're not old enough yet."

Luke would not be denied, even as his voice faded into the distance. "But it's my birthday!"

"Even so, it's dangerous—"

They vanished into the crowd, and Vader was left staring at their retreat.

After a few minutes, he made to get back to looming in the corner, but the interaction stuck in his mind like stubborn glitter, and that evening he made sure to have one of his aides inform him of who that had been.

Prince Luke Organa of Alderaan, the adopted son of Queen Breha Organa, and her husband, the viceroy. Bail Organa had been a close friend of Padmé's, he remembered numbly as he read the report.

Then he saw the boy's age: five years old.

But it's my birthday!

His wheedling voice rang in Vader's head and plucked a chord in his chest in a way he hadn't felt since—

A suspicion began to kindle in his mind.

No. It was preposterous. It was impossible, unthinkable, because—

Because he had killed her.

She was alive. I felt it.

Hadn't he?

The viceroy had been a close friend of Padmé's.

No. Vader shook the thought away, closing and crushing the datapad in his fist. It was impossible. His child was dead on Naboo, and there was no point in dwelling on foolish hopes. He was a Sith Lord, not a father.

But even so, he quietly decided there were a number of things Palpatine didn't need to know, and Prince Luke's Force-sensitivity was one of them.


Luke Organa was known for being kind, as one of the most well-known instigators of mercy missions in the Imperial nobility. He was known for being popular, as the one of the most beloved leaders of Alderaan, second only to his mother. And he was known for being brilliant, as the youngest Alderaanian senator elected, with skills of oration and persuasion well beyond his years.

Right now, though, he was just nervous.

This was his first speech to the Imperial Senate. His father had cultivated a. . . reputation. . . for dissent and disagreement; he could feel every Imperial loyalist's eyes on him, digging in, waiting and weighing and judging whether he was going to follow in his footsteps.

Luke admired his father's footsteps. He'd walked a noble road. But he intended on forging his own path, in a different direction.

Bail's open dissent had only received suspicion and thinly-veiled accusations of treason from the Senate. Luke had been visited by Lord Vader's aide upon his arrival on Coruscant, who'd heavily hinted that Alderaan was already a potential target for the Emperor's wrath, and that Luke's actions might make or break them. He still wasn't sure who the man had been sent by—as a staunch hater of politics, Vader certainly hadn't been the one to do it.

Luke believed in the same ideals just as much as he did. . . but he didn't want Alderaan to pay for it.

So he would lie.

It didn't come naturally to him. But if lying, spying, was the safest course of action for those he loved, then that was what he would do.

His speech went over well. He could feel the surprise—and reluctant approval—of most of the senators around him, and the applause was deafening. As he retook his seat, he glanced up towards the Emperor's pod. Palpatine was present for once—he always was, when new senators arrived; Luke would guess that he liked to assess their usefulness for himself—and he was watching him, eyes narrowed.

Luke forced himself to incline his head in an obsequious nod, and didn't lift his head again until he felt Palpatine's gaze move away from him.

When he did lift his head again, however, he paused. Someone was still watching him.

Vader rarely attended the Senate. He was well-known to be the Supreme Commander of the Navy, the military, and had no interest in the petty politics that went on here. It wasn't, Luke thought bitterly, like they ever made an actual difference, after all.

But there he stood, at Palpatine's right hand. Perhaps it was in anticipation for some sort of unrest or disapproval; Palpatine may have an announcement to make at the end which was expected to be unpopular. Luke didn't know.

Nor did he know why he was so certain the Sith Lord was staring at him, and not just tilted in his direction, but he knew it. He was being watched.

So Luke just inclined his head to Vader as well, and took his seat.

The Senate session lasted a few hours after that, and Luke was already prepared to lose his mind from the amount of. . . pandering. . . there was. On Alderaan, they kept away from it as much as possible; he should have expected it to be worse here. He had expected it to be worse here.

But not this much worse.

He still had that childhood naiveté to him.

The session was useful, anyway. The most slavishly supportive—and, therefore, popular—senators were the most outspoken, and how the more experienced ones interacted told Luke a lot about who ran in whose circles, and where the alliances were forming. He took short, abbreviated notes on his datapad and did his job: he listened.

He was lost in his own thoughts after it finished, packing up all his things mostly on autopilot. Once he exited the pod, he didn't even notice the sound of the respirator. The only thing that alerted him to Vader's presence was the gasps from his two bodyguards.

His head snapped up instantly. Panic flashed through him, but he forced himself to control it, and plastered a smile on his face.

"Lord Vader," he greeted sunnily, "how may I help you?"

Vader just stood there, still as a monolith, for a few long moments. The senators exiting the pods around them took one look at him and scurried down the hall.

Soon enough, it was just them and Luke's entourage. The rest of the corridor was empty.

Finally, when every single hair on the back of Luke's neck had stood to attention, Vader said, "That was an impressive speech you made, Your Highness."

Confusion raced through him—what? Was Vader complimenting him?—but he swallowed. Drawing himself up to his entire, negligible height, he told him, "Thank you, my lord. I meant every word."

"I'm sure you did." There was a wry amusement in Vader's voice, as well as a tension Luke couldn't identify. It set him on edge, too. "You are wholly dedicated to serving the people of the galaxy?"

"Of course, my lord."

"Like the previous Senator Organa did?"

Luke's throat went dry. So that was what this was about: determining how rebellious he would be.

In that light, it made sense that Vader would be the one questioning him. He was the one in charge of hunting Rebels, after all.

"Of course I aspire to work as tirelessly towards a better future as my father did," he said diplomatically. Vader tensed at the word father, but he couldn't have said why. "My priority will always be to serve the Empire, and the people in it." By tearing the damn thing down.

He wasn't lying. There was no lie to sense, so Vader sensed none. The dark lord seemed to. . . relax. . . at that.

Luke decided that thinking too hard about why might lead to difficulties with respiration.

Vader nodded once. "I. . . am glad to hear that, young one," he said, giving Luke one last hard stare.

Then he jerked, as if he realised what he was doing. Shook his head. When he strode off down the corridor, his footsteps were clipped and hurried. Irritated.

Luke watched him go, aware that his complete and utter bewilderment was evident on his face.


Vader was aware that his behaviour was odd, and he had never been so glad that he outranked and terrorised too many people for anyone to point it out.

Anyone except the Emperor, that was.

"Why so interested in the Prince Organa, Lord Vader?" Palpatine asked during Vader's usual report in the throne room. He gestured to Vader to rise and join him at the window, then too all appearances just stared out at the skyscrapers of Coruscant. But Vader knew that he expected an answer—and a detailed one.

He couldn't give it.

Because he knew his behaviour was irrational. The idea that his wishful, delusional mind had concocted on the fifth Empire Day thirteen years ago grew no less nonsensical in hindsight. Yes, Luke Organa looked like his past self, like Padmé, had the Force, was the right age. . . but she was dead. And their child was dead with her.

Vader had watched the funeral too many times to try to deny what his eyes were showing him. Luke Organa was not his son. It was impossible.

It had been easy to forget, in the intervening years, that painful idea. But it always resurfaced, in need of squashing. And to his horror, he found himself almost growing fond of him, or of the idea of him, at least. He'd even placed a spy in the palace in Aldera and received regular reports.

To keep an eye on a powerful Force-sensitive, he told himself. A Force-sensitive too powerful for the Inquisitors to deal with, he told himself. A Force-sensitive whose adoptive parents were too popular to risk alienating so brutally, he told himself.

He knew it was poodoo. Vader had never cared about diplomacy before. But it was a decent excuse, so the reports kept coming.

Which was how he knew the boy to be as stubborn and self-righteous as his. . . guardians. . . and why he didn't believe the spiel he'd given in the Senate for one moment.

Luke Organa believed in the ridiculous Rebellion and its hypocritical morality.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Vader did not truly believe his own delusions—and he didn't, they were ridiculous—because otherwise, his anger at the kidnappers who'd poisoned his son's mind with nothing but lies would be insatiable.

Luke Organa was a traitor. And even if he hadn't participated in treasonous activities yet, he would. He was a threat.

But he was a boy.

And Vader knew that with Palpatine's powers of persuasion, that threat could become an asset. If they could make him a spy of their own. . .

It would not be the first time Palpatine had convinced an adolescent to sell out family for a few scraps from the Emperor's table.

So he said as much. "He's a traitor, my master—"

"I assumed so. I suppose we shall have to execute him, make an example—"

"—but I believe he can be used."

Palpatine frowned, tilting his head back to stare at Vader. "How so?"

"He is a child."

"You have never objected to the death of children before, Lord Vader." Palpatine tilted his head—Master Skywalker, there are too many of them, what are we going to do?—and pressed, "why do you care now?"

Vader didn't know—or rather, he did, but he didn't want to admit it. That soft part of him, that disgustingly weak fool whom he'd crushed but still lived on, had latched onto the idea of the Prince Organa as his child, and would not let go.

Well. If he would not let go, Vader would cut off his hands as he had Dooku's, and he wouldn't be able to hold onto anything any longer.

"I care nothing," he said. "But the boy is just that: a boy. He is. . . malleable."

Palpatine smiled, then. "You think he could turn spy for us? Betray the people who raised him?"

"I think, Master, that if you manipulate him enough," Vader said, "there isn't anything he wouldn't do for you."

His master turned his gaze back to the window, and the galaxy at his feet, but Vader wasn't fooled. He knew he was considering it, in depth.

"I doubt it would be worth the effort."

"Perhaps," Vader conceded, then made a split second decision to risk it. No, not risk it; he lost nothing if the boy died, so he didn't care as he said, "But I suspect he is also Force-sensitive."

Palpatine's eyebrows flew up at that. "You are sure?"

"I am. He is extremely powerful."

Another pause, but Vader knew his master had made his decision. He was just drawing it out.

"If all fails," Palpatine mused, "we could use Organa to make sure only the information we want to Rebellion to receive is passed on." He tapped a finger on the head of his cane. "Malleable or not, it will take much time to convert him—especially without torture, considering his diplomatic immunity. It will take energy."

"I had thought you might enjoy the challenge."

"Oh, my friend." Palpatine turned away from the window, then, and limped back to his throne. "I certainly will."


After Luke's experience with Vader in the Senate, things became. . . odd.

Emperor Palpatine never attended the Senate unless it was necessary. That was what his father had told him; that was, in fact, the only reason his parents had allowed him to even run for the position. He knew that, more than anything, they wanted to keep him safe from Palpatine's prying eyes.

But Palpatine's eyes seemed to always be on him.

Every time he advocated for a bill to be passed, he was there watching him give his speech. Whenever Luke walked past him in the corridor, he and his entire entourage would pause for a few minutes, to allow them to exchange words. Palpatine even occasionally invited him to the throne room to. . . talk, and they'd discuss petty things about the Senate, how different Coruscant was to Alderaan, which new cultures Luke had learnt of and interacted with today.

And, worse of all, every time he so much as suspected the Emperor was near, there was a. . . coldness. . . around him. Vader carried the same sort of coldness with him, but this was different: a sharp, searing lance of ice that prodded at his mind. It was second nature to Luke to push back at it, repel it, even if he didn't remember ever learning how to before.

Pushing back at it felt like pushing back an electrostaff with his bare hands, but for some reason he kept pushing anyway. He had the feeling that letting the lance into his mind would be worse.

It all concerned his parents greatly. They'd already told him, under no uncertain terms, that they were going to recall him to Alderaan the first chance they got, but the opportunity never came. Every time there was a death or crisis they could feasibly need him for, Luke's workload seemed to double.

It was. . . odd. . . to say the least.

The whole thing had started slowly at first. After he'd told his parents about that initial conversation with Vader, they'd been tense, but managed to dismiss it as natural caution after the ripples his father had caused during his service. When it seemed like the Emperor was always present for his speeches, they'd chalked that up to coincidence as well.

Then Luke had started feeling that coldness in his mind, the Emperor had been inviting him to speak to him privately, and their worries mounted.

But it moved slowly. Those conversations were few and far between, and only started about five months into his service. He had the sense that the Emperor was playing a long game here, but he didn't have the faintest clue what it could be.

Was it to do with his connection to the Rebels?

Probably.

Probably; increasingly so as the talks went on, and they moved from petty, minor matters to what Luke thought about a specific bill that had been voted down recently, the massacre on Mon Cala, all of the glories of the Empire. Luke bit his tongue more often than not; every rhetorical skill in his arsenal, every bit of equivocation his father had taught him came to the surface.

The Empire had done a lot of good. It had done even more bad.

He felt like the recent bill granting military powers wasn't addressing the source of Rebellion. That the Empire was a rotten, corrupt bureaucracy that needed to be destroyed.

He had nothing but loyalty to the people of the galaxy. And that included the people Palpatine oppressed.

Sometimes he outright lied. When he did, he was sure Palpatine could pick up on it, but the Emperor just seemed. . . amused. . . and let it slide.

The nineteenth Empire Day came and went; Luke decided not to mention to anyone that it was also his nineteenth birthday. He didn't want Palpatine to imply he was the son of the Empire, such a patriot or some poodoo.

It was the week after, when the festivities were just starting to die down, that Luke exited the throne room to a corridor crowded with senators. It was the time of year when everyone clamoured for an audience with Palpatine, wanting to show their undying respect for the great government he'd created and to perhaps curry favour. He got a lot of vicious, jealous looks as he walked through.

That had been the other effect of his favouritism. All the other senators, whom he'd studied and worked so hard to join into alliances with, had seen him as an outsider. Some tried to befriend him just to gain the Emperor's favour for themselves, but once they realised it never worked, they'd gone right back to resenting him.

Walking through a crowd of haters was never fun, but Luke made do.

He wasn't sure who it was that tripped him up. He probably never would.

His head slammed into the floor with a smack, and the world went black for a moment. He woke to one of his aides', "Your Highness?" and the feeling of hands on his elbows, helping him up.

He blinked hard. The world was still blurry. He could hear snickers from around him, too quiet and scattered to place.

Then he heard the respirator.

"And who," Vader's voice was dark, and—strangely enough—angry, "was so childish they thought it amusing to trip a fellow senator over simple jealousy?"

His vision was starting to clear. The corridor had cleared as well: only a few of the original senators had stuck around to risk facing whatever Vader's reaction would be. The dark lord stood a little way away, arms folded across his chest, gaze fixed on Luke.

The corridor was colder than the summit of Appenza Peak in winter.

"It was nothing, my lord," Luke got out. Vader murdering everyone in the corridor would only make the problem worse. "I'm fine."

He wasn't, but he would see a medic immediately after, and then he would be.

He didn't dare to wait for a dismissal. He and his aides just walked away, and only after they'd turned a corner was Luke finally able to breathe deeply again.


Luke finally resolved that he was going to leave Coruscant, immense workload or no, when he heard the reports about Jedha City being destroyed. It'd been mentioned in the Senate almost negligibly; oh, it was a mining accident, nothing more. But the odd timing of a comm from his father, saying just how much he would love for Luke to return home for his family friend's upcoming funeral, made him suspicious.

He left Coruscant quietly, without much fanfare; if anyone was to inquire at his office as to where he was, his aide would tell them, and hand over his sincerest apologies for the abrupt departure.

He felt a little sorry for the woman, having to deal with Vader if he came knocking, but it couldn't be helped.

Oddly enough, his father met him in space and guided the Tantive IV to their next coordinates, without telling Luke what the system would be. They embraced, and exchanged questions and answers, but that was one thing Bail wouldn't budge on.

Luke understood when they arrived.

He didn't recognise the massive red gas giant, nor the jungle moon they approached, but brief scans and observations of the surrounding space told him everything he needed to know: this was the Rebel base.

Luke couldn't know its location, or he'd be at risk of revealing it when they returned to the Senate.

His father gave the codes to get them through, and they landed on paved ground outside what looked like an ancient temple repurposed as the base. His father led him down the landing pad into the sunlight where pilots and mechanics were working.

Luke was suddenly very aware of how much he stood out in his bright white robes. Even his father wore varying beiges and browns.

Then they went inside, and Luke lost all sense of embarrassment.

He was led to a briefing room, where several important-looking people stood around a holographic projector. He recognised Mon Mothma, who smiled at him. She'd been declared a traitor before he'd joined the Senate, so he'd never had the chance to serve with her, but she was a family friend.

The others, he didn't know. A human whom his father introduced as General Draven, a few other military personnel, and then a Togruta who looked. . . familiar.

She wore two lightsabers at her hips.

She smiled when she noticed his attention on her. "Hi, Luke."

It hit him then. "Ahsoka!" She'd looked after him a lot, hung around the palace often, when he was a kid. She used to teach him to pretend he had a castle in his head, with mountain ranges and moats and fierce beasts protecting it from invaders. She said it helped keep his face straight when he didn't want other people to know what he was thinking.

"Your mental shields are still going strong," she noted. "Good job."

A few things clicked in his mind—the icy lance, the instinctive push back—but his father interrupted before he could ask any more questions.

"Luke," he said gravely, "what we're about to tell you, you cannot tell anyone, you understand? We have a mission we need you to undertake."

Luke blinked. A mission? An actual mission, something beyond feeding as much information back to his father as he possibly could?

He restrained his inner urge to jump with excitement and said, "What is it?"

Bail swallowed. "I trust you heard about the destruction of Jedha?"

He nodded. "A 'mining accident'," he quoted, rolling his eyes.

"It was no mining accident," Ahsoka said, stepping forward. "The Empire has constructed a massive battle station, the size of a small moon." Then, as if Luke's eyes weren't already wide enough, she added, "It has the power to destroy an entire planet."

"And they destroyed Jedha?"

"To erase the evidence of what they'd done," Mon cut in, her quiet, soothing voice a blessing in this instance. "A pilot defected from the Empire carrying information about the station—it's a long story, one we don't have time to tell you now, but we need you. Rebel agents went to Scarif to get the plans; we need you to use your diplomatic immunity as an Imperial Senator, and go to retrieve them."

"And," Ahsoka added pointedly, "we need you to go to Tatooine."

Luke frowned. "Tatooine?" he asked, ignoring the pointed looks Bail and Mon gave Ahsoka. "What's there?"

"The Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a girl he hopes to take as his padawan," Bail said. "We need you to bring them back here. After. . . recent events"—Luke suspected this might have something to do with the Imperial fiasco over Lothal, but he couldn't be sure—"we need a Jedi Master more than ever.

"This is the most important thing I've ever asked of you," he said quietly. "It's the most important thing I've asked of anyone."

"Are you sure?" Luke gnawed on his bottom lip. "There has to be someone better."

His father smiled, then. "There is no one better. I trust you more than anyone. There's nothing you can't deal with."

Luke desperately wished that was true.


Vader had been suspicious when Luke—Organa—left Coruscant in an apparent rush, with only one aide remaining to do damage control. There were no aides anymore; the previous one had found herself short of breath when she tried to stop him from entering. When Organa was dragged back to Coruscant, he would have to explain himself in person, instead of relying on others to do so for him.

But all thought of Luke Organa fled when he received the message about the security breach on Scarif, and Director Krennic's utter incompetence in stopping it. It was put entirely out of mind, in fact, until he saw exactly which ship it was that gunned away from the Devastator so desperately.

Starfighters shot and exploded around him, their light reflecting brightly off the viewport, but his gaze was fixed on that ship and that ship alone.

There was other ships of that make, he knew. In fact, it was entirely possible that it was a different ship; Alderaanian ships did have such a tendency of accidentally falling into Rebel hands. That model seemed to make up most of the command ships for their smaller cells.

But he could sense Organa on there, the boy's unique presence in the Force a disadvantage for once. He didn't need the officer to report what the signature of the ship was telling him.

"Sir," he heard, "the Tantive IV—"

Even as he spoke, it vanished into hyperspace.

"You were saying?" he prompted the officer, letting some of his frozen rage into his voice. There was a storm in his chest. He was not hurt by the boy's treason. That would imply he cared, which he didn't; it would also imply he hadn't expected it.

Luke Organa's Rebel sympathies were perhaps the only thing about this whole situation that he had expected.

The officer swallowed, cowed as always, but forged on, "We think they sustained damage during the battle, especially to the hyperdrive. It's functional, but they left an abnormal hyperspace wake when they jumped—"

"Can you track it?" He didn't care. He hated the Death Star, and the boy was not his son. It was an insult to his actual child, dead in its mother's womb, to act like he was.

The officer nodded. "Yes, my lord."


Of all the places Vader would have expected Luke Organa to flee to, Tatooine was not one of them. It hung beyond the viewport, the Tantive IV laughably small in the face of both the planet and the Devastator on its tail. Shots were fired periodically, disabling the engines, the hyperdrive, taking out what remained of the shields. It was in a bad shape.

As was its crew. They provided as much resistance as they possibly could when they boarded, but they were no match for a dark lord of the Sith. Usually he'd have left the stormtroopers to clear the area before marching in himself, but he could sense Organa in the back, resolve in every flicker of his mind. He was planning something.

Vader would not let him see it to fruition.

He would be dragged back to Coruscant, and thrown to his knees before the Emperor. He would suffer for his treason, his boldness. He would—

The captain's neck crunched under his hand, his pleas fading out to nothingness. This was taking too long. He hated that he was here, hated how tangled and knotted his emotions were—

"My lord, here!"

He turned to see Organa being marched towards him, hands in binders, head held high. One of the stormtroopers shoved his shoulder a little too harshly; he glared at him, but Vader could see shudders wracking his slim frame.

He was so young, to be caught up in such crimes.

The boy opened his mouth almost before he was forced to a halt.

"Lord Vader," he began heatedly, lifting his chin to hide the way his voice wobbled, "I demand that my crew be released at once, we are a consular ship—"

"Stun him."

The shot went off, and Organa sagged to the ground.

Vader didn't have the energy or patience to deal with the boy's petty, scared words right now. He'd drag him to the Death Star, as ordered, extract as much information from him as he could, and then dispose of him. That was all.

And, he insisted, he wouldn't regret it one bit.

"Take him to the detention level," he ordered.


Vader wasn't a fool. He knew what he was expected to do, having discovered Senator Organa's treason. He'd never been so glad that the mask allowed him to disguise his emotions all the more effectively when Tarkin brought it up during the briefing.

"The interrogators are waiting for you on the detention level, Lord Vader," he said, entirely oblivious to how much Vader wanted to carve that persistent, self-satisfied smile off his face. "They've prepared the necessary equipment. I trust you'll recover the stolen data tapes soon."

He was being irrational. The boy was nothing to him. The boy was nothing to him.

But he paused anyway.

It was ridiculous. This was making him weak

He was striding out of the conference room and down the corridors in a moment, cape snapping at his heels, officers and stormtroopers alike throwing themselves out of his way. Good. If he stopped long enough to punish one for their negligence, he might never start again.

He'd hoped that by the time he arrived at the detention block, the comfortable routine of receiving the interrogation droid, opening the cell and demanding answers would shake him out of his funk, remind him that this boy was no different to any other, and it did. To an extent.

The motions were familiar enough that he went through them without thinking, and it was that lack of distraction that allowed him to feel the intense stench of fear clouding the Force.

The boy was as strong as ever, despite his shields. It grated on Vader's nerves, and frayed them to breaking point.

He was so, so afraid.

Good. That was good—his shields were formidable to break through, and any hint of submission or capitulation would make it that much easier for Vader to break through, it would make it that much faster

The door to the cell hissed open. Organa was caught standing right in the middle of it, mid-pace. Vader wondered how many times he'd paced the length of his cell, hands clasped behind his back, desperately trying not to think about what was coming next. . .

He started when the door opened, pale eyes fixating on Vader for one brief, terrified instant, before they slid over his shoulder—to the interrogation droid hovering there.

He paled.

Shaking his head desperately, taking a step back— "My lord, please, there's been some misunderstanding, I—"

Vader stepped forward and the door slid shut behind him. There was the audible click of a lock.

Organa was shaking, now. "Please—"

The droid came forward, but the boy shook so hard, he writhed away from it, and it couldn't get close enough to administer the first injection. Vader seized his arms and legs with the Force; after a moment, he seized his head as well, twisted at an awkward angle. The boy was forced down onto the slat in the corner that served for a bed, stock still, eye rolling in their sockets as they tried to track the movement of the droid and its single, gleaming needle—

Vader watched it grow closer as well.

The boy's hair and robes were dishevelled, his face twisted in sheer terror, but he held himself together with a dignity that was. . . admirable. Like the angel Vader had confused him for, all those years ago.

He hooked his thumbs in his belt and watched it grow closer. . . and closer. . . and closer. . .

Angels. . .

"Wait," he said.

The droid stopped instantly. Organa stared up at him in shock—and hope—and Vader did his best not to over-analyse the emotions churning in his gut.

"Take a blood sample," he ordered the droid. He was sick of this overwhelming weakness, the remnants of that dead fool rising up inside him again and again and again. This boy was not his child, his child was dead, and he'd wasted far too much time on this fantasy. It was time, once and for all, to view the evidence for himself.

If that was the only thing that would convince his subconscious of the truth, then so be it. He had the opportunity right before him.

Organa had tensed up again as the droid approached—clearly, he didn't believe that this wasn't a trick to inject the chemical with minimal resistance—but Vader kept his grip on him tight through the Force. He couldn't move a muscle except for his eyes. He squeezed them shut.

The droid backed off when it was done, leaving only a small pinprick behind.

Organa scrunched his eyes shut further, clearly waiting for the drug to take effect, but when Vader let go of him he shot him a questioning look.

Vader didn't bother answering. He unlocked the door with a nudge through the Force, turned around and strode out.

Once he'd taken the blood sample back to his hyperbaric chamber, he pulled up his own medical droid to extract a blood sample from his arm. It did so quickly; before long he'd shoved both samples into its processing unit and was waiting for the results.

The leather of his gloves creaked, he was clenching his fists so hard. He should have done this fourteen years ago. He should have done this the moment petty daydreams about a son that wasn't his had started interfering with his job; diplomacy be damned, he should have dragged the boy to Coruscant himself just to perform the test—

There was a beep, and Vader glanced at the datapad with the results.

97.23% chance of parent-child relationship.

The bottom dropped out of his stomach.

His first instinct was to throw the datapad across the chamber. It bounced against the wall, mercifully unbroken—he would need it later—but none of that mattered to him in that moment. He hunched over his knees, face devoid of the mask in the way it was at no other time, and he had never felt so old.

Luke Organa was his son.

He'd watched his son parade in front of him, grow up in front of him, and he hadn't known it.

Unquenched, insatiable anger rose in him. The Organas. They— they had taken his son, lied to him and to Vader, taught him their foolish ideas of right and wrong and led Luke astray until Vader had—

Vader had been about to—

He felt sick.

Luke was his son.

He'd suspected it for years. Why hadn't he done it earlier? Had he taken the Force's prompting as confirmation that the truth would only hurt him? Because it did.

It hurt him because his son was alive, and Vader hadn't been the one to raise him.

And now, in the past few hours, he'd done nothing but terrorise him, murdered his crew and allies, forced him into such a state of utter desperation and fear—

This was all the Organas' fault.

How dare they—

Vader's wrath washed over the chamber time and time again, always breaking and always returning. They had stolen so much from him. Had Obi-Wan given Luke to them? Had he ripped the child out of Padmé's womb, her child, her angel—

Are you an angel?

So much time, wasted and lost.

The rage came again. It always came again. He didn't think there would ever be a time where it stopped coming.

But between the waves, there was quiet. And in that quiet, there was sorrow. There was agony. There was the sheer, unadulterated terror that he didn't know what to do with Luke, or how to protect him, keep his enemies away from him.

There was joy amongst the quiet, as well.

Vader's child lived.

He had lost so much time, but no more. He could take that time now—he could talk to the boy he'd always wanted, the boy he'd watched from a distance; those two boys were one and the same, now.

Padmé had refused everything he'd offered her. But her son was still alive, and that meant it wasn't in vain.

That meant Vader could give the galaxy to one angel, even if the other couldn't be there to see it.


Vader didn't return to the cell after the revelation for several hours afterwards. He was a fool to think that Tarkin wouldn't have noticed.

He bristled when he was summoned to a briefing room to give his report on the interrogation—he was above this—but he was honest enough with himself to admit that it wasn't the only source of his agitation. This man was a threat to Luke.

For the first time in years, he had someone other to worry about.

"Lord Vader," Tarkin greeted, smiling thinly, "how goes your investigation? I have signed the order to terminate him the moment he is no longer useful—"

"The boy's resistance to the probe is considerable," Vader cut him off, stalling, Tarkin would not execute his son, "and the shields he has around his mind even more so. I needed only minutes in his presence to sense it. We shall not extract any information from him under these circumstances."

Don't send in other interrogators to work on him in the mean time. Don't torture my son, and drive him further into the grasp of these foolish Rebel ideals.

Tarkin's smile only grew. "He is a boy, Lord Vader. A stubborn, wilful one—as he has demonstrated on a great many occasions—but barely an adult. He can stand up to you?"

"He has always shown skill in this area. The Emperor himself had interests in his future, in convincing him of our cause, before his treachery was revealed."

Tarkin paused for a moment, face utterly still. . . but Vader knew he was processing that carefully. He hadn't known—no one, except Vader and Palpatine had—and Vader knew that Tarkin fancied himself as part of some triumvirate at the head of the Empire. Hearing that there had been such long term plans going on without him so much as hearing of them would. . . irk him.

He didn't like being out of the loop.

"Under these circumstances, you said?" he finally mused. Vader didn't bother nodding—it was a rhetorical question. "Then perhaps he would respond to alternative forms of persuasion."

Vader had no gift of foresight like his master's, but something inside him went colder than the depths of space at those words.

He snapped a little as he said, "Meaning?"

Tarkin might have shrugged, had such an irreverent gesture not been so at odds with his demeanour. "We have this battle station. We know that it is operational—and so does the boy. As little as he values his own life in regards to the information he carries"—Vader tensed—"how much would he value all the lives of his people?"

Tarkin's hand caressed the edge of the holoprojector. After a moment's pause, he switched it on, and a hologram of the galaxy filled the room. "We are less than a day's travel from Alderaan."

Vader let himself relax marginally. Tarkin was not threatening Luke. As distasteful as it was, he was threatening Alderaan.

Vader didn't care whether Alderaan lived or died, save that it might rob him of the pleasure of killing the Organas himself. The boy might, but only initially; eventually, he would come round to Vader's thinking, and understand that it was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Even so, Vader doubted Luke would give in to Tarkin's demands, and that could lead to the governor acting. . . rashly. He rarely took the responsibility for drastic actions—it was how he'd survived this long—and the fact that he'd already signed the order to kill Luke was concerning. He thought everything was assured.

Whatever Vader did, he needed to get Luke away from this man. It was the only way to keep him safe from him, and Pal—

He paused.

He had an idea.

"I suspect that even faced with that pressure, Organa will lie," Vader said. It was true. "However, you know as well as I do that the Emperor is not as helpless as people believe. He had plans for Organa before; that does not have to change, now."

"You think he can extract the information from him?"

"I think it is the most likely possibility. And once he has, it is his prerogative to decide whether he suffers or dies for his treason." Not yours.

If Tarkin noticed the implicit insult, he didn't respond.

"I am going to take the prince to Coruscant," Vader decided. It was his call to make, he was not Tarkin's pet, and his plan was solidifying by the moment. It took shape before his very eyes: the Imperial throne room, sunlit, a crown glinting like a halo. . .

"Very well, Lord Vader. I approve."

He didn't have the patience to debunk Tarkin's false assumption that he was allowing him to go; he just turned, and strode from the room.

He would take Luke to Palpatine. It was risky, but he would. And then he would pry the crown from the bastard's cold, dead hands, and put it on his son's head.

Where it belonged.


The trip to Coruscant was slightly longer than the trip to Alderaan would have been, but Vader made use of it. He tinkered with his suit in preparation for the upcoming confrontation; he had Luke checked over and thoroughly treated by a medic; he reported to his master.

Palpatine's fury had been a cold, cold thing when he reported Organa's treason, but he had not been surprised. If anything, he seemed more anticipant of their arrival.

"He no longer has his diplomatic immunity," he said. "He will not be able to resist us for much longer."

Vader took the opportunity immediately after the call to visit Luke, who was settling into his hastily-assembled quarters on the Devastator. It was still a prison cell, without a doubt—there were no viewports, and the door was locked—but at least there was a bed, as well as some changes of clothes, and a refresher. While Luke was showering himself, Vader had had his white Alderaanian robes removed from the room, forcing him to change into one of the stiff Imperial uniforms provided.

The uniform suited him. Vader said as much, confusing and angering Luke in equal parts.

The confusion could be avoided, he supposed, but he didn't want to tell Luke the truth just yet. He would understand after the Emperor was dead; until then, he didn't trust the boy not to inadvertently inform Palpatine that something was wrong. Shields or not, politician or not, this was too important for Vader to risk it over something as trivial as his son's comfort.

They arrived on Coruscant soon enough. Vader still didn't say anything to Luke when he entered his quarters to escort him to the shuttle, but the boy seemed to pick up on his mood anyway—of course he did; he was strong with the Force, he was Vader's son—and didn't bother resisting at first. He knew what the likely consequences would be.

That didn't mean he wasn't afraid. It permeated the air, the Force; he practically reeked of it. That fear had dogged his footsteps since the Tantive IV had first been dragged into the Devastator; Vader was, quite frankly, tired of it. Luke had nothing to fear from him.

From the Emperor was another matter, but he could hardly explain that distinction to the boy, or risk discovery.

He showed an admirable courage despite that fear—at least, until they reached the hangar. They were on the side of the ship facing the planet; through the shields, one could see out over Imperial City from here.

A surge of intense hatred surged through Luke.

Vader smiled behind the mask. He had so much anger inside of him.

But Luke had frozen. Along with that hatred, the fear had spiked; he now stood stock still in the middle of the hangar, transfixed by the sight of the planet that would, he believed, be his doom.

He might never see the blue and green orb of Alderaan again.

Vader took him by one shoulder and shoved him forward. "Keep moving."

Luke shot him a venomous look over one shoulder, but he kept moving.

The shuttle down was a short trip. Vader stayed in the passenger area with his son, watching every twitch the boy made. The stormtroopers tensed every time, raising their blasters. . . then just as quickly putting them back down again. Luke wasn't causing any trouble.

Vader wondered if he was saving his strength for the imminent confrontation.

The shuttle landed, Luke tensed again, and he didn't relax. Vader sensed Palpatine reach out to latch onto his presence, and idly wondered whether that was what Luke had tensed at; while he wasn't trained, he was certainly powerful enough to sense it, if only as a sudden drop in temperature.

Vader got to his feet. It was the moment of truth.

"Bring him."

Vader tried to stride through the palace as quickly as possible, but Luke was dragging his feet. Perhaps he wanted to make the most of his last seconds of life. Vader didn't know, nor did he care; it was getting on his nerves.

He wrapped her hand around the boy's bicep and yanked him forward, out of the troopers' grips.

"Keep up," he hissed, and took off again.

They made it to the throne room soon enough. Vader took one moment to stare up at the ornately carved doors, then he forged right on in.

Palpatine sat on the dais at the end of the room, his throne elevated above everyone else. A smile grew on his face as he beheld Luke, scared and small and shivering next to Vader's massive bulk.

He rose from his throne and walked down the steps. His cane clacked against the floor.

"Organa," he greeted, his tone as warm as ever. Given the situation, it was more threatening that anger could ever be. "Why did you leave the capital so swiftly, my friend? We've missed you in the Senate these past few days."

There was no response from Luke. Vader grabbed him by the shoulder and threw him to his knees, to complete the image of a cruel jailor. He took no pleasure in it, but that made no difference to his son; he just glowered up at him with all the fire of a thousand suns.

"I was otherwise occupied, Your Highness," Luke bit out. He didn't even bother to follow the Emperor's charade, despite being a politician himself. It made Vader oddly pleased.

Palpatine's smile dropped then, and the expression behind it made Vader shiver. Anger, crystal, cool and calculating, collected in his voice as he chided, "With treason?"

The boy didn't even flinch. He lifted his chin, gave a sardonic smile and gestured to his bound wrists. "Evidently."

A flash of lightning.

Luke was blasted back, screaming; a part of Vader screamed in response.

Palpatine lowered his hands as Luke shuddered on the fall, trying to dispel the twitches running through him. He dragged himself back to his knees.

The motion pulled the skin of his wrists against the binders; he whimpered. Vader could well imagine why. The metal of the binders would have conducted the electricity to that region, scorched his skin outright, charred and burnt. . .

Palpatine walked forward to meet Luke again, past Vader. He had his back turned to him, now.

"I gave you all that attention and prestige," Palpatine mused, accompanied by another burst of lightning, another scream, "and you still turned against me." Another. There was an itch in a spot of Vader's chest that had lain empty for nearly twenty years.

Luke wrenched from inside himself the strength to lift his head and snarl, "I—"

"I know you were always a spy." Flash; scream. "I'd just begun to work on you. We fed you all the details we wanted your petty insurgence to have. Didn't you ever wonder why so many massacres occurred on your information?"

Flash; scream. And underneath it, something darker unfurling, a deep, black hatred Vader could sense growing within his son.

"Soon enough, you would have given us all the information we wanted."

"I would never—"

Flash.

"I'd only begun to work on you, boy. You would have done anything I wanted." Palpatine leant down to caress Luke's jawline in his hand; Luke yanked his head away from his touch. "You still will."

"You'll have to kill me first."

"Fool." There was no amusement in Palpatine's voice anymore. "You have no idea the power you wield, do you? You try to hide it behind those flimsy shields of yours, but you are incandescent. It's like trying to hide a supernova with a bead curtain. I assure you, I have no intention of killing you."

He electrocuted him again. Luke's face turned to thunder, but all the scowling in the galaxy couldn't hide the terror that flashed through it—nor the anger.

"There. You feel it, don't you? The power the anger gives you, the focus. Use your anger to unlock those binders, and that will save you quite a bit of pain, will it not?"

There was no answer from Luke. In retaliation, Palpatine sent a longer, focused blast towards his hands. Luke shouted as the metal burned red hot.

Vader felt his panic grow, and took a step forward. Palpatine was too busy tormenting Luke to notice.

"If you don't act soon you might well lose the use your hands, young Organa. We wouldn't want that sort of permanent damage, would we?"

Alarmed, Vader took another few steps forward.

"Go on." Flash. "Unlock them."

Luke shook his head, but with less vehemence than before. "I don't—" he choked out, "I don't know how."

"Visualise it with your mind. Stretch out with your feelings," Palpatine said, gleeful, excited that he was finally giving in. After so many months of work, he'd finally made some progress with the slave he wanted to command— "You have the power. You could achieve anything if you used it?"

Luke paused. Palpatine raised his hands, ready to deliver another blow, when the boy stalled him with his tentative, "Anything?"

There was curiosity in the word—curiosity, and for all the boy's nobleness, greed.

But, most of all, there was hope.

"Anything," Palpatine cooed. "Now, just give into that power, I can teach you how to use it."

"No." Luke shook his head again. "No, I won't—"

He was cut off with another scream. Vader started to reach for his lightsaber—

Palpatine poured everything he had into the next attack. Luke wasn't even screaming anymore; it was more like a bone-deep wailing that ripped from his vocal cords. Pain bloomed inside him, and along with it anger, more, hatred—

"Reach for them."

Luke reached for the emotions, and Vader felt him sharpen, his mind clearing. A surge of power flooded him, finally, and Vader realised what was going to happen a heartbeat before Palpatine did.

Luke wasn't going for the binders.

Luke was going for Palpatine.

The Emperor was thrown back, right towards where Vader had conveniently positioned himself—and he turned his lightsaber on.

It hummed, bloodthirsty, and sheared through the old man's body like it was made of flimsi.

The two pieces fell to the floor with a thud.

Luke stared at Vader, then at Palpatine, then at Vader again. But Vader was already moving on.

Palpatine was dead, properly; he could sense it. The most immediate threat to Luke's wellbeing was the royal guards outside, so he'd deal with them next.

"Do not go anywhere," he ordered Luke, "or I will find you. I will return in a moment."

He strode out of the throne room, leaving his son lying in an agonised heap on the floor.


Luke let a tear slide down his face when Vader left the room, but allowed no more to fall. The man would be coming back soon, after all.

He tried to force himself to his feet, but hissed. More tears pricked his eyes when he glanced down at his wrists.

For a moment he reached for that. . . coldness. . . Palpatine had incited him to use, but the moment he touched it he shuddered and let it drop. It made him feel powerful, yes, but he could feel what it was doing to him otherwise, and he didn't like it.

Instead, he eyed the door. He could hear grunts and cries coming from beyond it; it didn't take a genius to work out what was going on out there. With the Emperor dead, the royal guards would be looking for vengeance.

But it might well take a genius to work out what had gone on in here.

The Emperor was dead.

Vader had killed the Emperor.

Hadn't he?

Everything was pain. He jumped remembered lightning, blue and white and violet, and pain, Palpatine's words quiet over the roaring of his own head—

Then he'd thrown him back. Hadn't he?

It was like the power he'd seen Vader use on occasion. Telekinesis, or whatever it was called—the Force? That was what the Jedi had used. . .

Palpatine had goaded him, and somehow Luke had tapped into that power, and then. . . Vader had cut him in half.

Had he hallucinated that?

He dragged himself onto his knees and glanced over at the Emperor's cooling corpse.

Nope. That was real.

But—

What—

Why

The screams outside stopped; the doors to the throne room hissed open again. Belatedly, Luke realised he should have spent these precious minutes alone looking for an alternate route to escape, to get back to the Rebellion and see if Kenobi had arrived with the Death Star plans. Who knew what Vader was going to do with him now? Kill him? Frame him as Palpatine's murderer?

But it was too late now. The Sith Lord was striding right towards him again, his gestures clipped and impatient, lightsaber still lit. He stopped right in front of Luke.

Luke closed his eyes, trying to ignore the terror that stabbed through him. He could see the wash of red light through his eyelids—

There was a snap-hiss and the red light vanished.

Luke opened his eyes in shock.

"You did not take the time to unlock your binders?" There was irritation in his voice, and some genuine confusion.

Luke just lifted his chin stubbornly, and said nothing.

Vader made a sound that seemed suspiciously like a sigh, then waved his hand. The binders fell to the floor.

Luke stared.

He'd wanted Luke to free himself?

"What," he asked, none too gently, "the hell is going on?"

Vader crossed his arms across his chest, almost defensively. "We have killed Palpatine."

"We?"

"Indeed. Did you think I alone was to blame?"

"I thought it was pretty damn convenient that you were standing right behind him with your lightsaber lit while he was distracted."

The man seemed. . . amused. . . at that. Luke was usually nowhere near that blunt, but he was angry, and he was in pain, and he didn't have the energy or patience for politicking right now.

"Indeed," Vader said, "I had intended to kill him from the moment I found out who you were."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Luke snapped out, trying to disguise the bad feeling building in his chest.

"It means that you are my son."

It took a moment for the words to register in his mind and even then, they incited only confusion. "What? Bail Organa is my father and Breha Organa is my mother, what poodoo—"

"Not your kidnapper," Vader growled. Luke gave a pointed look to the binders that implied that if anyone was a kidnapper here, it was Vader. "They stole you from me and paraded you right in front of my eyes. I am your father, and my wife was your mother, not those pathetic excuses for a king and queen."

"Viceroy and queen," Luke corrected.

"I do not care. You are mine."

Luke said coolly, "I don't belong to anyone." Then, because he could feel Vader's rage building, his fists clenching, he barrelled on, "So, what? You murdered Palpatine based on a delusion? And I've been in the Senate for over a year now—why didn't you do anything before?" Vader was quiet for a moment. "Wasn't convenient?"

"Indeed. And. . ." For the first time, Vader almost seemed hesitant. "I was a fool."

Luke could feel his gaze scanning his face.

"I do not know if you remember the first time I met you. It was at the celebration for the fifth Empire Day, and you were standing staring at some of the carvings on the wall. You looked like—" He cut himself off. "I had my suspicions about you from that moment onwards. But I never acted on them, never dared to imagine. . ." His mask tilted towards Palpatine's corpse. "He had told me that I killed my wife, and our unborn child. I couldn't believe it."

For a moment, Luke wondered why Vader had been so convinced he'd killed his wife. Then he decided that he never wanted to know the answer.

"So what changed?" he pushed on, hard-pressed to keep the scorn out of his voice. "You suddenly decided that suspicions were enough to go on?"

"No." Vader's annoyance with him was quickly becoming evident. Good. Luke would have hated to think he'd performed all this reticence in vain. "On the Death Star, I took a blood test."

Luke sucked in a breath. "No."

"It came up as a parent-child relationship."

"No."

"You are my son, Luke."

"No!"

"Repeating that word like a child will not make it so. This is the truth. Cease your pointless denial."

"Or what?" Laughter bubbled up in Luke's throat; he let it out, hysterical. "You'll ground me? Send me to my room?"

"One would think the Emperor of the known universe would have multiple rooms."

Perhaps that was meant as a joke, but Luke latched onto the pertinent part of that sentence: "Emperor of the known universe?"

"Of course." Vader said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You are my son, and the Emperor just died. You are the natural successor."

"Maybe to you. I'm Luke Organa. I'm the prince of a planet, not an empire."

"But you should have been." The vehemence in the words shocked Luke; Vader took two long steps forward and took Luke's chin in his hand, tilting it up to look at him. "You should have been the prince, the unquestioned heir. You weren't, but you are now. And you will be the Emperor."

"No one will support me."

"The military will support me. That is all you need."

Luke took a step back and wrenched his chin from Vader's grip. "I won't run a military dictatorship."

"I am not giving you a choice."

"I'll negotiate peace with the Rebellion."

"If you think you can end this wasteful war, be my guest."

"I'll dissolve the Empire. Reinstate the Republic."

"I assure you, young one," Luke cringed at the epithet, "you won't."

Luke shook his head. Looked at the ground. The burns around his wrists twinged as he whispered, "I don't want to be Emperor."

There was a hand on the side of his face, deceptively gentle. Luke let Vader lift his head up again, trying to ignore how cold those durasteel hands were.

Vader said, his tone low, "Would you rather I became Emperor instead?"

Yes. Anyone but me.

But he had some idea of what Vader—his father—would do with that sort of power.

So there was only one option he could choose.


The doors to the throne room were thrown wide open. The Coruscanti Weather Control had cleared the skies for today, and sunlight streamed through the vast windows, glinting off the forms of dozens of species' representatives. The room was chock full of them: well-dressed Dugs from Malastare, reluctant but open-minded Twi'leks of the Free Ryloth movement, stately Gatalentans in their subdued but colourful robes. There were so many cultures and so much diversity in one room that it swirled in the Force, brightness incarnate, bursting with the myriad of hopes, reservations and fears of every delegation that had come to speak with the newly crowned Emperor.

Vader, standing quietly in the shadows behind the throne, kept his eyes on only one person.

Luke wore gleaming white and gold robes. It was a nod to his home planet that had irked Vader, but they spent far too much time arguing for him to raise an objection over something so petty. The crown Vader had placed on his head during the coronation earlier that day gleamed gold as well, like a burning halo nestled in his curls. His smile was constant, but never forced or false; Vader could feel the genuine joy radiating from him from all the way across the room.

Luke finished up his conversation with the delegation from Sullust, and his smile faltered for a moment. He turned to look at Vader, the light shifting over his figure, and Vader was struck by a vibrant sense of déjà vu from the time he'd first laid eyes on him.

He looked every bit as angelic as he had as a little boy.

His relationship with Luke in the past few weeks had not improved much. The boy kept pushing for the dissolution of the Empire, peace with the Alliance; in fact, Vader would not be surprised if he forewent the set speech for the end of this gathering and just publicly announced his intentions in a way that couldn't be retracted.

But in amongst the arguments about liberty and security, Vader and Luke's relationship had improved. Luke had dogged him with questions about his birth mother—apparently he'd dreamed about her, when he was younger—and when that failed, dogged him with questions about himself. Not even things about the past; Vader refused to answer those. But he asked extensively about hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes instead.

Anything to humanise the father he'd thought was a monster.

Those moments of peace were the sort of thing Vader would sell his soul for—had sold his soul for.

Which was why, when he found out that Luke had surreptitiously invited Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and—to his personal horror—Ahsoka Tano as official representatives of the Rebellion, he hadn't objected. To seem too vehement in his opposition would be to push his son away. And that was the last thing he wanted.

That didn't mean he jaw didn't clench when Luke threw himself at that kidnapper and hugged him, called him "Father" when he still never called Vader such. . . but he could take this slowly. Peace talks with the Rebellion would take time, and he could use that time to correct Luke's views of the galaxy. By that point, he'd understand that his were the best possible hands to rule it, and he would no longer care what that viceroy thought.

He'd bide his time, Vader told himself. He was bide his time.

And he would spend his time at this gathering avoiding Ahsoka Tano while he was at it.

So when Luke finally mounted the dais to address the crowd, and voiced exactly the sort of sentiments Vader had expected him to voice, Vader kept quiet.

Three months later, the Death Star would be decommissioned.

Five months later, Luke would tell Vader about the return of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice, Leia Skywalker. Vader would destroy a set of rooms, but calm himself as soon as possible.

Three years later, the Empire would have long since become a Republic and Luke would have stepped down as Emperor. But Vader no longer cared by that point.

His son was happy. His daughter was happy. And—most importantly—happy with him. He had his family.

And at the heart of it, that was all Anakin Skywalker had ever really wanted.

Chapter Text

Royal AU & Accidental Eavesdropping

The castle of Lord Vader was a terrifying thing. It rose out of the volcanic rocks and ashes of Mustafar, guarded by a treacherous network of passes and continuous small eruptions from the volcano it was situated on. The only way into the castle—the fortress, almost—was through one specific pass heavily guarded and watched at all times.

It was one of the largest, most effective military strongholds in Palpatine's Empire.

Luke had no idea how he'd managed to get here.

He was a farmer. And sure, a wannabe knight, but that dream had always been so ridiculously unrealistic it was an insult to tell people when they asked. They'd only just laugh at him anyway.

He was a farmer. That was all he'd thought that he would ever be, until Palpatine went to war.

He'd heard the rumours before he got the conscription notice, of course. Alderaan, Naboo, Chandrila, some other prosperous nations had joined together to object to Palpatine's policies, and their objections had been violent. The unrest had only grown until half the Empire was at war with itself, the Rebels derided as Separatists and the Imperials derided as fanatics and slaves.

It hadn't been unusual for both sorts to come through the bars of Anchorhead. Luke had worked there in his free time—it was the only way to make enough money to help keep the farm aloft and spend time with his friends simultaneously—and he'd spoken to insurgent and loyalist alike, both scornful of their enemy. Sometimes he'd had both at the same time, and they'd had to force them to take the fight outside.

Blood would stain the dust and their doorstep, but so long as it didn't stain the door itself Luke wasn't responsible for cleaning it off.

Then the war had escalated, and the Empire had needed new troops.

And now Luke was here.

"Skywalker!" barked his commanding officer, a gruff man with one glaring eye. "Stop dawdling and get back to work!"

Work. Cleaning the weapons and returning them to their owners. Painstakingly taking the inventory then checking then checking it again. Hurrying back and forth to transport the water and food rations to their corresponding places. There was no end to what the youngest, scrawniest member of the Imperial Army would be ordered to do in lieu of actually training him.

He'll be a liability in battle, the recruitment officers had scoffed. Look at it, he's got no muscle on him at all.

Actually, Luke did; you didn't work on a farm your whole life without it. But he was small, and that was a crime enough in an empire with ideas too big and grand for its reality.

"I've finished, sir," he bit out, politely. He knew full well his commanding officer was going to strike or demote him or both any day now, but he could no longer bring himself to care. "Is there anything else you'd like me to do, or may I begin training?"

It was a stupid question, really. There was always more work to do. The Imperial Army didn't need an extra soldier; it needed a decent organiser.

It just needed someone who had their act together.

"Of course there's more work to do, where do you think you are?" the officer snapped. He paused, narrowed his eyes at Luke, then glanced down at his pack.

Luke followed his gaze. At the top of the pack, just peeking out, was a rolled up letter.

"Boy," the man said, "deliver this missive to Lord Vader."

Luke's eyes blew wide. The officer smirked at the terror on his face.

The letter was bad news. It had to be bad news, if no one else wanted to take it. And everyone in the Imperial Army knew what Vader did to people who brought him bad news.

His commanding officer held the letter out to him.

Luke, staring, made no move to grab it.

"Take it, boy," the man said. "That's an order."

Luke took it.

The man gave a nasty smile. "Hurry along, now."

Luke swallowed, and looked up at the castle proper. He'd been camped in the courtyard this whole time; while soldiers were technically allowed into the castle, he hadn't entered yet.

Well, here goes nothing.

He took a deep breath and started forwards.

It was nerve-wracking, and it was intimidating, but he made it through the stringent security measures without too much bother. An alert was sent up to Lord Vader to be expecting him, but to Luke's dismay no one stepped in to say that they'd deliver the report in his stead—not even the people who interacted with him on a daily basis. They just gave him slightly pitying looks, like they knew exactly what was going to happen to him.

The stairs he had to climb up were numerous; for a moment, he wondered if exhausting any potential attackers was another part of Vader's defence. He supposed it also meant that people only wanted to climb the stairs to talk to you if it was a genuine emergency, and he was interrupted less for stupid reasons.

From what he'd heard of Vader and his tendency to. . . dismiss. . . any unwanted interruptions, the latter was probably more likely.

The corridor he emerged onto was a long one, just as barren of tapestries or other decoration as the rest of the castle. In fact, the impression Luke had received so far from the place was that it was just. . . part of the mountain.

It was what it was: a military base. The fact that Vader lived here was irrelevant, and the man clearly expected everyone to treat it as such.

There were more windows up here, though, and Luke shivered. The wind whistled in through the slits, ruffling his hair and clothes and trying to tug the missive from his hand. He clutched it tighter.

Through the windows, all he could see was a vivid orange and black. After a blink, it discerned itself into a continuous lava flow beneath what looked like the wreckage of a mining facility atop the volcano. There was a particular ledge that stood out in the view, stark in the contrast, and Luke had to wonder why the sight of that particular spot gave him such chills.

The wind picked up again, whistling. The corridor took on the note and thrummed, echoes reverberating all the way up and down it. When Luke took a step that snapped like a thunderclap, and the round of applause that chased it down the hall sent yet another coldness tingling down his back.

He kept walking anyway.

Now he could hear voices.

He instinctively slowed when he did, scolded himself, then sped up again. He would reach the door he'd been given directions to, go in, hand over the letter, then get out of there. He didn't need to linger; he didn't need to slow. Everything would be perfectly—

"—Skywalker?"

He nearly screamed. But whoever was speaking wasn't addressing him.

He approached the door carefully. Voices came from behind it: one, an elderly rasp; the other, a coarse, gruff bark through damaged vocal cords. It was the rasp that had sounded earlier, and now it sounded again:

"Skywalker's child is dead. As is his wife. I suggest you don't concern yourself with his memory," there was a sneer in the word, "any longer."

The coarse voice said, low and ragged, sounding thoroughly cowed, "Yes. . . my master."

There was no warning save the hiss of cloth against stone. Luke lifted his hand to rap on the door when it opened very suddenly and an old man made to step out. Luke threw himself to the side instantly to let him pass.

Then he stared.

He knew that face. That was the face on the side of the coins he received whenever he was paid.

He belatedly threw himself to his knees, so hard the cold stone crashed into him and sent bruises all up his calf. He ignored it, keeping his head bowed. "Your Highness, I—"

Stop talking, a voice inside him hissed. Don't babble, and don't speak in the Emperor's presence without first being spoken to!

He shut his mouth with an audible click.

He could still sense Palpatine's assessing gaze on him, but refused to raise his eyes to meet it.

"Lord Vader," Palpatine said finally, sounding like he was enjoying making him squirm. "You have a messenger for you. Tell me, boy," he address Luke, "how long were you there for?"

Luke swallowed. "Not long, Your Highness."

"'Not long'," Palpatine echoed. "Very vague. Were you eavesdropping?"

Luke shook his head vehemently. "Absolutely not, Your Highness."

"Hmm." It was impossible to tell if the Emperor believed him or not. "Very well, go on in. I'm sure Lord Vader is anxious to hear your news."

He walked away without a backward glance.

Luke stayed kneeling on the floor, hesitating—

"You heard him," that coarse voice—Vader—snapped. Luke could tell that his ire was growing by the minute. "Get in here and give me the letter."

Luke hurried in, holding out the letter almost before he'd lifted his head.

When he did lift his head, he regretted it immediately.

The visage he saw was not the iconic helmet and death mask of the man responsible for so many of the Empire's victories. For once, it was the face underneath.

Luke had never seen someone with more scars.

He was staring, he knew, but he couldn't seem to stop.

Vader yanked the sealed letter from Luke's hand, sulphur-yellow eyes not moving off Luke's for one moment. "How much did you hear?" he asked softly—dangerously.

Luke knew he was about to die, but he wasn't above begging. "Nothing of any importance, my lord—"

"Anything of interest?"

Luke couldn't lie to Lord Vader, so he remained silent.

Vader noticed, and grew, if possible, even tenser. "Well?"

Luke hung his head. "It's nothing, my lord."

"Clearly it's not, and I expect an answer."

"I thought you mentioned my father," he burst out. "Or— or me, or another relative, or someone, but you said my family name."

Luke watched Vader's expression shift subtly as he though back over what had been said—the only name mentioned.

There was a moment of pregnant silence before— "Skywalker?" He hissed the name.

Luke nodded. "Yes, sir. I'm Ensign Luke Skywalker; my father was—"

"Anakin Skywalker."

Luke's eyes widened, but he nodded. "Yes."

Vader stared at him, and it hit Luke that his eyes were blue as they moved over Luke's face, his uniform, his stature. Then they locked gazes again, and it hit him that they weren't just blue: they were the exact same blue as Luke's.

"Luke Skywalker," Vader whispered.

Paper crunched. Luke glanced at the letter he'd just delivered, to see it crumple in Vader's fist.

Vader turned sharply and walked over to the table in the corner. It was laden with maps and reports—battle tactics, Luke realised, eyes wide—but it was surrounded by chairs. Vader pulled one out; it scraped along the floor with a sound that made Luke wince.

Vader took his seat on it, then gestured to the nearest chair with his chin.

"Sit down, young one," he said. His tone was oddly soft—almost hesitant. "It seems we have much to discuss."


Wedding AU & Fake Marriage

Luke focused on the slow, methodical slip of brown hair through his fingers as he plaited it, and tried to ignore the churning in his chest.

Something was going to go wrong.

Leia looked splendid in her white dress, despite his poor excuses for plaits. She smiled at him gently in the mirror; he tried to smile back, but the knot in his stomach only grew.

"You know it's not a real wedding, right?" Leia said teasingly.

Luke rolled his eyes and let out a huff, stepping back to admire his shoddy work. He knew it was an honour that Leia trusted him enough to let him brush or plait her hair at all, and he hoped he hadn't disappointed her.

"No?" he deadpanned. "And here I was thinking you were marrying Wedge for real! Next are you going to tell me you're not actually my sister?"

She laughed at that—they both knew just how dissimilar they looked. It was a miracle the man who was graciously allowing him to use his castle as a wedding venue had bought the story.

But hey, it had worked. They'd managed to smuggle in Han and the rest of the Rogues, who were combing the castle for information about the Empire as they spoke. All they had to do was pull it off and distract him with the wedding until they were done here.

The plan so far was going great: Wedge, as the "groom", was waiting just a few doors down in the grand hall with all the other "wedding guests", while Luke, as the "brother of the bride", was due to give Leia away. They'd be called in any moment now, and then—

"Uh oh," Leia said, catching his eye in the mirror. There was a slight smile on her face, one he couldn't help himself from smiling back to, no matter how much dread pooled in his stomach. "I know that look."

Luke had to say it. "I have a bad feeling about—"

"Don't jinx it," she said, half-jokingly, but he knew it was a genuine warning. She had more faith in his Force abilities than he did, these days; if he said he was worried for reasons he couldn't place, she began to worry as well. And he didn't want her to worry.

But he didn't want her to be unprepared, either.

So he pointedly tapped his side, where his hidden blaster was concealed. She nodded gravely, and tapped the spot of her leg where her blaster was hidden under her dress, in response.

Luke felt his comlink buzz. The signal to enter.

He tilted his head towards the door. "It's time to go."

Leia rose to her feet gracefully, then held out her elbow. He took it and escorted her out of the room as politely as it was possible for him to be when he was struggling not to trip over the train of her dress.

The corridor was only dimly lit, but it had been when they entered, so that wasn't suspicious. What was suspicious was that the lights in the main hall—the place they were holding the wedding—were off as well.

The castle was an old one; the door was wood, and opened manually. Before he pushed it open, staring at the lack of light through the slit at the bottom, Luke stretched out with the Force.

Or rather, tried to.

All he managed to feel was a jumble of people beyond the door. One of them he recognised as Wedge, another as Hobbie, but he wasn't familiar enough with the rest of the Rebels they'd brought on this mission to recognise them by Force sense alone. Nor was he skilled enough to accurately interpret the general mood of all these minds: there was fear, certainly, and worry, but it felt like something was… clouding everything for him. He couldn't read, couldn't judge. He felt…

He glanced at Leia, at her concerned glance, and shivered.

…cold.

Everything in him was screaming not to go in there.

He glanced at Leia again. She frowned, and tilted her head towards the door, but he could feel her agitation building, even if he could feel nothing else with clarity.

A part of him had to wonder why.

"Come on, Luke," she said softly, breaking him out of his panicked thoughts. "We need to go."

He shook his head. "I have—"

"I know. You said." A faint smile. "But where else are we gonna go?"

Good point.

Luke still didn't like it, but it was a good point.

He pushed the door open and escorted them in.

It wasn't pitch black inside; he could see the silhouettes of the "guests", the "groom", the "vicar" standing behind him. He let out a breath. Maybe he was being ridiculous. Maybe they just wanted to turn the lights off for dramatic effect, reveal them at the last moment, for all that Leia's white dress would glow like a beacon in the dark—

A beacon.

The warning came in a flash. Luke yanked Leia to the side, and not a moment too soon: a crimson blaster bolt shot through the dark and embedded itself in the door behind them.

Luke was on his feet again in an instant, blaster in his left hand and lightsaber igniting with a violent snap-hiss in the other. Leia stood shoulder to shoulder with him, her own blaster drawn.

The lights flickered on.

Luke winced, caught off guard for one moment.

One moment was all that was needed. An unseen force wrenched their weapons from their hands and sent Leia toppling to the ground, Luke's head whipping around to watch her fall.

Then he clapped eyes on who else was in the room.

Stormtroopers lined the walls, their blasters—set to kill—trained on the Rebels who occupied the seats, all bound and gagged. They gaped at Luke wide eyed.

A creeping cold crept over him, and he understood what had happened.

Slowly, gradually—reluctantly—he turned his head to face the altar.

At least Wedge was still alive. He stood up there, dressed in all his finery, and he was frozen.

If Luke had to wager, he would bet that the man who he'd thought was the outline of the vicar was holding him still with the Force.

He didn't know how he could have ever thought that was the vicar. Vader was far too tall and broad; besides, Luke could hear the hissing of his respirator from here.

Vader stepped forward, and said in an almost smug tone of voice, "Surrender, Skywalker." He waved a hand, and a blast shot went off, accompanied by a dying cry. Luke winced, and selfishly hoped it wasn't anyone he knew. "I believe you know my threat."

Leia, even while getting yanked to her feet and wrestled into binders by a trooper, found the time to hiss, "Luke, don't, run, get away—"

"You'll let them all go if I do?" Luke asked—challenged, more like, his tone clear and ringing. He eyed the troopers nearest to him, coming uncomfortably close.

If they pushed him, Luke would push back. Unarmed or not, he knew that could get very messy and potentially fatal very quickly.

Vader no doubt knew that too, because after several cycles of his respirator, loud in the cloying quiet of the room, he said, "Perhaps."

"Yes or no?" Luke pushed, still watching the people around him, still coming closer—

Vader hissed out a breath. "Yes," he spat, "now surrender."

"Don't trust him, Luke!" Leia said.

But it wasn't like Luke had a choice, was it?

"Alright," he said. "Deal."

He made to lift his hands to his head, but they didn't even make it there. A blue stun bolt struck him right in the chest.

He sank to his knees and the darkness almost instantly.

Instinctively, despite his surrender, he fought it. He managed to hold on just long enough to hear Leia's shouts of protest, and another, gentler voice, inside his head, insisting, sleep…

He slept.


Locked in a Room & Twenty-Four Hours to Live: Attempt 1

For the fifth time in as many minutes, Luke struggled off the bed in the centre of the room and paced the carpet, ignoring the pounding in his head. Five paces to the wall with the window in it; eight paces to the door; three paces back to the end of the bed. Start again: five paces to the wall with the window in it. . .

While he was at the window, he peered through it and down. The castle gardens loomed just beyond the transparisteel, swarmed with stormtroopers in an almost mocking parody of what they had looked like when he'd arrived.

Then, it had seemed almost like a safe haven for him. An old castle surrounded by walled gardens and orchards, run by the son of an old friend of Master Obi-Wan's? For a padawan who'd been living rough on the planet for weeks now, desperately trying to find his way back to the Rebellion, it was a dream come true. It was perfect.

Too perfect.

He'd never been entirely relaxed—he was, after all, a Jedi in a galaxy ruled by the Sith, and also extremely ill. . . but the fact that he was ill hindered his ability to see what was going on right in front of him.

Because while the previous magnate who'd owned the castle had been very fond of Obi-Wan and wouldn't have hesitated to help his padawan, the man's son was. . . less inclined to do so.

One thing he was inclined to do was report to Lord Vader that he had the infamous Luke Skywalker in his custody.

It had taken less than a minute for the comm officers on Vader's bridge to field the message to him, and Luke had been greeted to the horrifying sight of Vader's head and shoulders materialising in the air before him. After that, it had taken less than ten seconds of intense scrutiny on the Dark Lord's part before he said in a tone so smug Luke had the extremely un-Jedi-like urge to punch him, "Skywalker."

"Vader," he spat back, ignoring the way it rang in his ears. The ground swayed under him.

Vader's tone shifted from smugness to something more akin to satisfaction. "Still full of anger and hatred, I see. Good."

"I am a Jedi—"

"Good work catching him, magnate," Vader said. Luke had the funny feeling it was just to get him to stop talking. He would be almost amused at the disgust with which he said magnate, did he not have the fury of a thousand suns trapped in his chest. "I am departing immediately to collect him; I shall arrive in twenty four hours. I presume you will still be holding him by then?" His voice darkened with the threat.

The magnate—Durron, his name was—swallowed. "Of course, my lord. We are quite capable of holding one insurgent—"

"He is a Jedi. He must not be underestimated."

Luke wasn't sure whether to be more flattered or annoyed. Flattered, because Vader had always treated him like a pathetic opponent when they'd met face-to-face; annoyed because this was only going to make things harder on him.

Annoyed, the voice in his head said. It sounded a lot like Leia. You should be annoyed.

Luke followed the voice's advice and glowered at Vader.

Vader barely glanced at him.

"My father had some dealings with Jedi during the Clone Wars," Durron said, babbling in his urge to please Vader. Luke was faintly disgusted by it. "I believe we may have some resources left over—do you think binders that prevent him from feeling the Force would be suitable, my lord?"

Luke's stomach plummeted. No—

"They will be adequate," Vader said curtly. "Just ensure he is still there, and still alive, when I arrive."

So you can kill me yourself? Luke had wanted to scream. He'd tried to run through the breathing exercises Obi-Wan had ever taught him, but the anger wasn't dispelling fast enough; it build even as he released it, building and building to a crescendo—

Now he was here.

Luke had tugged at the binders on his wrists so often they chafed. His skin was getting rubbed raw, bleeding in some places, but the pain was nothing to him right now. He hated not being able to feel the Force. It was like losing one of his senses, like losing a limb—and, thanks to Vader, he thought sourly, he knew enough about that.

At least his synthskin didn't bleed the way his organic skin did. That was one relief.

It was the only one.

Luke didn't have the Force. He was locked in a room, kept in by multiple guards—he didn't know how many, because he didn't have the Force—outside the door and the window. He had twenty four hours to live before Vader got here and probably struck him down on the spot. And. . .

He coughed. Blood splattered the hand he'd raised to his mouth; he gagged a little.

. . .then there was the reason he'd been desperate enough to come here at all.

Luke had been trapped on this planet for weeks. Months, perhaps. He'd survived that long, subsiding off charity and minor theft and scavenging for as long as possible, all in the hopes that Leia would notice he was missing and send a search party. None had come.

Then he'd become ill.

It drifted in and out. Sometimes his legs would tremble underneath him as he wandered, but he'd be able to keep wandering; other times his mind would give out altogether and he'd find himself waking up hours later in a ditch on the side of the road, the sun low in the sky. The pain seemed to move around his body: in his back, he couldn't walk properly; in his legs, he collapsed; in his head, he couldn't think; in his chest, he coughed.

A lot.

And there was blood.

He'd been desperate. When he'd heard the name of an old acquaintance of Obi-Wan's, it had taken him days to get to the castle. And by the time he'd laid eyes on that garden and the winding path up to the door, his head had hurt too much for him to particularly care whether he lived or died. He just wanted relief.

They'd given it to him. Durron had given him medicine, enough to prevent him from fainting or vomiting, enough to keep him lucid, and then he'd commed Vader.

Now there was a hammer striking Luke's head like an anvil, with enough heat in his face for the accompanying forge.

Was he going to die?

Maybe.

He couldn't muster any alarm for the idea. At least if he died in the next few hours, Vader wouldn't have the satisfaction of killing him himself. . .

He made to fiddle with the binders again. Pain splintered through his wrists; ire rose in his chest. What was going on? Why was this all happening to him? The Force was supposed to be with him, with his family; why then was he sitting on a bed in binders, the only surviving Skywalker, not sure if he was going to die slowly and painfully of disease or by the hand of the man who'd killed Master Obi-Wan—

Anger is of the dark side.

He shook the memory off; it wasn't what he wanted to hear right now. He stood up, intending on retracing the route to the door and back—

He fainted.

His dream was strange. He was in a dark, shadowy forest, the branches reaching for him like claws. One of them actually did reach him, curling round his shoulder in a grip that felt more like a strong, gnarled hand than wood and bark.

Look.

Luke squinted, but all he could see was the shifting darkness.

A finger—or maybe just another shadow—curled around his neck like a noose, cold to the touch.

He shivered.

Look.

Half-turning his head away from the sharp, sharp branches that seemed to near his face with every breath—some of them had thorns—he peered harder through the dark.

It seemed to clear, suddenly, and he saw it: a massive figure, shrouded in darkness itself. It towered over Luke, wearing shadows like Sith robes. The brightest thing about it were its burning yellow eyes.

It had no thorns dogging its every movement. Indeed, they seemed to grow around it, controlled by its every movement and will. Its eyes flickered, and some of them retreated from Luke as well—for a moment, at least.

Then they curled back around him. He gasped as they pricked at his throat; he dared not breathe too deeply, lest they—

Laughter.

He heard nothing—there was no sound here; even the words were just imprints in his mind. But he felt the malicious amusement and cold mirth behind it, felt the vibrations. The hand on his shoulder tightened further, thorns drew blood across his Jedi robes, and he fought not to gasp.

He glanced up, staring above him, but there was no hint of sky through the dense thicket.

More laughter.

Do you search for the stars, Skywalker? Do you want to fly away?

He tried to squeeze his eyes shut, but for some reason he couldn't, his gaze fixated on the figure before him.

There are no stars down here.

As little as he wanted to look at that demonic figure, he forced himself not to look back at the speaker, either. Some horrible, primal instinct within him just screamed that it would be worse, it would be fear incarnate, he would go mad just by beholding it—

There are no Skywalkers, either.

Luke made a face at that.

"No."

He voice rang out in the deadly silence; the figure turned, whole attention on Luke for the first time since this nightmare started.

"No. I am a Skywalker, and I am clearly down here. Therefore—"

You are no Skywalker.

"My father—"

Anakin Skywalker died before you were born. You were born to him, the clawed hand pointed one finger at the figure before them. You were born to darkness, and darkness is where you belong.

I felt you try to push away your anger, earlier. Use it. Use it, and those binders will be no match for you.

But Luke wasn't listening anymore.

He was staring at the figure, trying to refuse the implications of what the voice just said. Now he was staring at it so intently, he saw one bright thing he hadn't noticed before: a single white butterfly, fluttering just in the figure's peripheral vision.

Thorns grew up to bat it away. It dodged them, and kept fluttering.

Luke narrowed his eyes.

You came from him. There is no denying your destiny

"—I told you I wanted him alive."

Everything was dark again. He couldn't see anything: no shadows, no figures, no butterflies, no thorns.

"—he—is—alive—khk—just—ill—unconscious—ack—"

Luke peeled his eyes open and yelped.

He was on the floor, in the locked room—except the door was open. A pair of large black boots and a cape dominated much of the corridor beyond.

A body dropped into his line of vision. Durron's face was bright red, bruises on his throat, but he seemed to still be breathing.

"Skywalker."

With a groan, Luke pushed himself upright and tried to look up at Vader. His vision blurred.

"Please say this is another weird vision. . ."

Vader took a sharp step forward, seized his collar, and yanked him to his feet. "It is not. You will be coming with me; I am to present you to the Emperor, and you will meet your destiny—"

He said something else, but Luke buckled to his knees, unconscious, again. He wasn't awake to see Vader curse as he tried to catch him, but he imagined it later. It was to be his only source of humour.

When he woke up again, his illness had been treated and cleared away. That was one relief.

It was the only one.

Because he woke up in the real-world replica of the forest of his vision. He was in that dark, dark cell for hours, Palpatine wrapping a hand round his shoulder and hissing unwanted truths into his ear as Vader watched, impassive.

Arguably, Luke lived for more than twenty four hours in there. But not for much longer.

Because even after his body left the cell, Luke Skywalker wasn't exactly living anymore.


Locked in a Room & Twenty-Four Hours to Live: Attempt 2

The first thing Luke was aware of when he awoke was heat.

It was sweltering. Luke lifted his groggy head—it felt like someone had stuffed it full of bantha wool—and almost immediately pressed his cheek back to the stone he was lying on. That surface was persistently cool, at least; the rest of the cell was too warm, too stuffy, and he found it difficult to breathe.

It was not pleasant.

He supposed that was the point.

But it was doubly unpleasant because even amidst the groggy heat, the hard floors, the erratic beat of his own panicked heart. . . it was cold.

Not in any material way, that could hope to combat the nauseating heat, but in a metaphysical way. The cold froze his blood, chilled his guts, he felt. . .

. . .fear.

Anger.

Hate.

He knew where he was.

The memories flooded back. Alderaan—no, that horrid Death Star, after stopping off on Alderaan to send the plans to the Rebellion. Master Obi-Wan's pained expression, and that awful, awful, gut-wrenching sensation that was the death of that wonderful planet. Hoping the plans reached the Rebellion in time; rescuing Leia; the firefight in the detention level; and—

He squeezed his eyes shut, for all that it was pitch dark in here.

Vader.

Vader, furious that Master Obi-Wan had escaped on that smuggler's ship, and turning on the padawan who'd been shot into unconsciousness moments before—

He tried to calm himself, his lungs seizing up with how much air he was gasping in, but it was a futile endeavour. The dark side was thick around him.

He didn't know how long he lay there, knees to his chest, staring out into a darkness he couldn't see an end to.

At least he knew why it was so hot, now. He knew what Vader did with captured Jedi.

What had Kanan and General Syndulla told Obi-Wan, all those years ago?

Mustafar is where Jedi go to die.

He tucked his chin into his chest.

He knew it was a long time he spent in that darkness, if only because the light stung when someone cracked his door open. Even with his limited access to the Force—what was it about this cell?—he could feel Vader's chilling presence.

"What do you want?" he tried to snap. It came out weak and pained; tired. Vader didn't look impressed.

"I want you dead," he said bluntly—there was even a hint (or more, to be honest) of malicious glee in his voice. Anticipation. "But I want Kenobi dead more, for now."

"And that stops you from killing me because. . .?" It came out stronger that time, which Luke was grateful for.

"He has twenty-four hours to rescue you. He knows where I am. He'll have to come here himself to save you—I made that very clear in my message—and he knows he does not have the strength to face me." The dark anticipation in Vader's voice was only growing. "Once I have his head, then you will die."

Luke swallowed. His throat was dry. "How generous of you."

"Indeed." Vader was already turning away. "Twenty-four hours, boy."

The door slammed shut again, leaving Luke in the hot darkness.

He struggled the breathe, but not for the heat, this time. He curled up again. He placed his head against the cool stone.

A tear tracked down his face to pool on the floor. More heat.

Once more, time seemed to barely exist as he lay there, staring at nothing. All he could think about was Vader's words.

Twenty-four hours to live.

He and Master Obi-Wan were the last two Jedi in the galaxy, with Kanan dead and Ezra missing.

Twenty-four hours to live.

Except for Master Yoda, wherever he was, but Obi-Wan had said he was old. He wouldn't survive ten years; that wasn't enough for him to train a padawan into knighthood.

Luke had always been alone. The last Skywalker; the last Jedi. And now he was going to die.

Twenty-four hours to live.

What did most people do, when given an ultimatum like that? Throw a party, so they could enjoy life to the fullest? Talk to their loved ones, make sure they knew how much they meant to them?

Another tear joined the first; another. It was forming quite a puddle, now.

Luke had no loved ones.

His mother had died in childbirth, Master Obi-Wan said; Luke barely even knew her name. Master Obi-Wan was his teacher, his master, the man who'd raised him. . . but he preached the Jedi doctrine of non-attachment so fiercely that sometimes Luke wondered if he loved him at all.

He would come to save him; Luke was sure of that. But because Master Obi-Wan was the most selfless, compassionate person Luke knew. Not necessarily because he loved him.

And that just left. . .

Father.

Father, I'm sorry.

He was aware that he was crying out into the Force, well aware Vader could probably hear him, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

I'm so, so sorry.

A Jedi sought no revenge, and Luke was trying not to be the exception. He had sworn not to face Vader with anger in his heart; if he ever killed him, it would be out of righteousness, not rage.

But the fact was that the same man who killed his father was going to kill him too. It made him sob all the harder.

His entire face was sticky with salt, now.

Red and hot and flushed—

The door flew open, Vader's massive bulk looming in the doorway like death's shadow. Luke whimpered and shrunk back, curling back into his ball, but a hand wrapped around his wrist and yanked him upright.

He yelped. Vader threw him out into the corridor; Luke hit the floor hard. Even more tears flooded out and even with Vader standing there, judging him, he didn't have the energy to wipe them away. He just flinched and waited for the hum of that bloodthirsty lightsaber—

That had not felt like twenty-four hours.

"That— that was not twenty—"

"Kenobi responded more quickly that I expected."

The words chilled Luke to the core. He glanced at Vader's waist, half-expecting his master's lightsaber to be hanging there alongside Vader's own. It wasn't.

It gave him enough hope to snipe, "And what was his response?" Maybe he wasn't dead—

"He said," Vader informed him, the fury in his voice mounting, "that his padawan was called Luke Skywalker, and that if I held someone hostage, I should bother to learn their name before issuing my ultimatums."

Something inside Luke died at the words. Master Obi-Wan wasn't coming. He wouldn't have responded like that if he was.

Luke should be glad. He should be glad his master wasn't going to die on a fool's errand, trying to save him. At least now he could maybe train someone else, ensure the legacy of the Jedi lived on—

But he had left Luke to die.

If there was any hope left that his master loved him, it fled.

Luke was alone

"He knew exactly what he was doing," Vader continued, entirely unaware that a part of Luke had just shattered, all the fight fled. "He knew I wouldn't kill you once I knew your true heritage."

Wait—what?

Luke blinked, lifting his tear-stained face to view Vader. The dark lord was doing the same to him: Luke could feel his gaze roving over him, from the dimple in his chin to his nose to the shape of his eyes.

"You are Anakin Skywalker's son."

Luke frowned, but—sure he was signing his own death warrant—nodded.

The last thing he expected was for Lord Darth Vader, scourge and terror of the galaxy, subservient only to the Emperor himself, to fall to his knees before him.

He reached out his hand. With the tenderest of touches, he cupped Luke's cheek and wiped his tears away with his thumb. Luke couldn't help but lean into the touch, even as his confusion only grew.

Nothing made sense.

Nothing made sense, but one idea was starting to emerge from it all. One possibility, one desperate, desperate hope:

He, Luke Skywalker, was not going to die today.


Summer Camp AU

Formal report on subject: FUTURE ASSETS, also referred to as ASSET 1 (human male, juvenile) and ASSET 2 (human female, juvenile; ASSET 1's twin sibling). Submitted to HIS MAJESTY THE EMPEROR on this day, 17.2.12, twelve years after the foundation of the great Galactic Empire, long may it reign, at 2312 hours.

I am well aware I have been charged to watch FUTURE ASSETS closely for any sign of burgeoning rebellion in collusion with CURRENT ASSET/FUTURE RISK, and to only report events or concerns concurrent with these aims; this is, in my professional opinion, undeniably one such event. If you do not share my view, Your Majesty, I will of course submit myself to whatever punishment you see fit and only hope you graciously allow me the chance to make it up to you. However, on this day, FUTURE ASSETS showed behaviour which I consider may be dangerous for the Empire at large, and yourself in particular.

As you know, FUTURE ASSETS were sent to the BEACHSIDE SUMMER CAMP AND RESORT on Scarif by CURRENT ASSET/FUTURE RISK, as a part of their training to become functioning and fully integrated members of the Imperial Court. In this, neither has had any notable success. ASSET 1 spends too much time talking to ASSET 2, the various unpaid, alien servants who clean and cook, and himself; ASSET 2, meanwhile, only speaks kindly to her brother and has indeed caused grave insult to many Moffs' sons and daughters. I am certain of the opinion that there will be no potential political alliances forthcoming, especially after the events of today—or rather, as I write this, three days ago. This isolation is a minor note, one I know I have been assured to expect, but it felt prudent to highlight that what happened was their doing and theirs alone.

Twelve days into this "vacation" FUTURE ASSETS were supposedly taking, they appeared for lunch at 1300 hours and invoked the by-now customary chaos (here, taken in the form of sausages and mashed potatoes being used as impromptu missiles) which led to them being banished to their respective cabins to, as the warden responsible for the camp put it, "think about what they had done." After this, neither of them were sighted until dinner at 1800 hours. This was not considered unusual—they had no compulsory team activities to attend, and had been banned from "golden time" after their food fiasco—but perhaps in hindsight the sight of smoke emerging from ASSET 1's cabin should have appeared somewhat suspicious.

When they did appear again, they seemed pacified. ASSET 2 even smiled at the great-niece of the honourable Grand Moff Tarkin, which caused veritable waves of confusion throughout the mess hall. Warden Kallea even looked excited, if only for a moment. It was directly after that moment, in the midst of the confusion cunningly perpetrated by ASSET 2, that ASSET 1's "tinkering" came to fruition.

The precise sequence of events is as follows: While Warden Kallea was caught off guard, and made to usher her into a seat near to the girl she'd smiled at—no doubt in an ill-advised attempt to actually have one of the FUTURE ASSETS make friends—ASSET 1 found himself under little enough surveillance (save by myself) that he managed to pull what appeared to be a makeshift detonator out of his pocket. When he pressed it, the lights went out. As a repurposed military bunker for the nearby Imperial facility, the mess hall is the only building situated entirely underground (or rather, was: it is now the only building in the camp); therefore, it became pitch black. I confess to having lost track of events myself from then on amid the darkness, but I proceeded to locate and detain FUTURE ASSETS under my guise as one of the wardens, and did my best to keep an eye on them. I make sure to report my momentary lapse of competency in anticipation of the fact that, seeing as FUTURE ASSETS had perhaps five minutes of chaos when they were not being watched, they will have used that to inflict more chaos in the coming days, despite being under constant, careful, current surveillance by CURRENT ASSET/FUTURE RISK. I remain vigilant about it.

As it turned out, ASSET 1 and his tinkering had not simply switched the lights off; it had cut the power entirely. The automatic doors would not open. Nor did the warden, as essentially a glorified babysitter, have the body strength to open them by hand; I, of course, attempted it, but after an initial failure and the realisation that it was distracting me from monitoring the situation with FUTURE ASSETS, I desisted.

Perhaps two children had glowrods. They were able to cast some light on the situation, but it remained negligible, and FUTURE ASSETS had vanished. It is my firm belief that they remained somewhere in the darkness and anonymity of the crowd of shorter-than-average children, as later reconnaissance revealed that there was simply no way for them to have possible left the room, but it was approximately two hours before either myself or Warden Kallea (who remained distracted by the sealed-off doors and the scores of wailing children afraid of the dark) managed to locate and question them fully on what they had done.

During those two hours, however, occurred an event I am sure you have heard of, if only because it was so cataclysmic in the entire history of (y)our glorious Empire. The Rebels bombed Scarif.

The information and communications tower was naturally their primary target, but (as I am sure you have already read reports on) the damage to the surrounding hundred kilometres or so was catastrophic. The buildings of BEACHSIDE SUMMER CAMP AND RESORT were entirely destroyed, and it is a miracle that because of FUTURE ASSETS' actions in trapping us all below ground in a repurposed bunker, none of the children, myself or Warden Kallea, were harmed.

The bombing run of the Rebels—rumour has it that it was Saw Gerrera's Partisans who carried out this senseless attack on the Empire's primary information base, but I will of course leave such investigations to the capable hands of my betters—occurred at approximately 1912 hours. At 2000 hours, the lights in the bunker came back on. Upon intense questioning and scolding by Warden Kallea, ASSET 1 admitted that the power cut he'd orchestrated had been on a timer for just under two hours. Upon further intense questioning and scolding, it appeared that neither ASSET 1 nor ASSET 2 had any idea of the Rebel attack in advance, citing instead that they had decided to stage their "harmless prank" (their words, not mine) this evening, at this time, because "it felt right." They also cited some mysterious "Force" as a possible source of these feelings; I will, of course, leave this to the judgement of greater man than myself, also.

Once the power returned, things ran more or less smoothly. Warden Kallea, though clearly in a barely-coherent state of panic, resolved not to allow the children outside of the bunker until help came, and a signal was sent out to the Imperial Starfleet, addressing CURRENT ASSET/FUTURE RISK in particular. He came forthwith, but we remained in that bunker for eighteen hours total before he arrived, and when he did he only stayed longer enough to escort FUTURE ASSETS out of there, leaving the children of all other prominent politicians, officers and noblemen to be escorted by stormtroopers. I write this report while we are en route to Coruscant; I have already fielded dozens of angry, threatening message from these prominent politicians, officers and noblemen, and it is my belief that Warden Kallea has received a great any more. Needless to say, BEACHSIDE SUMMER CAMP AND RESORT will not be open for business next year.

And it is needless to say as well that FUTURE ASSETS are not currently in favour with their peers, the future denizens of the Imperial Court. I can assure you that no alliances have been made here, Your Majesty; I have succeeded in that task, though I have clearly failed in a great many others, and I (of course) submit myself to your mercy and due punishment.

To conclude, FUTURE ASSETS have been returned to CURRENT ASSET/FUTURE RISK's care, and it is my firm belief that he will not be allowing them to leave it for a long, long time.

Long live the almighty Emperor.

Agent Marnel.

ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM AN EXTERNAL SOURCE: Agent Marnel vanished en route to Coruscant, one day before arrival. It is the belief of Lord Vader and his staff that the man unexpectedly took a shuttle to try and escape the imminent punishment, however, nothing can be confirmed. Long live the Empire.


Bar/Restaurant AU

Captain Firmus Piett of the SSD Executor had not had leave in four years.

After a particularly stressful incident on the bridge involving Lord Vader and two pit officers quietly discussing the attractiveness and eligibility of Imperial Prince Luke Skywalker, his nerves had been a wreck. The shipboard medic had forced him to take at least a week's break while the Executor returned to Coruscant for the month-long Empire Day celebrations. He'd even gone so far as to have one of Piett's aides confiscate his comlink, leaving him with only a small, spare one in case of absolute, galaxy-altering emergencies.

Despite this unnecessary intervention, Piett was almost grateful. Truth be told, he had been skirting the edge of his mental limits recently, and one did not want to be in the general vicinity of Darth Vader when they met said limits.

The dark lord had been exceptionally on edge for the past few months, for reasons unknown to Piett. He had his suspicions, of course: after all, the exceptional tension had begun shortly after Prince Luke had been announced as Palpatine's official heir, and immediately after the first attempt on the boy's life. As wildly unrealistic and fanciful as it might seem, Piett had occasionally entertained the idea that Vader—who was well-known to be His Highness's formal guardian and protector—was worried.

It was absurd, of course. Not only was it near-impossible for Rebel agents to get anywhere near to the heir to the Empire, but the idea that Lord Vader could ever care about someone like that seemed ludicrous.

Nevertheless, neither Piett's theories nor logic changed the fact that the closer Empire Day came, the more agitated Vader got. Prince Luke would be there, expected to give his first formal speech to the entirety of the Empire, and Piett's nerves would not be able to stand his panic.

So, here he was.

Piett had no family on Coruscant. He had no one to visit. He had plenty of money built up and unused from his years in the Navy, but nothing to do with it. He had few other place to go but the bar near to the (overly fancy) hotel he was staying in for the month.

He had to admit, the alcohol and the knowledge that when he woke up early, he could go back to sleep, did wonders for his stress levels. He could almost feel himself starting to relax.

He'd started to befriend some of the other patrons of the bar, as well as the bartender—it was one of the more reputable ones; he had not, with all his money, decided to stay in an unpleasant area of the planet—so it was nearly always a thoroughly enjoyable experience to go in the evenings. Listen to the chatter, pick up ideas for what places he should visit the next day. Already he'd been to one zoo, another zoo, the famous greenhouse and gardens, as well as a massive shopping mall which he'd managed to regularly lose himself in.

He was a week into his holiday, sitting at the bar and conversing lightly with the bartender about the delights of a certain museum of natural wonders, when the bartender suddenly turned away from him to greet another customer, a smile on his face that somehow managed to be both fond and over-eager at the same time.

Curious, Piett looked sidelong at the newcomer. He was young—he looked to be barely of age. There was something familiar about the way he stood, the fall of blond hair across his face, and the eyes slightly too large for his face. He glanced at Piett not quite shyly, but uncertainly, before returning the bartender's smile and sliding into the seat beside him.

Piett waited for him to order a drink before commenting, "Have we met before? You look familiar."

The boy's nervousness evaporated as he smiled. There was a quiet stillness, not unlike that of Lord Vader, about him as he said, "I'm afraid not, Mr. . .?"

"Piett," he supplied. "Captain Firmus Piett."

The boy rose his eyebrows. "Of the Executor?"

"Yes." How did he know that?

Slight apprehension flashed across the boy's face, almost too fast to catch, but he answered Piett's mental inquiry as if he'd said it aloud: "I'm interested in the doings of the Imperial Starfleet, and my father encourages me to follow it closely."

"Of course." Of course the boy was from the Imperial Court—everything about his accent to the way he carried himself, sure and steady, implied some sort of inner nobility.

For a moment, Piett had the urge to cut the conversation short. He was an officer from the Outer Rim. He'd come this far based on competence and, he had to admit, Lord Vader's favour. He didn't want to get into some too-heavy conversation with the wrong influence at Court and accidentally undo all of that hard work. Piett was an officer, not a politician.

But the boy seemed earnest enough, and perhaps being rude to him would hurt Piett's career even more.

He really didn't know; he wasn't used to this.

"Are you staying in the area, Piett?" the boy asked casually as the bartender returned with his drink. He paid, and tipped extremely well; if this was a habit of his, Piett could see why the man had been so excited upon seeing him enter. "I'd have thought you'd be on the Executor, preparing for the Empire Day celebrations."

"I'm on leave until they're over." At the boy's questioning look, he elaborated, "There was an incident and the medic forced me to rest, since apparently I was getting ill from stress. I conceded eventually."

The boy raised his glass. "Then you are a wiser man than most, for knowing when to get out of Vader's way."

Vader's way. Not Lord Vader's way. Interesting—and, to Piett's professional loyalty, a little insulting.

"What was the incident?" the boy pressed on, almost as if he'd sensed Piett's discomfort at his slip and sought to distract him. Then— "Of course, you have no obligation to answer, I was only curious—"

"It's nothing," Piett said. "Some of my officers were speculating on Prince Luke's love life and Vader became. . . overprotective."

The boy choked on his drink.

It took him a moment to recover, but when he did all he could say was, ". . .I can imagine that."

Piett paused, uncertain. There was something in that statement, an implied familiarity with the Lord Vader—specifically, a familiarity with his protectiveness of His Highness.

Piett watched the boy's features again, struck by that familiarity. It was getting stronger. . . and clearer. . . and the image that emerged shocked him.

The boy pushed his drink away, still half-full, and stood up. He glanced towards the door of the bar, as if hearing some call no one else could, then back as Piett.

"Well," he said evenly. "It's been nice talking to you. If those officers you mentioned are still alive—and they ought to be; my father and I have had words about these thing—then you can tell them that there should be an announcement of marriage any day now. I'm afraid I can't disclose who to."

Piett choked on his drink, staring.

But the boy—the prince, Prince Luke—wasn't looking at him anymore. He was looking towards the doorway, now filled by a white-clad stormtrooper with the armour of the 501st legion.

The trooper stepped forward and said politely, "Your Highness, your father orders that you return to the Palace immediately, and stop 'avoiding court'."

Prince Luke nodded, tactfully ignoring the last part. "Very well, Sergeant. I'll be on my way—"

"We're to escort you there."

Piett had never thought he'd be witness to the Imperial Prince Luke Skywalker rolling his eyes, but it appeared that life was full of surprises.

"Farewell, then, Admiral," he conceded. "I have to be on my way, but I hope you and I meet again sometime. It's been nice talking to you."

"Likewise, Your Highness," he said automatically, then, before he could stop himself, "but, it's 'Captain'."

The prince paused. For a moment, he stared into thin air, eyes glazed over. The sergeant didn't even flinch; apparently this was a common occurrence.

"No," Luke said, and the certainty in his voice was chilling. "It's not."

With that, he left the bar.

Piett was shaken, but the other patrons seemed unfazed. Perhaps he was a frequent enough customer that the novelty had worn off by now.

Piett, however, was another matter entirely.

His mind ran through everything the prince had said, all he'd learned, all the worldviews that had now been radically altered by one conversation.

At the end of it, he only had one thing to say.

"Kriff."


Heroic Sacrifice & Anger Born of Worry

Consciousness returned in small bursts. Luke heard the Emperor's cackle over and over; sometimes the agony of the lightning would shoot through him and he would spasm, a pressure constricting around his left hand. Then it would vanish, as would the flashing behind his eyes, and he'd settle back down into blissful darkness.

The pressure around his hand remained, though. It was always there, squeezing his hand—his flesh hand—tightly whenever he seemed at risk of just. . . drifting, further into the abyss, from where he might never return.

For a time, immediately after he'd watched Palpatine throw that lightning at him and he'd embraced this dark place, he'd drifted everywhere and anywhere. He'd been on the brink of never returning, but then the pressure had come, and it was a tether. It was an anchor, reeling him back to shore.

He was getting closer now. The bursts were no longer of pain and suffering and the mad laughter of a despot who thought he'd won. Now he saw different things, more familiar things: the scuffed, worn-out medbay on Home One; Wedge and his squadron's faces, worried but elated that they'd won; Leia's glare softening to tenderness as she looked away towards a medical bed, which was occupied by. . .

. . .him.

It was odd, seeing himself through another's eyes, but the image was gone in an flash.

It was even odder that everything was tinged in red.

Not anymore. Now everything was inconsiderately white. It stabbed at his eyes as he opened them, tearing a groan from his throat before he thought about it.

There was a gasp, the pressure around his hand constricted almost painfully, and Luke squeezed back.

He opened his eyes fully.

Sure enough, it was the medbay from those visions, only now he saw it in the usual spectrum he was familiar with.

He trekked his gaze across it, the light stinging less with every movement. It seemed to be empty, and when he turned to his left he saw why.

His father sat next to him, his left hand clenched around Luke's—and only his left hand. Luke glanced down, and tried to ignore the stab of guilt that came when he noticed the wires still emerging from his father's right wrist.

"Father?" he asked—or, at least, tried to ask. The word stuck in his throat, and he was still drowsy.

"Luke," Vader breathed.

"What—" He shook his head. Past and present were merging together in his mind, like some complex Force vision that left the viewer mad. Lightning crackled before his eyes, laughter rang in his ears, but he could hear the silence of the medbay just as keenly. "What happened?"

"You decided to throw away your lightsaber," his father said. "Why did you throw away your lightsaber?"

Luke grimaced. He remembered now. "It was to make a point."

"Was that point worth your life?" There was anger in the word, but it felt. . . impotent. It splashed against Luke's shields like a wave against a dam, but it was no longer the tsunami Luke had come to associate with his father.

So Luke nodded. "Yes."

Vader's vocoder spat out somehow that sounded like a sigh. "Of course it is," he muttered. "You nearly died, Luke."

"Yeah, about that." He frowned, trying to sit up. "Not that I'm—" He winced as pain shot through him; his father pushed him back down. "Not that I'm not glad, but why didn't I?"

"I killed Palpatine."

Luke blinked. "You did what?"

His father shifted subtly in the seat—a difficult gesture for such a large man to pull off, but he made it work—and said, almost defensively, "Just because you were not using your lightsaber, that did not mean I had to abide by the same principle."

"I meant—" Luke shook his head. His father knew exactly what he'd meant, and if he didn't want to admit to why he'd done it, Luke could settle for being content with the fact he'd done it at all.

He'd known there was still good in him.

But his father kept surprising him anyway.

"You are my son," Vader said. "If I have to choose between your life and Palpatine's, I will always choose yours."

He said it so. . . matter-of-factly. . . that Luke was left speechless for a moment. It wasn't matter-of-fact. Luke knew exactly how much thought and soul-searching and decision-making those minutes would have meant for Vader. But his father had chosen him.

Above Palpatine. Above the Empire. He'd chosen him, and he'd dragged him back to the Rebellion he hated just to make sure he lived.

His father had chosen him.

The revelation hit him like a speeder. It slammed into him, shoving tears down his cheeks and tremors into his hands, and he squeezed his father's hand like his life depended on it.

". . .Luke?"

Vader sounded concerned, if the vocoder could interpret such an emotion.

Luke just shook his head, and the tears kept coming. He kicked back the covers and flung himself at his father, almost knocking himself out on his chest plate. The hand let go of his, but it was worth it, because then the hand was resting on his back, holding him steady, and his father was hugging him.

Luke wept further.

In his mind, there was nothing but the elation of the little boy inside him, who'd spent years staring at the thousands of stars sprawled across the sky and wished. Who'd dreamed and dreamed, of a pilot father, lost in space.

Lost in the darkness.

A father who would come back for him soon enough.

Aunt Beru had hinted, sadly, that his daydreams might not be wholly accurate; Uncle Owen had told him the same thing in far less uncertain terms. But they'd been wrong.

Because here he was.

He had come back for him.

So Luke smiled as he cried, and felt his father hug him tighter in response.


Royal AU & Time Travel

If Luke was to be totally honest with himself, he hadn't expected the spell to work. At least, not this well.

Ben's constant, unrelenting insistence that time travel is a closed loop, and even if you manage to get there, nothing would change, seemed to have got into his head more than he'd thought.

But his mentor's doubts no longer mattered, because he was here.

The Theed Palace looked so much grander in this time than in his, seventeen years in the future. Its turrets were shining; the pennants were the blue and red of the Naboo Royal House rather than Imperial black and grey; all the windows had the glass still in them. But that wasn't what caught his eye.

Two knights were pointing towards him, and making their way over. They both wore the azure robes of a mage or mage-in-training; he assumed the bright colour of his robes was what piqued their curiosity.

He tentatively pushed himself to his feet as they approached, then they grew close enough to see their faces and he nearly fell over again from shock. That was a younger Ben—Obi-Wan, he supposed, in this context—complete with staff and a full head of hair. The man beside him was hauntingly familiar as well: his height, the shape of his eyes, the way he carried himself. . .

"Are you alright?" Ben said as they stopped in front of him. "You look lost."

"I'm fine," he said distractedly, the talisman he'd stolen from his mentor to make this trip burning a hole in his pocket. "I'm just— I'm not from around here."

"Where are you from?" That was the other man talking, now; he folded his arms across his chest. Luke would've had to be deaf to miss the suspicion in his voice.

The future. "Tatooine."

It wasn't a lie—he'd been raised there, even if he'd been born in this very castle, smuggled out before his mother's corpse had even cooled—

The man made a face of disgust—or maybe he just wasn't convinced. Luke didn't blame him. He was a stranger skulking around the palace gates; the knights, especially the mages, were supposed to defend the queen and, at this time, her unborn heirs.

Luke wondered what the reaction would be if he told them he was one of those heirs.

But he couldn't. They'd think him crazy, lock him up, and then they'd never allow him anywhere near his mother—he'd never have the chance to save her.

That was what he was here for, and that was what he would do.

"What's your name?" The man scanned him from head to toe. Luke wasn't stupid; he knew what it felt like when a non-verbal appraisal spell was cast on him.

Luke thought quickly, and the first male name that jumped to mind was: "Anakin."

He cursed fluidly in his head a moment later, but the man just laughed. Apparently the spell had deemed him a non-threat.

"That'll be easy to remember, then," he commented, "I'm Anakin Skywalker Naberrie."

Luke stared.

It all rushed in—how had he not expected this? How could he—

This was his father?

That was why he seemed so familiar, he reasoned, trying to get his heart rate under control. He'd never seen his father's face in the future, save for that time Ahsoka had slashed through the helmet to reveal one burning yellow eye, but their mannerisms were identical. They were the same heights, spoke with the same inflections—

Belatedly, Luke realised he was staring, and threw himself to one knee to cover it up. "Uh— I'm sorry, Your. . . Highness?"

He didn't know the correct way to address the Prince Consort of Naboo! Naboo had burned before he'd even opened his eyes for the first time!

"Don't worry about it," his father joked. The man burned with life, Luke noted with growing hysteria. It was such a stark contrast to Vader, from the future, and how he seemed to suck all the life out of every room he walked into. "I always get these court protocols mixed up myself."

Because he was from Tatooine, like Luke. Of course. Of course he'd made a face when Luke mentioned it—

Ben and his father were staring at him.

"Uh," he said, desperate to make conversation before they threw him in the cells and seizing on the only thing on his mind right now, "congratulations on Her Majesty's pregnancy." He was reasonably sure the correct address for Queen Amidala would be Majesty. "Are—" He stumbled over his words. "Are you looking forward to fatherhood?"

If Anakin thought he was prying too deeply into personal matters, he didn't show it. Indeed, he seemed to light up at the thought of being a father. It made Luke's heart ache. "Yes. I'm convinced it's going to be a girl, but Padmé tells me it's a boy."

It's both, Luke wanted to say.

"Padmé's probably right," Ben said.

"Padmé's probably right."

He laughed; after a moment, Luke laughed a little as well, desperately trying to hang onto his composure.

Anakin inquired, "Do you think you'd like to have children?"

How had they managed to get here? How was he having a civil conversation with his father? He'd never do that in his time! What was going on?

Luke had no idea.

"Maybe," he squeaked.

"You know, I have to say," Anakin thought aloud. "That kid's not even born yet, but I already love him so much. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him."

Luke burst into tears.

The look of utmost horror on his father's face almost make him laugh through the sobs—this was the future Darth Vader he was horrifying—then that thought sobered him up severely. He went back to sobbing.

"Anakin, what did you do?"

"I don't know!"

There was a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Come on," Ben said, and the familiar comfort of his mentor's voice calmed him, somewhat. "We came over to ask if you were alright, not upset you. You looked lost. Would you like to come in?"

Luke nodded, not trusting himself to speak right now. Anakin still looked surprised, and incredibly guilty.

"Come along then." Ben led him through the palace gates, and once they were out of Anakin's earshot, murmured, "And I can sense the talisman for time travel in your pocket, so I can ask you about the future once we're inside, as well."

"You don't want to know," Luke told him, and a fresh wave of tears spilled out onto his cheeks. Future Ben certainly wouldn't want Luke to tell him.

"Is it something to do with Anakin's son? That was when you started getting—" He glanced down then, and met Luke's red-rimmed eyes.

He saw it the moment he understood.

Blue eyes.

Just like Anakin's.

And the hair, and the face, and—

"Oh." Ben swallowed, then tried to affect a calmer tone. "I suppose we have much more to talk about than I thought, then."


Sick/Injured Fic & Stranded on a Desert Island & In Vino Veritas

The planet they were forced to set down on was too close to Ord Mantell for Han's liking—seriously, what was it about that place that meant bounty hunters only seemed to catch them there?—but he didn't dare go much further. This bounty hunter in particular had gone for a two-pronged attack: he'd tried to drug and shoot Luke to pieces, and he'd done his darnedest to disable the Falcon while he was at it.

Chewie'd fought him off of course, but Han still figured they ought to set down as soon as possible. Fix what damage he had managed to do.

Plus, he was worried about the kid.

This was supposed to be a basic supply run. High Command had sent Luke out here with him 'cause Her Highnessness thought it'd be good for him to get out of the medbay for a while, get used to his new hand and away from the looming threat of a court martial over running off to who-knew-where to dabble in some magic tricks.

The kid wasn't supposed to get hurt.

The injuries hadn't looked too good, and Han wasn't sure how well Luke could bandage them himself, especially when he wasn't used to his new hand yet. So they'd set down here in the middle of a desert, Chewie had roared at him (approvingly) about being a mother hen, and Han had gone to check on Luke.

They'd treated his blaster wounds in silence. Luke didn't even flinch when Han tugged too hard on the bandages. It worried him.

"You alright, kid?"

No response to that, either.

Maybe Luke wasn't quite aware of what was going on, Han decided. That bounty hunter had spiked his drink with something strong, if Luke's poor self-defence had been anything to go by. Maybe all he needed to do now was leave the kid to rest, let him get it out of his system. The Falcon still needed repairs.

He and Chewie worked on it for several hours before he decided to call it a night. Chewie would stay up in the cockpit keeping an eye on things; he could go get some shut-eye. He needed it after everything that'd happened—

He walked past Luke's cabin and frowned. It was oddly quiet; usually the kid didn't snore loudly, but he certainly snored.

He opened the door. Luke wasn't on his bunk.

Han was out of there and shouting, "Luke!" before the thought even finished forming, Chewie's questioning roar just as worried. The ramp was down—had been for a while; they'd needed to do maintenance on it—and he ran to the top of it, squinting.

The light of this planet's multitude of moons was brighter than most nights, but even so, he could barely make out the kid's silhouette kneeling in the sand, his head bowed. His shoulders shook.

Hesitant in a way Han Solo rarely was, he took a few careful steps forward. "Kid?"

Luke's only response was to shift so he was sitting directly on the ground, his legs sprawled out on his left. He looked like he'd spilled himself all over the sands.

Alarmed, he crouched beside him. "Kid? You alright?"

It was a stupid question. Luke shook his head minutely, his hair long and ragged—he hadn't cut it since Cloud City. It half hid his face from view; he looked more wretched than ever.

His eyes glistened as he murmured, half to himself, "He's my father."

"Gettin' bothered by more 'n more ghosts now, huh?" Han tried. Hells, if only that was the case; the old man might've been crazy, and Luke might be crazy for thinking he could talk to him, but he'd always known what to say to make the kid feel better.

Luke shook his head again. The movement dislodged a tear, sending it rolling down his cheek. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, shivering. The night wasn't cold.

"Go away, Han," he whispered. "You don't want to know."

Well. Han had never known Luke to be a morose drunk—he'd always been pretty chipper, those few times the Rogues had talked him into it—but he supposed a lot of stuff had changed at Bespin. Luke had changed at Bespin.

"The hell I don't," he said, taking his seat next to him. Sand immediately blew up his trouser leg. He grimaced, but he kept sitting there.

The stuff I do for this kid.

"Look, Luke. I get I'm no Leia. I'm no crazy old Jedi Master. I dunno what to say most of the time, and you know it. But I'm your friend, and I can't help you if you're not gonna tell me what's wrong."

A wind blew in with sand and the spluttering kinda choked up those last few words, but he got his message across.

It didn't matter. Luke just whispered, "You'll hate me."

"For what? Is this about Cloud City?" Luke's silence said yeah. "'Cause I've forgiven Lando for that stunt he pulled, d'you really think I'm gonna hold it against you? Vader did all that crap, not you. Nothing's changed."

"Everything's changed!"

Luke shouted the words. Han jerked back, surprised, but he leaned forward again just as quickly.

"Why would it've changed, kid?" That was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard—

"Because he's my father!"

Those words ripped out just as violently, tossed at Han's feet like the decapitated head of some enemy, like the announcement of an execution. Like some sort of quarantine warning: Do not come near. Dangerous.

It chilled him, for all that the night was warm.

"Who is?"

Luke buried his face in his knees.

Han hesitated again, because really there was only one person from the fiasco that had been Cloud City who could maybe be Luke's father, and that was a big maybe.

But he didn't want to think about that possibility. It would destroy Luke.

Like it's doing now?

"Kid," Han asked, "is it Vader?"

Another sob tore out of Luke. He gave a minute nod.

Hell. He'd been tortured by his best friend's dad. This was awkward.

But Han hadn't had the best relationship with his own pa, and he wasn't gonna judge his buddy's.

"Well, that sucks," he admitted. "But hey, we've all got those relatives no one wants to talk about. Did I ever tell you about my cousin Rodney?"

"You don't have a cousin." Luke's voice was muffled, but stronger than before.

"You caught me there. But seriously, kid," Han slung an arm round his shoulder, "this doesn't change a thing."

Luke lifted his head to face Han. His cheeks were smudged with tears. "You mean— you don't—"

"Hate you?" Han snorted. "Hate that annoying farm kid who called the Falcon a piece of junk? The idiot who comes flying to save my sorry ass time and time again, and gets his own ass kicked for his troubles?" He patted him on the shoulder. "Never."

Luke burst into tears again. Han held him tighter, and let him bury his face in his shirt.

Han sighed. He'd never been great at comfort, exactly. Making the kid cry more had not been his intention.

Luke's right hand was clenched in a fist. Han noticed, and gently pried it open. He held it firmly in his own.

Well. He hadn't meant to make the kid cry more, but at least he'd told him he still had a friend. And he'd meant what he said.

He'd deal with a hundred tear-stained shirts if it let Luke know that he wasn't alone.


Makeover & Bad Acting

Lukas took a deep breath. He resisted the urge to pull a face—the makeup would just drag his expression back into a neutral flatness—and tried not to shiver.

Strange: even when Lord Vader wasn't in the room yet, he still had an effect on the atmosphere.

It was especially strange that Lukas could almost. . . sense the dark lord's approach, like a contained sandstorm—no, rainstorm. Sandstorms on Tatooine were still hot, as everything was under those twin suns; Lord Vader reminded Lukas more of the rainstorms he'd encountered since coming to Naboo, and how deathly cold they could make a young desert farm boy feel.

Unwittingly, Lukas's eyes slid to his king's. Jonas looked scared but resolute, and Lukas drew strength from it. This was it: this was the friend whose decoy he'd been training to be for years; this was, if it came down to it, the person he had sworn to lay down his life for. And with Vader on the way. . .

He hoped Aunt Sola would forgive him.

He hoped his grandmother would forgive him.

She was still upset over his mother's death. . .

He banished all thoughts of either woman from his mind as the door swung open and Vader strode in, clad in shadows and death. Lukas straightened up, that mask of respectful disdain falling over his face surprisingly easily.

"Lord Vader, on behalf of Naboo it is my honour—"

"I have no time for games, Your Majesty. You are under arrest for high treason against the Empire."

Lukas sucked in a breath, though he'd expected it. He felt, in the way he always felt things, Jonas's guilt; he pointedly didn't look at his friend.

He didn't regret anything. He was glad Naboo had harboured those Force users. Ahsoka especially had been kind, had begun to teach them all how to shield. He couldn't bear the thought of handing them over to Vader and his minions.

"Very well, then," Lukas said. "I submit to the arrest, on the grounds that no others, including my own entourage, will be punished for my transgression."

He took in another breath, ready to argue his case—he had to protect Jonas—until—

"Agreed."

Thank Shiraya for the royal makeup. The only surprise Lukas showed was a quick blink; otherwise he remained impassive.

He had not expected Vader to capitulate that easily.

Add that to the satisfaction and anticipation he could feel rolling off Vader in droves, and he knew there was something very, very. . . off.

But what could he do about it?

If there was the slightest chance that this could spare Jonas from execution. . . he had to take it.

So Lukas nodded, stood from the throne, and took several long steps towards Vader. The stormtroopers accompanying the dark lord came forward, binders at the ready. . . then Vader waved his hand and they fastened themselves around Lukas's wrists of their own accord.

"You are dismissed," he told the troopers curtly.

"My lord—"

"I think I am capable of handling one teenage boy." Lukas winced, but didn't refute it; he'd thought the same thing of the monarchs when he first came to Naboo, after all. "You. Are. Dismissed."

The threat in his tone was evident. The troopers left, and Vader took his shoulder to escort him out personally. Lukas tried to catch a glimpse of Jonas and the others before the door slammed shut, but Vader's grip on his shoulder was tight.

The moment they left the safe, familiar confines of the palace, Lukas's fear both spiked and dropped.

Dropped, because at least Vader had bought it, and his king was no longer in his presence. Spiked, because. . .

He was going to die.

He didn't even know if Jonas would be safe—the oddness from earlier haunted his thoughts—and he was going to die.

"You are not going to die, young one."

Lukas jerked his head up just as he climbed into the speeder. Again, the only surprise the makeup let him show was a slight widening of his eyes, but that seemed to be all Vader needed.

"Those Jedi taught you impressive shields for the time that they had, but they are inadequate," Vader elaborated, and Lukas doubted he would ever be able to untangle the mix of amusement, smugness and. . . pride. . . in that sentence. "Your thoughts betray you. You worry for the actual king."

Makeup or no makeup, Lukas's eyes blew wide—

"Relax. I have no interest in him."

The speeder started forward, but Lukas was fixated on Vader.

The dark lord's voice was heavy with something. "I came only for you."

"Me?" Why? Lukas was just. . . Lukas. He was the background person. That was the point.

Vader was silent for a moment, then asked, like he already knew the answer, "Your name?"

He frowned. "Lukas Naberrie." Why did he care?

"Yes. But that is not the name you were born with."

His gaze snapped up to those red eye plates. How had he—

"I have tracked you from Tatooine, young one, and that name change only made it more difficult. I am aware you took on your mother's name when you came to stay with her family, and I am aware you changed it again when you started training as the king's decoy. But while you were on Tatooine, living with your father's. . . family"—Vader sneered the word—"what was your name?"

Lukas gritted his teeth, remembering Old Ben's warnings, but it was clear Vader already knew. So. . . "Luke Skywalker."

Something cold settled around his shoulders, like an embrace that was in equal parts comforting and unnerving.

"And that is why I came only for you."

Luke shook his head. "I still don't understand—"

"My mother was Shmi Skywalker."

Images of the grave that had stood outside his homestead flashed to mind; he didn't know if they were his memories, or Vader's.

His, or his f—

That coldness tightened around his shoulders, and the orphan in Luke leaned into it almost on reflex. His eyes pricked with tears.

"Then—" He shook his head. This was too much to comprehend all at once; he'd gone from resolve to fear to confusion to hope in the space between heartbeats, and— he— "What?"

Vader—his father—seemed to understand that the word was more exclamation than actual question, but he responded to it anyway.

"And that is why I have searched for you for so long," he said, something tender in his voice—"my son."


Teacher AU & Anger Born of Worry

"Where were you?"

Vader glowered at Luke, momentarily regretting that the mask hid his tremendous glare. Had the boy been able to see it, he would have trembled in his boots, fled from the training room, widened his eyes to the size of the Emperor's ostentatious dinner plates. But he did none of these things.

He just set his jaw.

A mutinous expression Vader had seen on his mother's face uncomfortably often stiffened his lip, and he tilted his head back to look his master—his father, though he didn't know that, how could he not know that—in the eye.

He said nothing.

"Where were you!?" Vader reiterated, somehow louder and quieter than before. There was a tone of threat to it as well, for all that Vader himself didn't know what that threat was, or even could be. He would not hurt this child, found enrolled in some backwater academy in one of the darkest times of this life, and he was so far removed from the concept of coercing anyone without pain that even after a full minute of stubborn staring, no course of action had come to mind.

Static spat from his vocoder. He whirled around and stalked to the other side of the room, a hurricane incarnate. His hands clasped sharply behind his back.

He did not look at the boy. He could still feel that stubborn stare.

"S— Luke," he caught his slip, "you barged into the Naboo system in a Jedi starfighter and landed in Theed, ignoring repeated demands from the authorities to submit identification and register. You then proceeded to vanish from the face of the galaxy for several days though no ship was reported to have left the planet, and only contacted me once you were on Tatooine, a location I am mystified as to how you arrived at. Where. Were. You."

He glared at Luke once more and hoped it conveyed the sheer, unadulterated force if his rage. He had vanished in the Force, and yes, Vader had taught him how, but he wasn't supposed to vanish from him! Especially not without warning!

He'd thought he was dead. Did the boy think he would take to that flippantly? Did he think that would be alright?

Yes, Vader realised, cold. He had. Luke had no idea of their relationship; Vader had long since convinced himself that to make Palpatine believe they were nothing more than a superior teaching a subordinate to fly better (with a few lightsabers thrown in), he had to let Luke believe it as well.

He'd regretted it before, of course. But not nearly as much as he did now.

Luke seemed to feel his anger, then. His fear spiked—no, don't be afraid, you're my son, my son, I won't hurt you, I won't hurt you—but his jaw remained set.

"You did your research."

"Clearly. Now inform me as to what my research has missed out."

Luke's answering anger surged, then. He raked a hand through his hand and burst out, "I was on Naboo! Where do you think I was? What do you think I was doing?"

Vader ground his teeth. "I have told you, the past is not a subject you may look into—"

"It's my family, my lord." Knowing that Luke believed himself an ordinary pilot, the brashness to his words was. . . worryingly reckless. "What I may do doesn't matter to me. Only my parents have any sort of say in it: not my aunt, not my uncle, and not you."

Vader choked on the irony.

"I don't care if you're angry that I stole and wrecked your starfighter. I don't care if you're angry that I disobeyed your orders. Family is the most important thing in the galaxy to me." And you know that, crowed the silent accusation.

"Likewise, young one," Vader snapped, then barrelled on before Luke could address the questions that invoked."You think I am angry because you were disobedient?"

Luke froze. For the first time, he looked unsure.

"Of course I do," he answered, painfully honest. "You don't exactly have a reputation for leniency, you know."

"I see."

The moment stretched into infinity. Luke, looking more and more baffled by the minute, seemed content to let it stretch for even longer. Vader tried to dredge up something to say.

Finally, he admitted, "I was angry because I was worried, Luke. Your block meant I feared you were dead."

Luke, if it was possible, looked even more baffled.

Baffled. . . and maybe just a little awed.

"If you truly regret nothing, it's clear that seeking knowledge about your own past will only lead to more such instances," he continued. Force, he was going to regret this. "I. . . will try to be amenable to discussing it further."

Further was a subjective word. All Vader had told Luke about the notoriety of the Skywalker name was that Anakin had been a Jedi. And who Padmé had been—keeping her from their son seemed nothing but cruel—but he had barely been able to speak of her.

Luke lit up like Coruscant's skyline on Empire Day. His mouth hung open; he shut it, opened it, shut it, then spluttered, "I— thank you, my lord. Thank you so much. I—"

"Perhaps," Vader cut him off, "I should start with the main thing I have been keeping from you these past months."

Curiosity—and a healthy amount of trepidation—exploded in his son.

"I told you your father died a Jedi. That wasn't quite true."

Silence. Luke's eyes were like two planets looming in his face.

This was not how Vader had planned this lecture to go.

"I am your father."

Chapter Text

Han Solo first laid eyes on the kid in the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, the planet where absolutely nothing of import happened unless the Skywalkers were involved. He was wearing the typical beige clothing of a Tatooine native, a moisture farmer in particular, and a floppy hat of the same colour shielded his hair from growing even more sun-bleached than it already was.

He had small pack slung over his shoulder. Han would later find out that the contents of that pack totalled three ration bars, a handful of credits, and a lightsaber. Even later, he would find out that Luke had been desperate and scared enough that he was considering selling that lightsaber for the vast sum of money it was worth on the black market, for all that it was the only thing left of his father.

In truth, Luke certainly looked desperate. His clothing was filthy, ragged, fit for a frame far smaller than his. He kept glancing around, behind him, a dazed and faraway look in his eye. He could not stop trembling.

He couldn't have been older than eighteen.

Han took one look at him, and resolved to stay the hell away.

Luck—or, as that insufferable kid would insist, the Force—did not cooperate.

He saw him again later, when some of Jabba's goons were giving him a hard time for not paying up after the incident with the Destroyer and the dropped spice. Han had already had a. . . chat. . . with Jabba over it, agreed that he could repay it a little later, with a little interest, but these goons didn't seem to believe him.

All he'd wanted to do was buy some parts for the Falcon—Chewie kept wailing at him about not pulling his weight around here—he did not want to be accosted

Fortunately, one Luke Skywalker happened to wander past at the right moment, looking like a ripe, juicy mark ready for the picking. They turned on him with the eagerness of a Nubian opee sea killer.

"Give me your bag."

No reply. One of the goons, a Rodian, reached out a hand for it.

"Give me your bag."

The kid looked up—scratch that, he had to be fifteen, sixteen at most, Han thought, and small for his age on top of that. He reached for the Rodian's wrist and firmly returned it to his side, with a gentle finality and resolve that was hard not to pity.

His lower lips wobbled, his angelic features soft and unassuming. His voice even trembled slightly as he said, "I don't have anything worth stealing," but the tremble wasn't from fear.

The tremble was despair. Because it sounded like the truth.

The kid himself certainly believed it.

The goons shook their heads, frowning slightly, eyes glazed over. . . but clearly they accepted the truth as the truth, and saw they had nothing more to gain from picking on yet another farmer's brat.

Han stayed as they left, watching them. The kid's right hand unclasped, and he saw what was inside it.

"Smooth, kid," he commented. That Rodian's wallet lay in his palm, stuffed with credit chips, swiped right out of his pocket. Han didn't know how he'd pulled it off—the kid's hand had never got anywhere close to the guy's coat, as far as Han had seen—but that just made it all the more impressive. Because Han knew cons; Corellia had been full of them.

The kid frowned, something as inane as guilt or disapproval flashing across his features, then he reluctantly murmured, "Thanks."

His head jerked up suddenly staring at the sky. His hand, steady as it clutched the wallet, had started to tremble again.

"Busted hyperdrive?" he said, forcibly lightly. He gave a pointed look to the parts Han was carrying.

"Yeah," Han said slowly, "how'd you know?"

He shrugged. he gesture was still tense. "Lucky guess."

"'Course." Bantha shavit.

"I—" The kid swallowed, and looked up at the sky again. What did he expect, a meteor to come flatten them all? "I don't suppose you're in need of an extra hand on board, to help you fix it? I'm good with machines," he was getting into his flow, now, "my master could never work out what was wrong with the ship, but I could. I'm good at it."

Master. Han pushed away the implications of that word.

"No," he said shortly, "it's a small ship, and I already have a co-pilot." But one extra hand couldn't hurt. . .

The kid seemed to sense his indecision, because he turned the most disgusting, the most heart-wrenching, the most desperately pitiful look on Han that he'd ever seen.

"What's the catch?" Han relented. If only because if Chewie ever found out that he'd said no to such a scared, helpless kid, he would fly them over the Great Pit of Carkoon and dump him in the sarlacc himself. "What d'you want in return?"

"Nothing!" he was quick to protest. "Nothing major—I don't— I don't expect payment or anything, I. . ." He swallowed. "I just need to get off this planet, and maybe a bit of food and water. You can dump me on the nearest planet afterwards, just, please, help me get out of this system."

Such a little demand, said with such gravity. It made Han even more suspicious.

He ran his eyes over the kid.

My master. . .

Was he an escaped slave? Was he trying to get away from this master? Was his transmitter still active? Han didn't particularly want a bomb going off on his ship.

But. . .

He'd spent too much time around Chewie.

He was going soft.

Besides, maybe he would be useful.

If nothing else, Han was getting to secret to how he swiped that goon's wallet outta him.


Luke wiped the grease off his forehead, and breathed a sigh of relief when he watched Tatooine's yellow surface recede beneath him. The repairs to the hyperdrive hadn't taken too long, and upon hearing whatever Solo had told him, the Wookiee—Chewie, he'd insisted he call him—had first hugged him, then crammed some food in his mouth and gone to take off.

It had reminded him a little of being fussed over by Aunt Beru, before—

He shut out the thought. Her and his uncle's bodies were in their graves on the planet below. His trip back to what remained of the homestead for clothes and emergency rations may have awakened long dormant grief inside him, but he had to let go. There is no passion, there is serenity. . .

He let out another sigh.

He'd done it. He was getting off the planet.

And not a moment too soon, he thought. Probing the Force quietly, while he couldn't sense Vader's exact location, it was difficult to deny that he loomed in the Force—and he was nearby. Not in this system, but this sector, certainly.

And he was looking for Luke.

Despite himself, he let out a choked sob. That razor, burning focus had been sweeping this area of space for him for weeks, since that freighter Luke had stowed away on had tossed him off into the sands, since Vader had first tracked him and Ben to Bothawui and— and—

There is no passion, there is serenity.

Ben was dead. His master had sacrificed himself so that Luke could escape, and Luke had to now make the best of it.

But that little mind trick and stunt Luke had pulled on that Rodian had had its consequences. Vader had noticed—and he was getting closer. Luke could feel it like a cord in his chest, tightening and tightening and tightening—

Something was coming. The Force was screaming at him—

The ship rocked.

The ship had been hit.

By what? Luke scrambled for the release of his crash webbing and sprinted to the cockpit. Solo was cursing fluidly, Chewie was wailing, and Luke added to the cacophony with, "What's going on?" He stretched out his senses—

Then recoiled as a crimson bolt slammed into the Falcon's shields.

"What—"

A ship shot into sight beyond the viewport, a smuggler's ship; it fired another salvo before Han yanked them to the side and it spiralled out of view again.

"Who is that, Chewie?"

Chewie roared. Luke didn't recognise the name, but—

"Greedo? That guy's got delusions of grandeur."

"Why?"

Solo shot him an irritated look. "Because he's a mediocre smuggler, and he thinks he can get a bounty on me for some reason."

"Can he?"

"'Course not, but he ain't gonna— look out, Chewie."

Luke's head was spinning. "Is there anything I can—" Han turned back to the controls. "Solo! Is—"

"Did you just call me Solo?"

Luke grunted his frustration. "Han, then, is there anything I can do?"

"Can you shoot?"

Luke hesitated for a brief moment. A Jedi did not take unnecessary lives, but— "Yes."

"Great," Han's gaze had flashed back to the viewport, "then get up to the turret gun and start firing."

It wasn't until Chewie roared his agreement that Luke actually went.

He slid into the seat easily. Ben had taught him how to use these things—no matter how peaceful a Jedi may want to be, they were still hunted, and it was still necessary knowledge. He felt that familiar stab of exhilaration as he pulled the hand controls towards him.

Greedo's ship shot across the screen. Luke didn't wait for the computer to tell him when to fire; the computer made mistakes. The Force didn't.

He fired.

It caught a weak spot in the shields, straight on. Greedo's ship buckled and collapsed into flames.

And with it, Luke felt a tiny light go out.

There was silence over the internal comms.

"Hell, kid," Han said after a while, "that was some shot." Luke listened for the dreaded suspicion in his voice, but there was none—only awe.

"Thanks," he replied shakily, "but I really just want to get out of this system."

Chewie made a sound that might have been a laugh. Han might have been smiling as he said, "Sure, kid," then flipped a switch. The stars streaked before his eyes.

"Hey," Han said belatedly, "what's your name, anyway?"

He took a ragged breath. But he smiled faintly as he said, "Luke Skywalker."


The boy had been here.

The boy had been here, but he was gone.

The Devastator hung over Tatooine like a boot ready to come down and stomp it to dust. And that was exactly what Vader would have done to find his son, had he arrived when Luke was still in the system. He would have cordoned off the planet, made sure no one could escape, run his lightsaber through Jabba the Hutt before he could dare to object. He was have left no stone unturned in his search for his son—indeed, he never had, over the years he'd chased that one elusive light across the galaxy.

Vader clasped his hands behind the back as he stared down at that wretched planet, the temperature plummeting. Ice began to spread across the viewport, obscuring his vision, but he didn't care.

Perhaps that was the problem. Vader had been so thorough, so meticulous, that he had been but hours too late.

This entire escapade had been worthless. Vader had risked his master's wrath, abandoned his oversight of the Death Star's construction, and what did he have to show for it?

No son. No sudden hope for the future, possibilities where his master could be overthrown.

Absolutely nothing.

Well, he thought suddenly, fingering the second lightsaber at his hip. Not quite nothing.

But as satisfying as Kenobi's death had been, it had not gained him anything. The boy was still out there, Kenobi could never be made to suffer as he deserved for his crimes against him, and now Luke was alone.

How old was he now? Sixteen, nearly seventeen? How could he possibly hope to survive in a galaxy as lawless as this, without his father's protection?

If he would only stop running, if he would just understand

No. No, it was not Luke's fault that he did not know, did not understand that no harm would come to him from his father's hand. It wasn't his fault that he didn't even know it was his father's hand.

It was Kenobi's.

And now he was dead, and Vader was left at a loose end once again.

He had no hope of tracking where his son had gone. Thousands of ships left Tatooine every day, none of them reputable. There was no bureaucracy here to extort and utilise; there was no way for Vader to know where the boy was now.

Alone.

Without any sort of mentor to guide him.

It was not worry that filled him; worry was an emotion entirely unbefitting of a Sith Lord. It was merely concern.

And if that concern was intense enough to send web-like cracks across the surface of the Devastator's viewports, cracking the ice and refracting the light like some kaleidoscope of colours. . . well, his thoughts were his own.


They arrived at their next stop—Nar Shaddaa—after a few days in hyperspace, and Luke was regretting that he had to leave now.

Not just because he remained alone, broke and stranded on a Hutt-controlled hive of scum and villainy, though that was certainly a factor.

But also because. . . Chewie was nice. Han was alright. He felt. . . comfortable here, in a way he never had before. There were no expectations beyond the fixing of an engine or the cooking of a meal, and far less room to disappoint.

Luke had never been his father, no matter which lightsaber he carried. His shoulders were not broad enough for the legacy laid upon them. He would always be a disappointment to Ben.

But he wasn't a disappointment to Han.

He impressed Han. He could fix bugs with the navicomputer before they even happened—and the Falcon always had bugs; Luke had heard mutterings of someone retaining too much personality in the upload—and, most importantly, before they dumped them all into the heart of a star. He could help them all with the cooking and the cleaning like nobody's business, old slave lullabies Aunt Beru had sung beside him as she showed him how to boil an egg dropping from his lips.

And, he knew, he just made them happier. He'd never feared using the Force in hyperspace, so wherever they seemed exceptionally highly strung he'd talk calmly an quietly, soothing them to the best of his ability.

They were all happy on this ship, and it only took them those few precious days to realise it.

They landed on a part of the Smuggler's Moon that was still in its night cycle. Luke looked out the viewport to the glittering lights beyond, casting out his senses.

The cold of hyperspace had faded, but Luke shivered anyway.

"I guess this is goodbye, then," he found himself saying. He inspected the words from a detached point of view. This was it.

But Han Solo had a tendency to surprise people, and Luke was no exception.

"About that, kid," he hesitated, "Chewie and I've been talkin'."

The low, amused growl Chewie gave indicated they had done no such thing, but that he supported Han's idea nonetheless.

"You're pretty good in a fight. You're good with the Falcon too—I think somebody's playing favourites." A bitter glance at the navicomputer, whatever that meant. "And you don't let people mess with you—you showed that Rodian guy what's coming. . ." He trailed off. Chewie woofed a laugh.

Luke asked, "What is it, Han?"

"Come with us. We could use someone like you, and I think you could use someone like us. So what d'you say?" He held out his hand. "Stick with us? We'll get rich one of these days, I know it!"

Luke hesitated briefly, but it was out of surprise—and awe. Once he blinked and realised no, he wasn't dreaming, he took his hand with a quick, clumsy eagerness.

"Yes," he said emphatically. He had nowhere else to go, anyway.

"Then get to the back and help Chewie unload some of this cargo," he smiled brilliantly, despite his devil-may-care attitude, and Luke smiled in response, "kid."


Vader's thought may be his own, but he had to fight to keep them that way, sometimes—and those times were always in the presence of his master.

He'd returned to Geonosis within hours of arriving over Tatooine to find Luke gone—Geonosis is only a parsec away, a voice in his head said, and he crushed it mercilessly. Production had continued in his absence, in no way affected by his. . . escapade. . . but still. His master was suspicious.

At least Vader didn't have to lie entirely. While he could, occasionally, lie to his master, half-truths always stood a smaller chance of being detected.

"Lord Vader," Palpatine opened with, displeasure evident in his voice. There was a frigid finger tapping on his mind: a warning, of the pain he could inflict even across the parsecs if he found his answer lacking. "Why did you leave your assignment?"

Vader kept quiet, sensing he wasn't quite done.

"Why did you disobey my express orders to oversee our greatest weapon's construction?"

Vader wanted to snarl at our greatest weapon, but he kept silent. If he lost control—if Palpatine found out about Luke. . .

"You know, my friend," he sneered the term, "that I can trust no one else with this monumental task. Why did you abandon it?"

There was a pause. Vader waited a moment before he was sure he was done.

Then he said, "Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead."

The effect was immediate. No shock was betrayed on Palpatine's face, but his attempt to get Vader's thoughts close to him meant his were close to Vader's. He sensed the rapid succession of shock, glee, irritation, then finally. . . satisfaction.

"I see," he said. "You should have informed me before haring off after his blood, but. . . you did well my apprentice. Perhaps now you can finally put the past behind you."

Vader ground his teeth, trying not to object to that thinly-veiled insult—think of Luke, left all alone out there; think of Luke, needing your protection; think of Luke, how terrified he was at our last encounter—

The anger and self-loathing it stirred up certainly convinced Palpatine his jab had hit its mark.

But the Force had a cruel sense of humour. Palpatine paused, eyebrows lifting, then said, "He had a new apprentice, did he not? A replacement for you." Again, Vader tried not to bristle—you would replace me with him in a heartbeat as well. "What of him?"

Oh, the long-reaching effects of simple ignorance! Kenobi had been so thorough in his duplicity, hidden his son from him so well, that when the boy had first come to his attention at the tender age of en, Vader had had no idea of who he was—of his importance. He'd told his master everything.

And now his master might look for him as well.

"I was unable to capture him, master." And now the lying began. "But he is a young, inexperienced, unremarkable Force-user. Stupid." Unknowingly, he clenched his teeth. "And now he is alone, with no master to guide him. I believe it would be a waste of Imperial resources to hunt him down—he will die as it is, soon enough."

Palpatine nodded sagely. "I have sensed nothing of him all these years." Because of Luke's shields, his skill, not his inadequacy— "I concur with your judgement."

"I am glad, my master."

"Good." Palpatine sat back in his chair again and smiled. "Now tell me, my friend: how goes construction on the Death Star?"


Luke, Han and Chewie made a pretty good team. It wasn't long before they ran enough jobs to pay Jabba back, especially with Luke running his little pick-pocketing scheme every time they stopped in a crowded spaceport.

He refused to let himself feel guilty about it, or even balk at giving Jabba a single decicred. He remembered all too well the water tax collectors, trying to calmly explain to them why they needed the water and couldn't pay and nearly getting beaten up for his troubles. But he'd had his aunt and uncle to protect him then, and—though he hadn't known it—Ben.

This was a matter of survival. Luke didn't have a choice.

Six months and several thousand credits later, they were free of the debt and were settling down in one of Han's smuggler hiding spots to lay low for a while.

Luke wasn't complaining. Han said that no one knew this lush planet existed, nestled in the violet depths of the Monsua Nebula; there was no chance of Vader finding him here.

But hat only made him relax a little.

Something was wrong. . .

"Hey, kid!" Han clapped him on the shoulder. "Lighten up a little, won't ya? There's no chance of anyone finding you here, no matter who you're running from."

Luke gave an expression that might have been a smile or a grimace, but kept scanning the area. Han seemed to have picked up from master that he was an escaped slave. As much as Luke hated to lie, or even consider Ben in such a way, it made a convenient cover story.

He glanced around him, at the lush hills, the orange-brown craggy rocks, the fire and thunder of the electric storms above, the waterfalls tumbling just a few dozen metres away.

His gaze snagged on something: a flattened patch of grass—no, a path of grass—too big to have been made by an animal smaller than Luke.

That bad feeling increased.

Hesitantly, he dropped his shields. Let his presence shine out as he probed the area, and—

"Get down!"

He threw them all to the ground.

A crimson blaster bolt missed Han's scalp by mere millimetres.

Hopefully, they'd be more focused on that than how Luke had moved them without actually touching them.

Han swore, and peered up at the sharpshooter, who seemed to be concealed near one of the waterfalls. All Luke could make out was a figure in black, humanoid—

Han swore again. "Sana?"

"Solo," a voice snapped back.

Luke dragged his gaze up again to the sharpshooter. They were crouched somewhere near the waterfalls they'd landed beside; before his eyes, they leapt from the rocky overhang they'd been perched on to the grass a few metres away. . . blaster levelled at them the whole way.

She's wasn't tall, but the slightest bit taller than Luke, with curly black hair, dark skin, and the sort of clothes typical to every smuggler he'd ever seen—and in the last few months, Luke had seen quite a few. She glared at Han, pointedly levelling her blaster at him and him alone. . . then her gaze slid to Luke.

She jerked her chin at him. "Who's this, Solo?"

"I'm Luke."

She ignored him. "Corrupting more of the youth? He can't be more than sixteen."

"I'm seventeen."

"Really, kid?" Even with his hands held up in surrender, Han managed to look cocky. "When did that happen?"

"Few weeks ago."

"Why didn't you tell us? We could 'a had cake."

Luke shrugged non-commitally, not wanting to psychoanalyse his complex—or maybe not-so-complex—feelings about Empire Day here and now.

"Enough," the woman—Sana, had Han called her?—snapped. She lifted the blaster higher, and Luke could tell she knew how to use it. "I'm here to collect my debt, Solo. I'd prefer to collect in credits, but I'm perfectly happy with blood as well."

Han's hands went up higher; he'd gone slightly pale. "Hey, whoa, no need to get trigger happy—"

She shot in his direction. It missed him by such a wide margin it must have been intentional.

He clammed up instantly.

"Hey!" Luke lived up to all the times Ben had chastised him for being reckless by instinctively stepping in front of Han—right in front of the blaster. It confused Sana, if nothing else. "I'm sure we can come to a peaceful solution to all of this!"

His lightsaber felt heavy in his bag. Peace and serenity. . .

Sana snorted. "If you believe that, you're in the wrong line of work, kid." She watched him for a second, though, gaze flicking from his blaster to Han and Chewie to his frightened face, and said, "Though if you're that afraid of dying, help me against this scoundrel and we can split the winnings. If you're good enough for the notorious Han Solo, best smuggler in the Outer Rim"—she drawled the title, sceptical, but Luke could sense Han's ego swell anyway—"then I might wanna hire you."

"I'm not—" Luke spluttered. "I'm not just asking 'cause I don't wanna die! I don't want anyone to die!" He paused, then added, "And I have an ounce of loyalty in me, too!"

She snorted again. "Definitely in the wrong line of work." She slid her gaze back to Han and Chewie. "So look, either you pay me back all that money you took off with during that heist we pulled off together, now, or I put a blaster bolt through everyone's heads. That might include Blondie. I haven't decided yet."

She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes; her hair shifted across her forehead.

"So what's it gonna be?"

Han and Chewie shared a glance. "Look, Sana—" he tried.

"Are you gonna pay me back or what?"

"I can't pay you back now," Han admitted. Chewie roared something that might have been exasperation or support. "But you know what I'm like! I can get you all the money you want—with interest!—I just need you to give me a little time to gather funds—"

"Nope." She cocked the blaster.

"Wait!" Luke threw his hands up, eyes wide. Force, he was sick of Han and his stupid debts getting them all into trouble. "Surely there's a more civilised way of handling this!"

"If you're looking for civilised, you're—"

"I know! I know! I'm in the wrong place." Perhaps it was a good thing Ben wasn't here; they'd have driven each other mad already. "But is there any way we can pay you back without dying? We just paid Jabba, so we don't have many spare credits, but maybe we can run some errands for you? Something? Right?" He turned around nervously; Chewie was nodding enthusiastically, but Han was scowling.

"Right?"

Han kept scowling, but nodded. "Right."

Sana didn't lower the blaster, but at least she looked thoughtful now.

"Is there anything we can do?"

She furrowed her brows.

"I have a heist in planning that I'll need manpower for," she admitted warily, shooting Han a look, "but after last time—"

"We can help," Luke said immediately.

She gave him a sceptical look.

"Right, Han? Chewie?"

Chewie roared his affirmation. Well. Luke was getting better at Shyriiwook, and he was pretty sure that that roar also contained a few pointed jabs at Han's skills of cooperation and negotiation—little Luke has been at this for less than a year and he's doing better than you—but the overall message was an affirmative.

Han grumbled, "Sure. Clearly"—he shot them dagger-sharp glares—"I'm outvoted."

But Sana was shaking her head. "If you think I'm going to trust Han Solo—"

"You don't have to trust Han," Luke said quickly. "To be honest you probably shouldn't. But you can trust me. If Han makes off with a cut any larger than you decide to give him, I swear on my l—" He made to say lightsaber, but his lightsaber was his life. "I swear on my life I will pay it back to you personally."

She studied him closely, something like pity and scorn—and a begrudgingly respect—on her face. "So I can trust you?"

"Yes."

She shook her head and said again, "You're in the wrong place, kid. The wrong galaxy. What uptight world did you grow up on, anyway?"

"Tatooine."

Her eyebrows climbed even higher up her face than she already held them, but she just shook her head again and held out a hand. "Sure. Why not."

She held out her hand. "We have a deal. . ."

"Luke," he supplied, reaching for her hand. "Luke Skywalker."

"Sana Starros." She smiled—a little warmly, but a little mockingly as well. "What's in your bag?"

"What?"

She eyed the pack slung over his back—the one his hands were gripping the straps of, the one his lightsaber was in. "You've been clutching that thing for dear life this entire conversation."

"Oh." He swallowed. "Nothing."

"Uh huh." She narrowed her eyes, but moved on. "Meet me in Theed on Naboo in a week. Then I'll give you the plan and we can carry this out. If it goes well, Han'll have repaid me ten times over with what we'll have."

Luke was barely listening now—Naboo? The Emperor's homeworld?—but he had the presence of mind to turn to Han when he said, "So we will get paid, right? I ain't doing this for free, debt or no debt."

"Sure, Solo." She waved a hand. "Now get outta here before another bounty hunter thinks to check here for you. You ain't subtle. And—" She paused.

So did Han. "And what?"

"I've got to ask." She smirked. "First you work with a Wookiee like Chewbacca, then this kid?" She jerked her chin at Luke. "You going soft, Solo?"

He just growled and stalked away.


Vader's conversation with the Emperor, as well as the time that ad elapsed since then, had made several things clear—the most important one being that he simply could not hunt his son down in person anymore, or he'd risk discovery.

But he wasn't about to give up. He was Darth Vader.

So he needed agents to do it for him.

This particular agent was not necessarily a bounty hunter, but he'd worked with her before and found her skilled in a number of ways. And while he didn't trust her at all, he believed that her cowardice would be more than enough motivation to keep her. . . discreet about it all.

Knowing any of this didn't make it easier to see her offensive mishmash of parts that passed for a ship sitting in his personal hangar on the Devastator, though.

"What d'you need now, boss?" she asked, far too cheekily for his liking. Not even her cowardice was enough to temper her big mouth. "More droids for your army? An Imperial patrol subtly blown up? Something stolen?"

"No, Aphra," he said. "I am looking for a boy."

Surprise shut her up more effectively than fear ever did. She blinked for a moment, shock written across her features—

Then he brought out a holo of Luke—the only one he'd dared keep from the security footage he'd destroyed on Bothawui, the only one he had—and her attention snapped to the task at hand, burying her surprise.

Vader was reluctant to hand over the holo, his son's blue face wavering in his grip, but forced himself to. It's a copy, he snapped at himself. I have the original in my office.

"His name is Luke Skywalker, aged seventeen. He's a Jedi padawan I would like hunted down and brought before me. His master is dead by my hand."

"Sure thing, Your Lordship. I'll take care of him in no time—"

"I want him alive and unharmed," Vader growled. "If there is any permanent damage when he is delivered to me, you may consider your life forfeit."

Automatically, her hand went to her throat. She paled until the tattoos on her arm were stark against her skin.

"Yes, my lord," she uttered. "The usual rate?"

"Indeed."

"Any specific deadlines?"

Vader just said, "Bring him as quickly as possible, and I may feel more merciful to any mishaps on your part when you do."

She nodded. "Yes, Lord Vader." She said the official title like it left a bad taste in her mouth, but she was too afraid to be disrespectful right now.

Except apparently she wasn't, because she murmured, "Skywalker. . .?"

"I suggest," Vader said coldly, "that you begin as soon as possible."

She got the hint.

Five minutes later, he watched the Ark Angel depart from his ship with a mixture of relief and vindication, the image of Luke's holo burning brightly behind his retinas.


It was indeed a week later that they reverted to realspace over Naboo, and Luke hadn't been this nervous since Ben said I have a bad feeling about this on Bothawui.

Never mind that the Falcon was somehow cleared to land. Never mind that no one had looked twice, despite the fact that the Falcon looked like a piece of junk masquerading as a ship, and that Chewie was a Wookiee in a city where the Empire had made even the native Gungans feel unwelcome. In fact, everything seemed to be going fine. Fine. Absolutely fine.

"Oh, calm down, kid." Han clapped him on the shoulder. "Nothing to be afraid of. Sana said she'd meet us just over here."

It didn't help. Luke tried to distract himself. "How'd you even get in debt to her in the first place?"

"Oh. . ." Han tried to casually wave it away, though he flushed a bit. "We, uh, might have got fake married for a heist once. . ."

They met Sana on the outskirts, where they took her speeder into the city centre. Sana had had the foresight to change into clothes the ostentatious Naboo would find respectable, so Han and Luke took their meagre funds and a few minutes and bought some new shirts themselves. Luke tugged at his self-consciously.

Then they were flying further into the city centre, further, until they were cruising down Palace Plaza with all the rest of the tourists. The Theed Royal Palace rose from the shining pavement straight ahead, and Luke's bad feeling tripled in intensity.

"Sana," he said warily, "this heist you want us to pull off. . ."

"Relax, kid. It's not in the palace. I don't wanna go picking fights with the Queen of Naboo."

Luke closed his eyes, breathed a sigh of relief, sank back in his seat—

"I'm picking a fight with the Emperor of the galaxy instead."

His eyes snapped open again. "What!?"

Han growled, "I'm with him, here, Sana. What?"

"Relax. I'm exaggerating; the Emperor is only marginally involved in this. The person I'm actually picking a fight with is my ex."

Han relaxed next to him, then, though Luke remained tense. The statement I'm picking a fight with the Emperor had held a little too much truth in the Force for his liking. . .

Chewie woofed a question.

"My ex's name?" Sana's lips twisted unpleasantly, and she all but spat the name. "Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra."

"Kriff."

Sana cast Han an amused glance as she finally—finally—turned off Palace Plaza and headed away. Luke had been nervous she still wanted them to break into the palace. "You've heard of her, then?"

"Of course I've heard of her! She's famous! Infamous!" He scoffed. "Kriff."

"I haven't heard of her," Luke offered.

"Shut up, kid. Sana, how'd you get someone like that to date you?"

"Very funny, Solo."

"And now you want to piss her off?"

"Of course. She's a bitch. And unless she's on the planet, right now, she won't cause any trouble for us. It's a shame I won't get to see her face when she turns up to find out I'd already got wind of her little scheme and come to steal all the lightsabers myself before she got the chance to—"

"I'm sorry," Luke said. His heart was hammering in his chest; his palms were sweaty; he chucked two side glances at Han and Chewie to see if they'd noticed anything was wrong. "Lightsabers?"

"Oh, so the kid does know something about the galaxy!" Sana's tone was mocking, but she didn't grin. "Yeah, lightsabers."

She raised her eyebrow; Luke could sense no suspicion in her, but that didn't stop him from shivering when she said, "Heard of them?"


Vader received the comm no less than a few weeks after he first hired Aphra. He was in his meditation chamber, intending on seeking the Force for some kind of guidance, but the moment he heard that comm go off, he scrambled to answer it. It could only be about Luke.

Aphra's face materialised quickly. "Hey, boss, I'm sending over some footage now. I got it from the Theed security network, and I think it might be the kid you're looking for."

There was so much Vader wanted to snap at in that sentence—Theed? What was the boy doing on Naboo?—but he exercised the rare virtue of patience and waiting for the holorecording to come through.

He opened it as soon as it did.

Had his breathing not been monitored, it would have stopped.

That was Luke alright. Dressed in fine enough clothes for a Nubian citizen—certainly finer than anything he was probably used to wearing—and Vader allowed himself a flash of pride in his son. He held himself well in the garb of his mother's culture. Padmé would certainly be proud of him.

Padmé. . .

What was Luke doing on Naboo? That was the Emperor's homeworld!

As he watched, Luke visibly sagged with relief at something the dark-skinned smuggler flying the speeder said, before snapping upright just as quickly in panic. The next few minutes of their conversation wasn't picked up by the holo, but Vader was fairly sure Luke mouthed the word lightsaber at least once.

He checked the time stamp in the corner. This was from less than an hour ago.

"It's him," he confirmed. "When did you get this? How did you get this?"

"Uhhh." Aphra swallowed. "I'm keeping tabs on this area of Theed at the moment. I'd heard word that my ex—the woman in the speeder, that is—was going to— never mind. I'm on planet. I can get to this area and get hold of him within the hour."

"See that you do."

She nodded, bowed her head a little—the largest amount of respectfulness he suspected she could bring herself to sustain—then made to end of call.

"Wait."

She paused, tense and nervous.

"Check the mausoleum in this area first," he said, something twisting in his chest. It was unlikely—Obi-Wan's treachery had run deep—but if the boy knew who his mother was. . . if he wanted to visit her. . . "He's likely to be there."

She nodded, and quipped bafflingly, "I was planning to."

Vader didn't ask.

He was the one who disconnected the call, a sudden surge of anticipation nearly causing him to crush the comlink as he did.


Sana stopped her speeder outside the mausoleum for Naboo's most beloved figures. She didn't pause for a moment before heading under the stone arch, twirling with climbing plants, and inside.

Luke followed at a more sedate pace. There was something that felt like love here, something. . . calling to him. . . but there was something just as equally that felt like hate. He shivered at the dichotomy; it felt. . . wrong.

"Alright, everyone, fan out," Sana ordered. "If my information's correct, we're looking for the tombstone that says Padmé Amidala on it." That. . . feeling. . . increased. "Queen and Senator, too, but I guess that won't be too useful; a lot of beloved figures of Naboo are queens or senators or both. Shout when you've found it."

Luke nodded absently, glancing around. This place was almost pleasant for a mausoleum: it was less a building that a roof supported by columns. Plants wound all over the columns, between the tombstones; it was light and airy and free.

And that feeling of love persisted.

He didn't know what to make of it.

So he followed it.

That feeling tugged in his chest, drew him towards a large tombstone a few metres away. It was one of the most recently cleaned ones and had fresh flowers placed on it. Ryoo flowers, he recognised distantly.

He ran his hand over the tombstone. He felt—

warm, and harmony, and fear that wasn't his own, and an overwhelming love, an if she died here her children died, and even if she died eventually she was going to make damn sure her children survived and then screaming and pain and separation and—

—cold stone under his fingertips.

No.

No, no, no, there should be something more, there had to be something more

He reached out, desperately, and probed it with the Force. Anything, anything to unlock the hurt welling up in him, to unlock understanding

That was not what it unlocked.

The touch of the Force was apparently all that was needed because at the back of the tombstone a panel slid to the side, earth tipped down, and he was looking at a set of obsidian steps that led into darkness.

"Hey, the kid's found it!"

Sana's voice made him start, jump to attention, like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't. He felt guilty.

And he knew why.

That love had been chased away by the entrance opening up.

Now this place stank of the dark side.

He tried not to shiver.

He glanced at the gravestone instead. Sure enough, it said Padmé Amidala Naberrie, beloved Queen and Senator.

Padmé Amidala. . .

Han jogged over, Chewie not far behind. "Not bad, kid." Chewie roared his congratulations.

Luke tried to smile, and wiped his hands on his nice clean trousers to stop them from shaking. He eyed the steps warily; he did not want to go down there. . .

"Right," Sana said, "now we're going down there."

His gaze snapped to hers. "We— we are?"

"Yeah." She pulled out a glowrod. "I've come this far to piss off Aphra, I'm not stopping now just because some kid is afraid of the dark."

"I'm—" He shut his mouth. I am afraid of the dark, especially this dark, and you should be too.

"Solo, you go first."

"Wha—" Han spluttered. "Why do I have to go first!?"

"Because you're the one in debt, sleemo, so you're the one who gets potentially decapitated by swinging axes or whatever traps Palpatine stuck in here."

"Palpatine?"

"Yeah." Sana gave them all a shove down the steps, and Luke begrudgingly followed after Han and Chewie, selfishly glad that he was neither at the front nor the back. "Who else would keep an entire vault of Jedi lightsabers on his home planet? Probably wanted to gloat or something."

Luke made a noise. He couldn't see her, but he imagined Sana rolled her eyes.

"Relax. Aphra was planning on doing this, and she's far too fond of looking after her own skin to ever risk making an enemy of someone like that if she genuinely didn't think she could get away scot-free."

Chewie groaned something, low and full of reverberations.

"That doesn't make me feel better," Han muttered.

Once again, though he couldn't see her in the dark, Luke could tell that Sana was giving Han a look. "It wasn't supposed to."

"Great. . ."

The steps meandered downwards at their own pace, uncomfortably narrow and sloping oddly. Han tripped more than once, cursing fluently; Luke didn't think Chewie was stable at all; and although she was good at hiding it, Sana was having her own troubles. It was only the Force that kept Luke surefooted in the descent, so he had the presence of mind to look around and take in the cavern the passage opened up into before the others did.

His heart stuttered, then stopped in his chest.

"Oh, stars. . ."

The place was a macabre museum of Palpatine's brutality. Sure enough, there were lightsabers.

There were lightsabers everywhere.

They lined the walls in racks upon racks. Some even had little pedestals in the middle of the room. No plaques to remember the fallen or Fallen Jedi who'd carried them; he supposed Palpatine didn't need any of that. He knew exactly which was whose, and he cackled over each death like he'd been there to see it.

"Chewie, kid," Han breathed, "we're rich."

Luke felt sick.

He put a hand to the stone and earth wall to steady himself, and was only hit harder by that stench of darkness, so thick it permeated the walls. Grief and terror—a sharp yellow emotion trapped in the metal of each lightsaber, the last echoes of their owners' dying thoughts. . .

"Why'd His Wrinkliness stick hem all here?"

"Amidala was killed in the Jedi uprising. Maybe he thought it was poetic justice, or ironic." Sana shrugged. "I don't really care."

These had been Jedi of the old Order, killed in the Purges or hunted down by Vader and his Inquisitors. These had been Jedi like Luke, most of them young, barely trained, spending the last days or months or years of their lives hunted by a shadow of death who wore a mask and cloak and dared to call himself human

"You alright, kid?"

His head jerked up, Han's concerned hazel eyes filling his vision. He shook his head, nodded, forgot what the question was, and shook his head again.

"I. . ." He pulled his shoulder out of Han's grip and staggered back up the stairs, the dark side clinging to him the whole way. "I need some air—"

He practically sprinted up the stairs, staggering despite his surefootedness. He felt like he couldn't breathe, like Vader's crimson saber had already pierced his lungs, or that invisible grip had already folded around his throat—

He was so distracted, in fact, that it was a solid five seconds in the warm, beautiful sunlight before he noticed something was wrong.

He frowned. "Is anybody there—"

A woman about Sana's age suddenly appeared from behind a tombstone, blaster drawn. There was no time for him to react, certainly not enough time for him to get his lightsaber out. All he could do was drop his bag, then stand and watch as the stun bolt spat from the barrel and collided with his chest.


"I'm going after the kid," Han said a few minutes later.

"Don't you dare, Solo. I need you to help me with these."

"Hey, getting here was easy enough, you didn't need any of us for that—"

"It's getting out that's the trouble. I don't particularly want to be running an Imperial blockade of the planet once we take this stuff and the alarms go off, do you?"

"I don't care." Han glanced around at the cavern, those laser swords everywhere the eye could see. Sure, he knew just one of them could make a guy rich, but they'd still be here when he got back. Just a quick trip back to the surface to see how Luke was, that was all.

Maybe the kid was claustrophobic. He'd definitely seemed kinda pale when he first saw that passage.

Han nodded, making his decision. He strode back up the steps, Chewie hot on his heels, and then Sana was running to catch up as well.

"You're not leaving me on my own here, Solo," she hissed. He ignored her.

They made it back to the sunlight soon enough. The first sign that something was wrong was that he nearly tripped over Luke's precious pack.

He swore, but side-stepped just in time and swiped it out of the way before Chewie tripped on it as well.

As it did, though, something rolled out.

It looked a hell of a lot like one of those laser swords. The things the Jedi carried. . .

Han made a split-second decision to shove it back in the pack before Sana noticed.

"I dunno, buddy," Han said in response to Chewie's querying roar. "The kid's vanished."

He slung the bag over one shoulder and shouted, "Luke!"

No reply.

"Maybe he left the mausoleum. . .?"

He strode towards the entrance, cursing under his breath. He hoped Luke was alright. He was always getting into trouble, but he was a good kid, and—

He came to the archway entrance, and suddenly he could see beyond it.

"Kid!"

"Don't move," the lady by the speeder said. Her blaster was set to kill, and aimed pretty damn accurately at Han's chest.

His gaze went to the passenger's seat of the speeder—and the unconscious kid lying there. "Luke!"

He took a step forward.

"I said don't move," she wrinkled her nose, "whoever you are."

He puffed up indignantly. "Captain Han Solo."

"Never heard of you. Step back."

Eyes fixed on the kid, Han held up his hands and took a step back.

"Good. Now—"

"Aphra?" Oh, good, Sana was here. At least this meant the crazy lady had someone to shoot that wasn't him. "What are you doing with Luke? I'm not gonna stop this heist just because you've got him hostage—"

"I don't want you to." She shrugged, an action that was difficult to pull off and still keep the blaster steady, but she managed it.

Of course she managed it. she was Doctor kriffing Aphra. They were so, so kriffed

"Take the lightsabers. Take all of them. The credits I'll get for this guy"—she thumped Luke on the head with one hand; the kid groaned in pain, but didn't wake up—"are more than all them combined. Vader's been after him for ages."

Han froze.

He looked at Chewie, clutching Luke's pack tighter to his chest.

"Vader?"

"Of course." Aphra grinned sunnily. Han was starting to see how she and Sana had managed to get together: they were both utterly insane— "Didn't your friend tell you he was one of the last Jedi padawans? I bet his lightsaber's in that bag right there."

Said lightsaber seemed to grow heavy in his hands.

Han just growled, "Let him go."

"No." Her smile had dropped. "That's not gonna happen. Here's what will happen: you're gonna turn around and go back into that charming cavern, get all the lightsabers you want and get rich. And I'm gonna take Blondie over here to meet my boss, and also get rich. Everybody wins. Are we clear?"

"No!" Han spluttered. "We are not clear! What about Luke?"

"He's a Jedi."

"He's my friend!"

She gave him a weird look. She almost seemed offended by him.

"You, Solo," she said, "are an idiot."

"Maybe," he shot back. "Now let my friend go."

She rolled her eyes, and shot him.

She missed. By a hair. Han was getting real tired of all these near-misses—of all these people shooting at him in the first place—but he only had a moment to think about that because Aphra was sliding into the pilot's seat and shooting off into Theed, shrinking and shrinking into the distance with each passing second—

Han swore, and scrambled—

"You are not taking my speeder, Han Solo!" Sana barked.

He took her speeder.

Chewie leapt into the seat next to him in the nick of time. He threw Luke's bag in the back, seized the controls, and then they were leaving that damn mausoleum far, far behind.


They followed Aphra to the docking port.

They lost her briefly in the crowds, swelling and swirling like the seas of this planet, but Chewie woofed excitedly when he caught sight of her dragging Luke up the landing ramp to a ship that was such a weird design it made the Falcon look normal. Han nodded; they both crept up the ramp after her the moment she disappeared from sight.

They just needed to find the kid, leg it back down again, and hope she wouldn't notice before she took off—

There was a vibration underfoot.

The landing ramp closed behind them.

Han looked at Chewie. Chewie looked at Han.

"Shavit."


The message Vader received from Aphra was short, but it was enough for him to leave the Death Star for his beloved Devastator, cancel all appointments and shut himself in his quarters, then proceed to pace anxiously for hours.

I have him. En route.

Luke was coming.

Luke was nearly here.

He let out a deep breath his respirator protested against and let himself smile. Luke was coming. Soon, he'd be with him, he could protect him—

The hours crawled by, but they went by nonetheless.

Finally, the Force lit up like the skies on Empire Day and Vader's heart nearly stopped.

Admiral Montferrat informed him that a ship bearing the clearance codes of one of his personal agents had reverted to realspace a little way away from the Star Destroyer. Vader ordered him to ignore it.

His comlink buzzed with a message from Aphra soon enough. "I've got the kid—"

"I am aware. I can sense him."

"Docking in the same hangar as last time?"

"Indeed." He found himself snapping out the word more fiercely than he'd meant to, comlink shaking in his hand. He was impatient. "I will meet you down there."

He made his way down to the hangar as fast as possible. His cloak flared out behind him, his boots clacked against the floor; after one subordinate approached him and died, the news spread quickly and no one else tried.

He was standing in the hangar long before Aphra landed her abomination of a ship, eyes fixed on the part of it that the Force told him his son was unconscious in. Even knocked out, he was a supernova; had Vader not known Aphra was there, he wouldn't have been able to sense her at all, he was so distracting.

The landing ramp lowered quickly and Aphra bounded down it, one soon-to-be-Sith Lord hoisted in her arms. Luke was only ever so slightly smaller than her, young as he was; he could see the strain on her face. She might drop him if she continued.

That wouldn't do.

He reached out with the Force to lift him himself. She breathed a sigh of relief when she let her arms slump and cast him a curious look, but it was irrelevant. He'd settled Luke into his arms—he looked small, a little golden boy nestled among black—and while he had no doubt the paternal gesture looked. . . odd. . . he didn't really care.

He'd never had the chance to hold Luke as a baby. Obi-Wan had robbed him of that.

He wouldn't rob him of anything else.

He placed a hand on Luke's slack forehead, for all that the sensors in his prosthetics weren't very sensitive to heat—yet another thing Obi-Wan had taken from him—then touched Luke's cheek gently. He didn't stir.

"You have drugged him," he observed. His first instinct was to be angry—you used drugs on my son?—but the euphoria of finally being near him, having him in his grasp, drowned it out. Had Aphra done anything differently, Luke might have escaped, and he would not be holding him now.

"A harmless drug. Just to keep him asleep for a few more hours. He should wake up any minute now, and immediately go back to causing trouble." She grinned at her own joke. "So, about my—"

"Return to your ship. I will return with your payment momentarily."

"Alright."

He didn't have time to correct her disrespectfulness. He had a son to look after.

He started walking out of the hangar—slowly, almost as Luke was a small child he was afraid to wake. He found his footsteps faltering briefly, his attention was so fixed on that one precious face, the curve of the familiar nose, the blond hair that spilled over his arm.

His breath caught in his throat.

This was his son. This was Luke.

Luke was here.

There were quarters beside Vader's that had gone unused in all the years since he had them built. Now they could finally be occupied.


Chewie made to say something but Han shushed him. "Quiet! Hear that?"

Chewie tilted his head, then nodded vigorously.

Not that Han could see it. This cupboard or storage compartment or whatever the hell it was they'd hidden themselves in was dark. But it was tight: with his back pressed up against Chewie, Han could feel Wookiee hair fly every which way.

"I think we've landed."

Chewie said that it was probably time to get out then, as well as a few other comments.

"I'm the one who smells? Try being trapped in a tin with you for five hours straight!"

Chewie whined and gave him a push against the door. His face collided with the metal; he tasted rust and spat it out again.

"Alright, alright, I'm going—"

The door swung open, and they tumbled out.

The crash was louder than he'd have liked. He frowned, glancing around, but it didn't seem like anyone had heard it—

"Solo?"

His head whipped around. That insane doctor lady was standing in the middle of the room—looked like a pantry of some kind—and staring.

Kriff.

Caught red-handed.

But, thank all the stars in the galaxy, she had no blaster.

So Han Solo did the only reasonable thing he could have done in that situation:

He tackled her.

She went down with an oomph, eyes wide, but just as instantly started to fight back. And she was strong, for all that she was smaller than him: she kicked and scratched and bit and at one point kneed him uncomfortably close to a spot he really didn't want to be kneed. Then Chewie barked and it suddenly came to Han's attention that his blaster was still in its holster.

He pressed it against her head.

She went still.

Fond of saving her own skin, indeed.

"Where's the kid."

"The kid?" She laughed mirthlessly. "You—humph—stowed away on my ship to save your friend? You're insane."

"I ain't the one who thought it'd be a good idea to take on a Jedi. What did you do, drug him? Lock him in a room somewhere on board? He'd have busted himself out by now otherwise."

"Yeah, I drugged him. Yeah, I locked him up." She barked that laugh again. "And no, you're not the one who decided to take on a poorly trained Jedi padawan, you're just the one who's decided to take on Vader. You don't get to call me insane."

"I ain't taking on Vader, I'm taking on you—"

"And it's not going to do you any good. I don't have him."

Chewie groaned, sounded worried.

"What do you mean you don't have him?"

"I mean that we're currently docked on the Devastator, and Vader just stalked off with Skywalker in tow," she snapped. "Your friend's done for, admit it. Vader will either kill him, have him executed, or drag him back to Coruscant to be tortured to find out where the other Jedi are—"

"Shut up." Han pushed the barrel of the blaster further against her head. "Where's Vader now." If he came back—

"Told you. Went off with the kid. He's coming back soon to pay me; maybe I can turn you two in, add some Jedi sympathisers to the bounty—"

Chewie roared, grabbed the blaster out of Han's hand and stunned her. She slumped to the floor mid-sentence.

"Chewie," Han said distantly, "I said it once, I'll say it again: we are kriffed."

Chewie woofed.

"What?" He twisted round where he was crouched and straightened up to his full height pointedly taking back his blaster. "No we're not gonna save the kid! He's with Vader! I'm not picking a fight with Vader."

An objection.

"What do you mean we've come this far!? That was an accident!"

A roar.

"There are different levels of kriffed, Chewie, and haring off after Luke like some— like some idiot is much higher than staying here and hoping Vader doesn't notice us!"

A whine.

Han deflated.

"Yeah," he said. When he blinked, he could see Luke grinning at him from behind his eyelids. "I know he's a good kid."

He took a breath.

"What did you have in mind?"

Chewie explained his plan, half of it something he'd clearly made up while speaking, and Han sighed.

"Don't you remember what happened the last time I pretended to be a stormtrooper?"


Consciousness returned in short bursts, like flashes of a spluttering lightsaber that hadn't been cared for too well. The first thing he was aware of was a heavy, warm duvet on top of him, and a sinfully comfortable bed underneath him.

He groaned and rolled over, feeling for the edge of the bed. He couldn't find it.

Confusion chased away the sleep-fog in his mind. He opened his eyes.

His first thought was that this was a very large bed.

His second thought was to wonder why he was in it.

He dragged his hand over his face, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. What had happened? Where was he? He stretched out with the Force—

—and the sting of the dark side brought everything back in painful, shooting clarity.

That disgusting. . . trophy room. . . under the senator's grave. All the lightsabers in there, wrapped in what must be an echo of the Emperor's stagnant, oily presence, rotting away below ground like worm-eaten foundations or a disease ready to be unleashed—

And then that woman who'd shot him.

Stunned him? He assumed so: his head was foggy and it ached, like he'd been—

He sat bolt upright and cursed as his vision went haywire. Like he'd been drugged.

He reached out with the Force again, this time expecting that dark dragon-shadow that was Vader. He was quite a few floors down from here—wherever here was—and now he'd noticed Luke too.

He felt like a shaak in a speeder's headlights when that burning mental gaze zeroed in on him. The presence that had been moving away, further down, stopped. Very pointedly turned and began to stalk back up towards him.

Luke panicked.

He slammed his shields down, though he was sure his sharp terror had already leaked into the Force, and tossed the covers back. He was barefoot, but he wasn't about to let that stop him—

He threw himself to his feet and fell over. The world spun.

He sensed someone's concern, didn't dare to investigate whose it was—another Jedi Vader had captured? Someone else he was going to torture and murder just like Luke

He staggered back to his feet. The door to the bedroom slid open to reveal what looked like a comfortable living area, but he wasn't about to dwell on that either. Where was the kriffing exit—

There! He moved towards the door opposite to the viewport—he did not have time to look at the stars he did not have time to look at the stars, no matter how pretty they were—and punched the release key.

It flashed red. Nothing happened.

Heart in his throat, he punched it again. The same.

And he could still sense that dark presence shooting upwards—turbolift?—and growing ever closer. . .

He punched the door. All he got from it was a pain in his knuckles and a sudden, overwhelming despair. He sagged against the door, pounding his fist against it—

And it slid open.

Luke jerked to his feet in shock. For a moment, all he could do was stare at the stormtrooper standing beyond it, code cylinder still held aloft.

Then fear froze his heart again. He staggered back, hands coming up to— he didn't know what, defend himself, lash out with the Force, surrender.

A familiar growl.

Luke blinked the tears out of his eyes.

There was a Wookiee behind the stormtrooper. A very familiar Wookiee, even with his hands in cuffs, bending down to peer through the doorway too low for his head and growling his concern.

"Chewie?" Luke whispered. He glanced at the stormtrooper, and actually probed him with the Force this time. "Han?"

"C'mon, kid," Han said. The helmet distorted his voice, but it was him. "We're busting you out."

"You came for me?" He was sure his eyes were the size of dinner plates.

Chewie roared affectionately: Of course. Han grumbled, "Accidentally."

He staggered back under the force of Luke's sudden hug.

"Thank you," he whispered euphorically. Chewie patted his head. "Thank—"

Han said gruffly, "Escape now, hugs later." It reminded Luke of Uncle Owen a little, something that only added to the hurricane of emotions in his chest. "Imp officers are cowards and very talkative at blaster point, but sooner or later someone's gonna open that storage cupboard and find the unconscious guy whose code cylinder we nicked."

Luke laughed. "Let's get going then." He reached out—and recoiled. "Vader's coming."

"Then c'mon." He tugged Luke by the front of his shirt into the corridor, and handed him the trooper's blaster he'd nicked. "Shoot first, ask questions later. If you've got any Jedi tricks up your sleeve—"

"Ah." Luke swallowed. "You know about that."

"Aphra wouldn't shut up about it. You know we could've used a little Force nonsense when those Black Sun grunts were after us on Ord Mantell? You could've helped us out there!"

"I did. How do you think we escaped?"

"A bunch of crates fell on their heads— oh yeah I see it now. You weren't subtle."

Chewie roared.

"You did not know all along— I don't care if you met lots of Jedi during the Clone Wars—"

Luke grabbed both of them and dragged them into a storage cupboard.

"Kid—!"

"Shush."

The sound of running feet thundered past their hiding place. Han automatically raised his blaster.

"How the hell did you do that, kid!?"

"A little Force nonsense. Shush."

The trooper's comlink on Han's belt crackled. "All units on high alert, we have an escaped prisoner on board. Repeat, all units—"

"I think they've found that wide open door we left behind."

"Or Vader told them I escaped."

"Yeah, well, at least Vader doesn't know where we are."

"He does."

Han bucked against him. Luke gave him a shove, and they toppled out of the cupboard.

"I've spent too much time hiding in small places in the last twelve hours. Chewie still smells awful." Han scowled at Luke. "And what d'you mean Vader knows where we are?"

"I can sense him. He can sense me. He's coming this way. Let's go."

"Force nonsense?"

"Force nonsense!"

"Alright," Han grumbled, picking up his blaster from where it had toppled to the floor. "Let's go."

Then his gaze fell on the pack that had tumbled to the floor next to the blaster.

Luke's pack.

"Hey, I nearly forgot." Luke watched with wide eyes as Han reached in and pulled out his father's lightsaber. "Catch."

Luke caught it. He smiled


The boy was escaping.

Vader raced through the halls as fast as possible, barking out orders to his officers and his troopers and his bridge crew with every step. He'd been so close! He'd held the boy in his arms, against his chest! He couldn't escape now, that was cruelty incarnate—

He should not have left him.

Aphra could have waited for her payment. She'd said Luke would wake up any minute; he should have listened, should have stayed with his son and explained everything to him instead of leaving him to awaken in perceived enemy territory, alone and confused and afraid.

The sharp spike of terror he'd sensed from Luke haunted him.

But all was not lost. His officers had managed to find Luke on the security holocams, fleeing towards the hangar bay Aphra was docked in with a man in stormtrooper armour and a familiar Wookiee. The men from that holo of Palace Plaza Aphra had sent him.

How had they got on board the Devastator? How had no one noticed them? Had they stowed away on Aphra's ship?

If so, he resolved, he would make sure to make his displeasure known to her. Thoroughly.

But first, the boy.

He stepped in a turbolift that would take him straight down to hangar one, on a far more direct route than the convoluted one his son was taking. He'd get there before them, easily enough, and then—

How to get the boy to stand down? He didn't want to hurt him.

Threaten his friends? Certainly, but that would not endear him to the boy at all.

Tell him the truth?

Would he even believe him? Obi-Wan's treachery ran deep.

He'd make him believe him. He had to.

The turbolift jolted to a halt at the right floor. Vader didn't wait for it to open on its own: he seized it with the Force and flung it open hurriedly, strides long enough to eat up the distance in his haste to get there before his son did.

There was only one craft capable of hyperspace in that hangar: Aphra's. All the others were prototype TIEs and his TIE Advanced. While his TIE Advanced did technically have a hyperdrive, it was faulty and he'd been too preoccupied with searching for Luke as of late to fix it.

So Vader boarded Aphra's abomination of a ship and searched for its access panel.

He found Aphra lying stunned on the floor, hand twitching with spasms. He stepped over her without a backwards glance.

He was never going to find the hyperdrive in this twisted mess of a ship. He didn't know what she'd done to it in her misguided drive to be different and original, but it would take too long to locate. He'd locked down his shields tightly, as tightly as they could go, and he could sense the boy drawing closer.

He could also sense the boy's panic when he realised he couldn't sense Vader's exact location. It twisted something in his gut, to think of Luke feeling so. . . hunted.

But that was what he was.

For benevolent reasons, but that was exactly what Vader had been doing to him for all these years: hunting.

He made his way to the cockpit, studying the controls for a moment. Then he just drew his lightsaber and carved a deep slash through all of them. Better safe than sorry.

If Aphra wanted a new ship, she could pay for one with the credits Vader had risked letting his son escape in order to give her. He dumped them on the side, and set out again.

Luke was at the hangar door, now.

Vader stood atop the landing ramp. He watched Luke rush in, followed by the man disguised as a stormtrooper and the Wookiee. The man yanked his stolen helmet off to reveal brown hair and a blunt face; they all breathed a sigh of relief as Luke hit the button to lock the hangar doors behind him.

They exchanged excited looks, strode for the ship. . . and froze.

Vader watched their expressions shift from elated to crushed—watched the blood drain from his son's face, tremors racking his small frame.

The man didn't hesitate. He drew his blaster and shot him.

Vader just caught the bolts on his glove.

When the Wookiee lifted his own blaster, or what passed for one, Vader crushed it in his very hands.

The man swore and shot again. . . and Vader yanked the blaster out of his grip with the Force. For good measure he seized him about the neck, yanked him into the air.

He scrabbled for his throat, gasping; Vader squeezed

"Stop!" a youthful voice shouted.

It wasn't until Luke had moved in front of his companions and lit his lightsaber—no, his lightsaber, the lightsaber Obi-Wan had stolen from him, just as he'd stolen Luke himself—that Vader realised his own lightsaber was still in his hand.

He clipped it to his belt. "I have no desire to fight you, child."

"Oh, so you don't want me to resist?"

Vader let out a small sigh. The typical Skywalker stubbornness. "No, Luke. I have no intention of antagonising you at all."

Luke flinched at the use of his given name. "Killing Ben, sending a bounty hunter after me, locking me in a room then strangling Han," he said fiercely, lightsaber trembling slightly in his hands, "didn't exactly give me that impression."

"It's the truth. A truth which you do not understand in full. Let me—"

"I'm a Jedi. You kill Jedi. What more is there to understand?"

"The identities of your parents, for one!"

Vader's voice boomed through the hangar. He hadn't meant to shout like that. Luke had gone pale, eyes wide. . . but not with fear.

At least, he hoped.

"My father was a Jedi too," Luke said. "You killed him as well."

"Your father was Anakin Skywalker," Vader countered. "And I did no such thing. He is not dead."

If possible, Luke paled further. His lips wobbled. "My—"

The man—Han—stepped forward to angle his body in front of Luke's while the Wookiee put a hand on his shoulder.

Luke shook his head, shook it off, and took a step forward. Vader now had his full attention.

He could almost taste triumph on his tongue.

"My father's alive?" he asked, and there it was. The hope that he wasn't alone; the desperation for the man whose lightsaber he'd grown up wielding; the burning need brought about by being raised by Obi-Wan. The need for an unconditionally loving father figure, one without high expectations or lessons to teach.

It was a need Vader was familiar with. And Vader loved Luke unconditionally.

"Yes, Luke," he promised, taking slow, measured steps down the landing ramp to the bottom, where he stopped. His son looked tense enough as it was. "He's alive. He's here. He's been looking for you for nearly seven years now." He saw Luke frown as he ran the maths on that, and half-confirmed his burgeoning suspicion with: "He's gone to great lengths to find you, and take his revenge on Obi-Wan for the kidnapping."

Luke backed up to Han and the Wookiee again. "No," he whispered, gaping. "No."

"Yes." Vader took one more step forward, hand out. There was a pang in his chest when Luke recoiled further. "I am your father."

Han's mouth dropped open; the Wookiee roared his surprise. Luke was shaking his head desperately now, eyes leaking tears. Han offered him a hand and he grabbed it, holding on like it was the joystick to a ship careening out of control.

"No," he insisted, nearly shrieking. "No, you're lying!"

"I am not lying!" Vader thundered. He regretted his harshness when Luke froze in sheer terror; the boy was already frightened enough as it was. "Luke," he softened his tone, "I am not lying. I will not hurt you. I am your father."

"My father is Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi, not—"

"Your father fell to the dark side before you were even born. I have always been your father. You were born to me and Padmé, and—"

"Padmé?" Luke fixated on, eyes suddenly clear. "Padmé Amidala?"

Vader didn't question it. Whether the boy had known before, had guessed, or just recognised the name was irrelevant; he'd have time enough to ask him himself later. But only if he succeeded here.

"Yes," he said. "She was your mother and I am your father."

Luke was still, frowning slightly. He seemed. . . settled, now. He'd accepted the truth, but not quite warmed up to it.

"Son," Vader tried. Although Luke winced, he didn't deny it. "Son, come with me. Please. Stay with me."

"Why would I?" Luke challenged.

A breath caught in Vader's respirator. "I had hoped that perhaps you might want to know your father," he said. "I am sure that I want to know my son."

Luke shook his head. "I'm not turning to the dark side. I can't join you."

"I am not asking you to turn." Not yet. They could discuss that at a later date. "I simply want to know my last remaining family. I want to know my son."

He reached out a hand.

Luke stared at it in consternation for five long heartbeats. Then he glanced up at Han, the Wookiee, and squeezed the hand he was holding.

And he took a step forward.

Vader hardly dared to breathe. He was tempted to switch off his respirator.

Luke took another step forward. Then another. Another.

Until he was standing right in front of Vader.

He tilted his head back to look at him, fear and wariness still evident in every line of his face. He looked so small standing in Vader's shadow, pale face turned upwards, fists clenched at his sides.

He unclenched them.

And, excruciatingly slowly, he reached for his father's hand.


Vader had not let go of his hand for more than a few minutes in hours, Luke noticed.

He wasn't complaining.

He could feel Vader's—his father's—emotions through this new channel between them, some sort of bond, stronger than anything he'd ever had with Obi-Wan. So he could feel the quiet awe radiating from his father every time he shifted and was reminded that Luke was there. He could feel the utter relief and gratitude that Luke had decided to stay. . . an emotion that admittedly, only made him want to stay more.

But most of all, he could feel his love. And pride.

His father loved him.

His father was proud of him.

He was not a disappointment to his father.

So Luke didn't complain when they stayed staring out of that viewport in the quarters he'd first woken up in—his rooms!—long after there was nothing to see. Han and Chewie had long since jumped to hyperspace with the shuttle his father had given them to get back to Naboo and the Falcon with; Luke still watched the spot of space they'd vanished into mournfully.

There was so much to sort through, here. So much to ask about.

The cavern of lightsabers. The Empire in general. Ben's kidnapping. His mother.

So much to reconcile, as well.

His father. Vader.

It would take some getting used to.

But he'd waited this long, his father had said. He could wait a little longer, especially if it was for Luke's peace of mind.

So when his father squeezed his hand again, like he wasn't wholly certain that Luke was real, Luke swallowed his misgivings and squeezed back.

Chapter Text

Luke was sunk into the Force so deeply that, really, it was inevitable that his father would sense him.

The pieces were laid out before him as if they always had been, as if their order and composition had been preordained by a consciousness as old as the universe itself. In a way, mused the slightest part of himself that was still concerned with human thought, that was exactly it. The design of the lightsaber was one particular to Force users; it must be the will of the Force that they be built that way, else they wouldn't have been so effective for so many thousands of years.

The crystal glowed inside the matrix of metal like his own personal star.

The sensation of darkness closing in was insignificant this far in the light. Even as a veritable black hole appeared over the planet, its centre turning like an eye to latch onto him, he breathed. The light hummed around him.

He closed his hands. The lightsaber parts slipped together perfectly and he felt complete.

Eyes opening, he reached out and felt the lightsaber settle in his grip, far better than his old— than his father's old lightsaber had.

On that thought, he switched the lightsaber to his right hand—his prosthetic hand. It fit there naturally as well, in a way absolutely nothing had since he'd got it nearly a year before.

His thumb found the button to ignite it and he did.

A three-foot blade leapt out, green and bright. The colour the leaves and grasses of Yavin IV had been under the morning dew.

Something in his chest loosened at the sight of it. If it had been blue, the same as his father's...

If he'd had yet another similarity to his father...

He shook his head and extinguished the blade. No point dwelling on that. He'd made his decision on Bespin and he wasn't changing it, no matter how many times he head the darkness call his name—

Luke.

Speak of the devil.

He gritted his teeth, automatically glancing around Ben's old hut; though he knew he wasn't here, it was reassuring to confirm it.

Luke, you are acting like a child. Respond.

Insults, huh? That was an interesting tact for his f— for Vader to take.

There is a time coming soon where you will no longer be able to ignore this, my son.

Well, soon could take forever as far as Luke was concerned. At least until he'd rescued Han. He'd had to delay it for a while as it was because of this sandstorm whipping up a frenzy outside.

He cast a glance at the door, but it was holding; he was more worried about Leia. She'd said she would arrive today, but he doubted even Chewie would be able to reliably set down the Falcon in this weather...

He stretched out his senses and found her surprisingly quickly. Comms were down and she couldn't reply through the Force, but he could sense her brighter-than-average presence maintaining orbit around the planet. They'd land when it was safe to.

But all of that was an afterthought when he sensed who else was on the planet.

His insides grew cold, only half because he could sense that freezing presence from miles away, growing steadily closer. How had he missed...?

His father's smugness radiated down their bond.

I told you soon. Did you not believe me?

Terror, sharp and shooting, froze him still. He clenched his right fist.

He needed to get out of here.

Except he couldn't, could he? The sandstorm would render all his scopes useless, send him tumbling to the ground, and—

He stretched out to the Force again, and breathed a sigh of relief when he sensed no Star Destroyer in orbit. His father had come alone. He wouldn't be shot down or caught in a tractor beam the moment he broke atmosphere.

But it didn't matter, did it? He wouldn't get that far in this storm, anyway; it was probably mucking up his X-wing's innards as it was.

He didn't want to die.

He tried to breathe deeply, to release his terror into the Force, but it less seeped out and more crashed out, joining hands with the chaos that raged outside—

Calm down! Vader barked into his mind. Your emotions are making this flight more difficult than it need be.

Good, Luke snarled back, then— How in the blazes are you flying anyway?

This petty storm is no match for the power of the Force and my own skill. If you continue to aggravate the situation it will have no effect on the outcome but I will be severely displeased—

Luke screamed and his rage tore out of him.

The bond went silent.

No, not quite: there was the faint impression of cursing, a surprisingly strong spike of fear, then—

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

Over the bond, at least.

Out loud, even the cacophony of the storm couldn't hide the crunch and screech of tearing metal.

Luke froze.

Father? he tried hesitantly. Despite himself, worry—and guilt—gnawed at him.

"Father?" he tried aloud. "Father?"

No reply.

Kriff.

He said it again under his breath. He said it more when he found himself grabbing his poncho and reaching out with the Force to discern the location of the crash, then shutting the door behind him. The sharp spray of sand stung his face.

Blast his father. No—he supposed he'd already done that. Blast this sandstorm instead.

And blast Luke for being this naive, this ridiculous; blast him for having the overwhelming need to do this, for not leaving Darth kriffing Vader to his well-deserved fate—

The wreckage of the TIE Advanced loomed out of the shadows very suddenly, though it was barely a half-sunken, half-crushed blur. Luke grimaced, but tried to peer through the cracked viewport.

There was someone in there alright. Something large and shadowy, and wearing what could be a TIE fighter's helmet but could be that infamous death mask—

Luke swore one last time and reached for his lightsaber.

It sliced through the transparisteel like it was so much mud, or wet sand, or something equally unpleasant; he worked at the hilt with both hands and grimaced when he felt sand grind inside his mechanical one. But it was still working, so he kept going.

The viewport fell aside with a thunk and he scrabbled inside to find Vader's body. It was there alright, and the Force claimed he was still alive, but there was no response even when Luke took the butt of his new, unlit lightsaber and rapped him on the head with it.

Then again, none-too-gently. It was cathartic.

Luke sighed.

Well then.

If he was anyone else, he would have a choice to make. But he wasn't anyone else—he was Luke Skywalker, and there was only one course of action he could possibly take.


It was a pain lugging him into Old Ben's hut through the sandstorm—not to mention it felt pretty offensive, or downright rude, to shelter Darth Vader in the home of the man he'd killed.

The man who wanted Luke to kill him.

The man who—

Luke shook his head, pushing harder with the Force to keep the sand away from them. Their own personal bubble.

Ben, he thought, surprisingly mildly but he supposed the thought was habitual by now, why didn't you tell me?

He dumped his father on the bench once he was inside—the same bench he'd sat fixing Threepio on, he registered numbly, while Ben had told him his father was a Jedi, so long ago.

The sight of the back of Vader's head made him wince—that helmet had taken a beating—but he didn't dare to remove it and see what the damage underneath might be. Removing the mask... besides the fact that his father was clearly very injured and he didn't know how long he could go without it, it felt far, far too intimate to look upon his father's actual face. He was afraid of hurting or angering him, certainly, but...

He was mainly afraid of seeing something he didn't want to.

Resemblance, perhaps? Confirmation—confirmation he didn't need, but harsh, damning confirmation nonetheless—of their family ties? The vision from the cave on Dagobah had been haunting his nightmares recently...

He studied his father's prone form for a few more moments, rearranged his limbs so he looked less like he was dead and more like he was sleeping, and paced.

He'd built his lightsaber. Leia was, presumably, going to wait for the storm to die down before she carried out her phase of the plan to rescue Han, which meant he'd have to send the droids in first. Which meant the instant the storm vanished he'd have to record the message, send them on their merry way and contact Leia about the situation, then lay low before it was time to go in himself.

But only once the storm died down.

Which meant he had nothing to do for the moment but sit opposite his father and wait for him to wake up.

Great.

Luke sighed and went to get some tools. At least he could clear some of the sand out of his prosthetic while he was waiting.

He made to move past his father... and froze.

His lightsaber was still on his belt.

It... would probably be unwise to leave him with it.

So he carefully unclipped it. Weighed it in his hand for a moment—it was slightly larger and blockier than the blue one had been—before he eyes scanned the room for somewhere to hide it. That chest Old Ben had kept in the corner was good enough, right?

Not to mention it felt... right... hiding his father's new lightsaber where his old one had lain for nineteen years.

The lid of the chest shut with a click.


Luke didn't know how much time had passed when a booming, "You look tense," scared the nine hells out of him.

"Agh!" The tool he was holding went clattering across the floor. He stared.

Vader's helmet was ever so slightly tilted up—the only sign he was awake.

Once his heart had stopped hammering from shock and started hammering from something entirely different, Luke found the wherewithal to snap, "Well of course I look tense!"

He sensed only confusion from his father. It angered him further.

"Why the hells do you think I look tense!? You're... you!"

Once again, Luke sensed confusion... and the first trickle of fear.

Then Vader asked, "And who is that?"

Luke scoffed. "Don't pretend you don't know."

"I don't know." Luke blinked, then— "I don't remember anything. Or anyone. Who am I?" A pause—an afterthought. "Who are you?"

Horror seized Luke. "...your head."

Vader tilted his head—Luke grimaced at the flash of pain he felt through the Force—then said, a little heatedly, "That is not an answer."

"I didn't mean—" Luke broke himself off. "Never mind. You hit your head pretty badly; I was thinking that might be why you're... having memory troubles."

"How enlightening," Vader drawled—Luke nearly winced at how close to his usual cutting tones it sounded— "but who are you?"

Luke swallowed. "I'm Luke Skywalker."

He waited for a flicker of reaction. There was none.

"...I'm your son."

Vader was quiet for a moment. "I see," he said. Despite the vocoder steadying his voice as always, Luke had never heard someone sound so lost. It tugged on his heartstrings in a way that made him uncomfortable; feeling sorry for Darth Vader was not something he'd been prepared to do when he'd been the one who got him knocked out of the sky anyway—

Guilt wasn't an emotion he'd been prepared to feel, either.

If only he was like Leia. Leia wouldn't have any qualms about killing Vader in this defenceless state, when he couldn't fight back—well, no, she'd have some qualms but she'd do it, for the good of the galaxy, instead of hesitating over petty blood ties and some over-strict morality that wouldn't get him anywhere

"So my name is," Vader asked hesitantly, "Skywalker?"

The sheer absurdity of that sentence despite everything Luke was trying to reconcile in himself dragged him out of his self-deprecating thoughts.

"Oh. No," he said. "No. You're Darth Vader."

"Why?"

"I... don't know." He scratched the back of his neck and shifted in his seat on the floor. It suddenly hit him that it was really quite horrible having to look up Vader like this, looming above him—he could almost see the steam of the carbon freezing chamber—so he scrambled to his feet. "I guess you changed your name."

Vader tilted his head to the side, pondering. "'Darth' is an unusual name."

Luke bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing hysterically. "I guess it is."

"Why did I choose it?"

"I don't know."

"I never told you?"

"I've spoken to you twice!" Luke snapped. He didn't know where that flash of anger had come from, but it was the wrong thing to say.

Vader froze.

"I can't remember where I received this impression," he said slowly, "but I have the impression that children are generally raised by their parents."

"You remember that?" Luke swallowed. He— he didn't know what to do with this. With any of this. "What do you remember? What do you know?"

Vader paused, considering. "General concepts," he admitted. "Family, friendship. No specific examples."

"Do you remember the Empire?"

"No."

"The Sith? Jedi?"

"No."

"The Force?"

He hesitated.

"...vaguely," he admitted. "In the sense that it would be unheard of not to know what it was, even if I didn't have a word for it."

Luke nodded. He knew exactly what he meant.

"Then maybe try... reaching for it?" he suggested tentatively. "I don't— I don't know what to do, but the Force seems to be a miracle worker. Maybe it'll help." Luke had absolutely no clue how, but it was the only idea he had.

"How do I do that, then?" his father asked, sitting up.

"Just... uh..." For all his father's harping on about training, Luke had never considered a situation where he had to explain to Darth kriffing Vader how to access the Force. "I guess... just... reach out..."

He could feel his father wanting to snap at the poor instructions, but he did his best to follow them.

A stab of pain interrupted the attempt. Vader lifted his arm to rub the back of his head, for all that the helmet made the gesture useless. "I can't focus with my head throbbing like that. Is the injury bad?"

"I don't know." Luke seemed to be saying that a lot at the moment.

Vader turned to him and he flinched: that cutting, semi-disgusted stare was certainly familiar. You hold that lightsaber like an untrained child...

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I've never seen you without the mask!" Luke bit out. "You wear that thing all the time, and considering the extent of your life support suit, rumour has it you're pretty injured. Unless it was a terrible, terrible emergency, I wasn't going to violate your privacy and look at something you clearly don't want people looking at, alright!?"

"...alright," Vader conceded with a nod. It felt like a monumental occasion: the behemoth backed down.

He hesitated a moment, then said, "I... am glad my son is as respectful and sensitive to other people's wishes as this shows. I'm sure that whoever I am with my memories, I am proud of you."

Luke nearly burst into tears.

"I doubt it," he found himself saying. "We're on opposite sides of a war. There are a lot of issues to work through."

"I see," Vader said. "Does this... estrangement... have something to do with the fact that we've only met twice?"

"...yes," Luke admitted. "I was told you were dead. I only found out you weren't about a year ago."

"And we have met twice since then? This being the third time total?"

"No and yes. We met once before, but neither of us knew the truth."

"Was it a favourable first meeting?"

Luke glanced at Vader to see his head was tilted towards Luke's prosthetic hand.

Unconsciously, he clenched it into a fist. "I think it'd be best if you remembered that for yourself."

"So, no." Vader's finger came up to wag in his face—it reminded Luke of Uncle Owen, which doubled the ache in his heart—and he chastised, "You are a poor liar, young one, and are only making things more awkward in your well-intentioned attempts at evasion. You—OW."

"I'll deal with you head now," Luke decided, "and we can have the heart-to-heart later." He sat down beside him and hesitantly gestured to his mask. "Do you mind..."

"Proceed."

Luke's fingers found the edge of the mask and unlatched it, as gently as possible.

"Now, I don't know how this works," he warned in advance, "and I'm fairly sure the breathing part in vital—perhaps you have damaged lungs or something. So I'm gonna take off the mask very quickly, 'cause I need to remove the back of your helmet to look at your head wound and I think the fastest way might be to take the whole thing off. Just... hold your breath as long as possible and I'll be holding the breathing mask to your face again as soon as I can."

"Understood." There was a tone of wary amusement to Vader's voice. "I will let you know if I am on the verge of death, Luke."

"Alright." Luke took a deep breath.

"You seem inordinately nervous."

"I don't want to hurt you!"

A hand snaked out to squeeze his, then retracted. "I trust you, son."

Please don't.

That only increased the pressure, but Luke took a deep breath and pried the mask off.

He heard the tiny intake of breath, off-sync with the respirator, but that was the only hint of pain his father showed. And a moment later, Luke forgot all about it.

The skin under the masked was dead white; it wasn't hard to guess that it hadn't seen a sun since before Luke was born. Scar tissue ribbed the curve of his skull and folded around his eyes, open, unhealed sores twisting across his face like some grotesque parody of a decorative ribbon. Luke's face a heart hurt just looking at it.

An unintentional surge of protectiveness swelled up inside him—what monster had done this to his father?

His eyes sought Vader's instinctively. He gazed at his father; his father gazed back. His irises were the same blue as Luke's.

"That bad?" Vader rasped when Luke's fingers stilled on the mask. He blinked hard; tears welled up.

"How much does it hurt?" he demanded, righteous anger and compassion chasing every syllable.

"It is nothing. I believe," Vader said with distaste, and it was so strange to be able to see the slight sneer he had as he said it, but it also looked painful in the way it tugged on those sores— "that I am well-accustomed to it."

Oh, look: Luke was blinking tears out of his eyes again. "That doesn't make it better," he snarled. "And I told you to hold your breath."

"It is fine, Luke. I can tell the difference. It will be arduous, but," he took a wheezing breath, "I can survive a few minutes without it."

Luke huffed. "If you insist."

The back of the helmet came off with more difficulty, due to the way it had been bashed in by the crash. He heard the weak gasp of pain when he peeled it off but didn't let himself stop. Like ripping off a bacta patch—

It came off, and Luke winced for the umpteenth time in the last few minutes when he saw the ugly purple colour that... bump... on his had had turned.

"Well, that doesn't look good."

Vader managed a weak chuckle. "Does any of this?"

Force, but it was weird to hear him talk without the vocoder.

"I'm... just gonna stick some bacta on that," Luke decided. "I'm no medic, but—"

"Just do it, Luke. I trust you."

Once again, he'd said that, and once again, Luke thought: Please don't.

"I'll be back in a moment."

He handed Vader the mask and respirator, who held it up to his face to breathe while Luke headed into the bedroom to dig up the bacta supplies he'd wheedled out of the Rebellion medbay. He refused to feel guilty about using Alliance resources on Darth Vader.

He brought the whole packet forward and, after a moment's hesitation, just slathered it on the back of his father's head.

"You have a lot of bacta," Vader observed. "For some reason I have the idea that it is expensive."

"It is. I—" For one single moment, Luke debated the wisdom of telling his father this; then his tendency for nervous babbling took over and he couldn't have stopped if he'd tried. "I'm on the planet Tatooine to rescue my friend from Jabba the Hutt. I don't know if 'Jabba' rings any bells—"

"It invokes a deep-seated feeling of rage and disgust."

"Good. Anyway, he has my friend captive and we don't know what state he'll be in when we rescue him. So I brought a lot of bacta."

"How long has your friend been a captive?"

"A year." He felt Vader tense. "Yeah, we're really not sure what state he'll be in—"

"It's not that," Vader interrupted. His voice, even through the recovered vocoder, was quiet. "A year? About the same amount of time since we last met?" He was wearing his mask again, with his back to Luke, but having seen his face Luke could well imagine the sardonic, self-deprecating smile he was wearing. "Coincidence?"

"I..."

"Luke." He shut up. "If— if I've hurt you so much"—his head tilted towards Luke's prosthetic slightly; Luke winced—"why are you helping me?"

Luke opened his mouth. Paused. Closed it again.

He let himself think for a minute as he reached for a bandage and fixed it around his head. "Because I love you."

Thankfully he couldn't see his father's face or mask, standing behind him as he was, so he had the courage to continue:

"I don't love some of the things you've done. I told you that we're on opposite sides of a war and we are. I have no intention of switching sides; I still think the Empire is evil and— well, I won't go into that now. But I don't love some of the things you've done in its service.

"And that's without going into the whole Jedi versus Sith thing." He was getting into his stride now. Ranting to his amnesiac father about their relationship troubles might not be the best way to get the burden he'd been carrying for a year off his chest but it worked nonetheless. "I don't want to go into the theology of it right now, but... uh... we have similar but rival... career paths. You disapprove of mine and want me to join yours, but I don't like a lot of what's in the fine print. Does that make sense?"

"Sort of." A pause. "No."

"Oh, well... it doesn't make sense to me either." Luke finished tying the bandage and moved back around to sit beside his father. "I'm sure you want what's best for me. Deep down."

A clumsy hand settled over his. His father's mask turned towards him. "I'm sure that I do. If not, then I should. I'm clearly very lucky to have you as a son."

Luke stood up hurriedly. "Right." Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he asked, "Do you want to try reaching for the Force again? If your head feels better, that is."

Vader nodded once. "It does."

"Then... uh..." Luke ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Do what you did before, I guess."

He sensed it when Vader reached for the Force, the cold tinge of the dark side ever-present in his signature. He could sense him slowly rediscovering the ability to build up his mental shields again, until they were thick fortress walls Luke couldn't ever hope to breach.

It meant Luke didn't sense the spark of realisation—of memory—when it came.

And the mask meant Luke didn't see his father's eyes as they shifted from blue to yellow... then turned on Luke's face and flashed back to blue again.

Luke, oblivious to all of this, said, "Well? Did it work? Do you remember anything?"

He watched his father watch him, gaze oddly intense... and his shoulders sagged when he shook his head.

"No," he said. "I remember images. A woman who may be my mother." A pause. "Shmi?"

"Shmi," Luke confirmed.

"But nothing else."

Luke took a breath. "Well, it's a start," he said. "Maybe you just need sleep—"

His comlink chimed.

He felt the dark flare of annoyance from his father but ignored it, dismissed it, reaching for the comlink... then hesitated as he saw Leia's name flash across the screen.

He was quiet, and listened.

"Luke?" his father asked, and was there a peculiar amount of relish in that word? "Are you alright?"

He said, "The storm's over."


"...I would like to bargain for Solo's life..."

Luke spoke into the holocam R2 had fixed on him. His mind was almost entirely on what he was saying, but a part of his attention kept slipping to the Force presence of his father, asleep in the other room.

He'd no longer be on Tatooine soon, after the rescue—for better or for worse. What would his father do then, in the state he was in?

"...end the recording, Artoo."

The little droid whistled his affirmative, then the dark room was lit blue when he played back the holo. Luke watched it only half-attentively, though the sight of himself in a holo never failed to make him cringe.

"Perfect," he said. "Now, here's the lightsaber..." He leaned forward to slot it into the compartment R2 opened for him, then whispered, "And remember, don't tell Threepio about the plan."

Another affirmative whistle, followed by what Luke could only describe as an electronic snigger. A smile tugged at his lips in response; R2's sense of humour could be crueller than the Force's, sometimes...

And, speaking of the Force's cruelty, his father was awake when Luke returned to the hut after sending the droids down.

"Where were you?" Vader asked—innocently enough, but Luke could sense his worry and protectiveness through it. It sent a pang through his chest. Why was it that his father only felt inclined to protect instead of hurt him when he couldn't remember who he was?

"Starting the first part of the plan to rescue Han."

"First part? How elaborate is this plan?"

"Pretty elaborate," Luke admitted. "And I'm nervous about a lot of it, I'll be honest; both my life and all my friends' lives rest on my ability to pull off some Jedi tricks I'm not entirely sure I've mastered yet. But we'll get Han out." He squared his shoulders. "We have to."

He was not expecting the sudden outpouring of protective rage from his father. "Jabba's palace is dangerous, young one. You should not be going in unless you are absolutely ready. The sort of scum that populates it—"

"I thought you had no memory of Jabba," Luke said quietly.

His father paused. "I have... glimpses," he admitted. "I remember pointing a blue lightsaber at him... demanding to know where someone is... Does the name Ahsoka mean anything to you?"

Luke shook his head. He almost missed the relieved slump of Vader's shoulders.

"Perhaps connecting to the Force did help," he said. "A little."

"Alright," Luke conceded. "But we can't wait until we're absolutely ready. Lando's been in position for weeks, and it's dangerous—"

"Lando Calrissian?"

Luke narrowed his eyes. "Yeah. You remember?"

"...vaguely. I—"

"Images?"

"Yes."

Luke pursed his lips. "Well, I'm going in anyway." If you hadn't frozen Han in carbonite I wouldn't have to.

Vader seemed to hear his unspoken jab. He hung his head. "I am sorry, little one."

But it wasn't his father he was talking to. The childlike names he used were far too affectionate for that. The apology held no weight, because it wasn't come from the right person.

He took a deep breath and decided he probably needed to meditate for a bit.


Luke headed off to the actual rescue the next day. He was aware of his father's gaze burning a hole in his back on the way.

He was aware of his father's gaze burning a hole in his back the whole time, in fact. For every moment he bargained with Jabba, fought the rancor, bantered with Han, threw goons off the skiff and came at them with his lightsaber... he could sense that dark nexus, attention fixed on him.

It was worried. Angry—cold and dark and angry in a way he suspected his father would always be—but because it was worried about him. Terrified for him.

So when they'd succeeded, and were heading back to the Falcon to embark on their next adventure, Luke paused.

The last stirrings of that terrible storm sent sand spiralling gently around his legs. Luke desperately wanted to get out of the sun—as fond as he was of the black ensemble he wore, mainly for how well it distracted from the single black glove he wore, it had been a terrible decision to wear it on Tatooine. But he stayed long enough for Han to vaguely stagger in his direction, hands up to block from the too-bright sunlight and also to guide his way. His vision hadn't fully returned yet.

"Kid," he said. Luke could tell from his tone that a heartfelt but clumsy speech of gratitude was about to come gushing out, and he smiled faintly, as much as he didn't need it.

Wouldn't want to ruin Han Solo's terrifyingly tough reputation, of course.

"Thanks for coming after me—"

"Of course I did, Han."

"—twice, Leia says! Cloud City—Lando—"

"Is fine. He sacrificed more than anyone to get you out."

"Yeah, I know." He gave a look to the spot he'd been talking to Lando in earlier. Lando wasn't actually standing there anymore, but Luke decided not to point that out. "Just..."

He tried to clap Luke on the shoulder, underestimated (as usual) how short he was and accidentally hit him in the face a little. "I owe you one."

Luke grinned.

"Well, I'm headed back to the Falcon. See you at the fleet!"

"Yeah—about that..." He glanced at Leia, approaching with a smile on her face. The soft adoration and relief she looked at Han with made him grin wider, though he was sure it would be gone before Han got his sight back to see it. "There's one last thing I need to take care of, back up at Old Ben's. I contact you when I'm gonna meet you at the fleet."

She nodded, but warned, "Return soon. Mon commed me to say they've got a major operation coming up they need us all back for."

"I will."

She watched him for a moment, smiled, then squeezed his shoulder. "Stay safe, Luke."

"You too."

He watched the Falcon take off with a heart heavy with guilt, but... he couldn't have told her. Not then. She'd experienced too much at Vader's hands for him to expect her to have the sort of mercy he desperately wanted for him.

He sighed and headed for his X-wing.

It was a short flight from their rendezvous on the edge of the Dune Sea to the hut, where he could sense his father awaiting his return. It was too short.

He let R2 take the controls as he sat back and closed his eyes, sighing. Rubbing at his cheeks and eyelids with the heel of his hand, felt a rough wire— oh. He'd been shot in the prosthetic. Right.

He tried to flex the hand; it worked briefly, then spasmed and died on him. He grimaced. He'd need to fix that.

The chain of thought as to how occupied most of the remainder of the flight, and by the time that domed building came into view he hadn't thought about what he was going to say to his father at all. Under the pretence of needing a wider patch of land to set down the X-wing on, he settled in the canyons below, intent on actually considering the problem as he hiked up—

The Force blared in alarm.

He whirled and just managed the throw the Force into the chest of one of his assailants, sending him flying. But there were five in total—Weequays, he recognised, probably survivors of the sail barge—and the rest each brought up blasters.

His lightsaber leapt to hand—he made to light it, then his right hand gave out and he dropped it.

He distractedly threw another Weequay into his friend and summoned the saber to hand again, ducking a shot—it ignited again and some tension in him released when he heard the satisfying crash of a bolt bouncing clean off it.

But he wasn't used to wielding it one-handed—with his less dominant hand at that—and the Weequays' characteristic thick skin was doing a much better job of deflecting the bolts that he was. One snuck past his guard and struck his shoulder; two he accidentally deflected into his foot; he staggered back and one more hit his left arm. He dropped the lightsaber as he fell.

Force, he needed to get better at this whole 'Jedi' thing. Or at least fighting one-handed. Not every opponent was Darth Vader.

If he survived long enough to get better, that was...

He heard distant rage inside his head, but he pushed the distraction away. One of the Weequays approached him.

"This is for all the friends you killed, Skywalker," he spat, the only other Weequay still standing nodding in agreement, and lifted his blaster.

He was yanked into the air by his throat.

Luke had no idea what he was seeing for one moment, though he really should have.

Red painted the canyon walls—light, not blood, as a crimson saber crashed down on the Weequay still hanging in midair and carved him in two. He fell to the ground gasping, in two pieces.

Then blood did spatter onto the canyon walls: the last Weequay's eyes shot wide and his blaster shot low, hard, and the bolt came home to bury in his neck.

He fell with a wheeze.

Luke wheezed as well.

He tilted his head back—cried out in pain, but tilted his head back—to see the blurred shadow of an avenging angel outline by the sun. His father crouched down to the same level as him then, so his eyes weren't dazzled, and Luke stared at his lightsaber as he deactivated it.

"...I hid that."

"Not well, young one," Vader chastised gently—almost genuinely parentally, and Luke didn't know what to make of any of this

He father's fingers ghosted over the blood-soaked shoulder. "It appears your proclivity for finding trouble has not at all diminished since Bespin."

"Bespin—" He sat bolt upright, ignoring the lance of pain it caused. "You remember!"

"Indeed, son."

"But—" He shook his head. "Were you faking it? What?"

"The Force," Vader informed him, clipping his lightsaber back to his belt, "can achieve many things. You were correct in that it could return my memories, though I am uncertain as to how."

Luke buried his face in his hands. "And you were pretending after that... Oh, stars..."

"There is nothing to be ashamed of. You conducted yourself admirably. Far—" The respirator breathed for him for a short while before he managed to say, "Far more admirably and compassionately than I deserved."

"I said—"

"I know what you said." A squeeze to his shoulder—the non-injured one—then Vader took hold of his arm. "And... I am proud of you, Luke. Extremely so."

Luke swallowed, turned his head away and did not cry.

"Now," Vader said, rising to his feet and making Luke rise with him. He leaned heavily on his father; his feet burned— "If you provide me with a comlink, I can summon someone to pick us up and return to the Executor to ensure we are both properly treated. In the meantime," he added with amusement, "I can take care of some of these with the extensive amount of bacta you acquired for Captain Solo."

"I—" His mouth caught up to his thoughts very suddenly. "I can't go with you!"

A pointed look at his injuries—at how he was trembling on agonised feet just standing upright. "You do not seem able to go anywhere else, son."

"I— I can't, I can't join the dark side, and I need to get back to the Rebellion, Leia says there's a mission for me—"

"Luke, I am sure the two of us can do far more against the Second Death Star if we work together than if I allow you and your Rebel friends to walk into the Emperor's trap."

"Wha— Second Death Star? Trap?"

"Come with me," Vader said, "and I shall explain it to you."

Luke sighed.

He wanted to. More than anything. That was the entire problem he'd struggled with since Bespin.

And—

"It doesn't seem like I have much of a choice, does it?" he asked wryly.

Vader heard all the words he didn't say. "Indeed," he rumbled in response—then ducked down to swing an arm under Luke's legs and pull him against his chest.

Shock stilled Luke's tongue for a moment, then—

"Father! Put me down!"

Vader started meandering up the path to Old Ben's. "You are injured. You clearly cannot walk on your own."

That perfectly valid point notwithstanding... "I'm twenty three."

"So you should by now have the sense to acknowledge that you cannot walk without assistance, and subsequently accept said assistance."

He huffed a sigh, then let his head drop against Vader's shoulder. "Father..."

Was he imagining the slight catch of breath off-sync with the respirator? He'd prefer it if he wasn't.

Vader said, impossibly gently, "Yes, Luke?"

There was so much to say, but only one was urgent. Everything else, he could say later. He'd finally have that chance.

He sighed, but it was a happy sigh, and closed his eyes.

"...don't forget Artoo."

Chapter Text

"Target in sights."

"You gonna shoot yet?"

"Readying to fire— no, wait, he's moving."

"That's the decoy, idiot. Target remains seated behind his cushy supposed-to-be-blaster-proof glass window."

"We don't know that that's the decoy."

"It's one of them, and—"

"I'm not risking the failure of another mission on one of your feelings, Skywalker."

"Those feelings have saved your life, Jade."

"And they nearly ended it on Ryloth."

"You should have just let me—"

"Silence. Cut the comm chatter. We're on duty."

"Just because I'm right."

"This has nothing to do with how right you may or may not be and everything to do with the fact that you're breaking protocol."

"Oh?"

"Fine. We're breaking protocol. Master won't be pleased. No—"

"Names, right? That one's on you."

"You didn't help, you— shhh, he's moved."

"He's gestured to the Gamorrean to get him more ice. He's still sitting there like— well, like a sitting duck."

"A sitting duck behind blaster-proof glass. Don't snort like that—we don't know for sure that we'll be able to shatter it."

"The Force always provides."

"Uh huh. Like it did on Ryloth. Your feelings are never wrong."

"That was one time."

"And I still have the scar. Anyway, we don't know, because the other guy is still in the square. He's in front of the jewellery stall."

"Maybe he's looking for something for his partner—"

"Not likely, with the way he's looking at the vendor."

"—and I can see the marketplace from here, I don't need you narrating it to me. It's unnecessary comm chatter."

"Then do something useful. Keep an eye on Sitting Duck while I take out Jewellery Guy."

"You'd be taking out the wrong person. They want you to take a shot at Jewellery Guy—that's why he moved out into the open."

"You can't be sure of that."

"I am."

"I doubt it."

"How about a compromise, then? You take out Jewellery Guy, like you clearly want to, and I'll take out Sitting Duck."

"You don't have a blaster."

"Don't need one. The Force—"

"Yeah, I know." Her hands tightened on the sniper-rifle. "The Force always provides."


On any other day, the news that one man was shot in the market in the capital of Bothawui within the same moment that a blaster-proof window shattered and the pieces drove themselves into the heart of the Rebellion's main Bothan informant would— well, it would be a headliner. On Bothawui, certainly, if not the rest of the galaxy.

But there were much more important things afoot, and one of those things was the reason that moments after the killing, two assassins fell from their perches on the surrounding buildings, screaming.


Leia Organa, quite simply, could not believe her eyes.

"Is this live?" she asked the nearest tech. They nodded, primly and nervously.

Leia turned her stunned gaze back on the holo—and the writing there.

EMPEROR PALPATINE FOUND DEAD.

"How did he die?" asked Mon, always the sensible one, her brows creased.

"By a sudden strike of Dantari flu—"

"Poodoo. He was murdered."

"Evidently, but by whom?"

Leia narrowed her eyes at the screen—at the second headline that scrolled in its wake. LORD VADER ASCENDS THE THRONE IN TIME OF CRISIS.

"...all business in the Empire will continue as normal," Vader was saying on the feed, the vocoder booming his words; the reporter next to him looked like he was about to faint. "All members of the military are urged to continue as ordered; there will be no change in ranking at this time. If there are public displays of grief over this tragedy, please deal with them accordingly." She snorted at the euphemism. "All individual, unassigned officers are to conclude their business and return to Coruscant for further orders."

"'Individual unassigned officers'?" Leia echoed.

"Palpatine's personal agents," Draven informed her. He was still frowning, but she put little stock in it: he was always frowning. "The Inquisitors are only for use against Force-sensitives. His Hands are assassins, thieves, spies, infiltrators—we've identified a few by face and alias, but they don't exist as far as records are concerned. More than one Rebel cell has fallen to a capable Hand." He scowled at the screen. "Vader's probably trying to assure their loyalty to him, now that Palpatine's dead. Or he's just planning to kill them when they turn up—erase the problem entirely."

"Perhaps," Mon cut in, "but that doesn't tell us who killed Palpatine."

"It wasn't—"

Leia tuned out their bickering as she glared at the screen further, a nagging idea tick-tick-ticking at the back of her mind...

...then it solidified into something unbelievable.

Ridiculous.

Absurd.

"Vader did it," she said, and knew she was right.


"Mara?"

The sound of her first name dragged her back to consciousness: only one person ever called her that, and even then only in vulnerability.

She needed to wake up and protect the idiot until that vulnerability passed, then.

"Mara?"

"Luke," she drawled back. The affected Coruscanti accent they'd borne for most of their training betrayed her sarcasm.

She tried to sit up and the galaxy spun. No—no, the galaxy was perfectly still and grey, but she was staggering through it because her weight had been thrown off, cut away, unbalanced—

There was a hole in her heart and her mind.

The hole didn't bleed. It couldn't: there was nothing inside it. That was the problem.

Tendrils of smoke so deeply rooted in her mind that parts of her mind were built of them had... evaporated, as smoke was wont to do.

Now in lieu of those foundations it was all caving in, everything crashing and rattling around her skull—

"He's dead," Luke said quietly.

She opened her eyes.

"I can tell that," she snapped, fire momentarily filling the hole inside her, welling up and spilling into every crack in a way that chilled and numbed the part that hurt and set her eyes ablaze—

And then those amber-as-a-flame eyes fell on Luke and warmed. Momentarily.

"What in the blazes happened to your face?"

He looked like crap. Black eyes so purple they'd do a jogan proud; nose split and taped ad slightly wonky in a way that wouldn't be noticeable if she didn't spend so much time looking at him; blood hugging his head in long, arm-like tracks that cradled his jaw, cheek and forehead from a starburst above his left eye.

"I fell off a building," he said simply.

"You were crouched in the undergrowth!"

"And you were atop that gargoyle. You got caught halfway down by another gargoyle—which, by the way, I used the last of our bacta on a head injury from—and you looked pretty precarious up there."

"So you leapt up to save me, like a idiot, and got so uncoordinated that you fell out with me?"

"No." Luke sounded indignant. "I could've got us both down, had no one been shooting at us."

"And then you fell?"

"And then I fell." He gestured to his torso—wrapped in bacta-less bandages and riddled with blood and blaster wounds, she now noticed.

She scoffed. "Idiot."

He didn't even try to defend himself. He knew what criticism their master levelled at him so often.

"But I'm impressed you got us away amid it all," she conceded, ignoring the way her lips automatically curved to answer his small smile. "I was a mess. It was like having a part of me ripped away."

"I know," he murmured. "He was a part of us."

"And you reacted so quickly. It was like you knew it was coming—you were prepared."

"I'm prepared for everything, Mara."

A part of her ached at the pain in that voice. She shooed that part of her away.

"Alright, don't get mushy on me, Skywalker." His smile fell—the vulnerability was gone. "We finished our mission—we need to get off Bothawui, get you some bacta and work out our next steps."

He made to hug his ribs, wincing. "In that order?"

She relented in a heartbeat. "...not necessarily."


Darth Vader had been Emperor of the Known Galaxy, unquestioned, uncontested and undeniable, for thirty-six hours. He already had a headache.

He was not a bureaucrat. In fact, he was anything but. And yet the events of the previous evening—and the galaxy-shaking consequences they'd brought about—had thrust him into a situation where he was required to be one.

He hated it.

"My l— emperor," his aide corrected hurriedly, face going white as a sheet at his own mistake.

Despite his foul mood, Vader ignored it. He had far more important things to concern himself with—and at least this aide could be trusted to truly know where his priorities lay.

This aide knew which name, above all else, to search the multitude of updates for.

Even if at this rate, Vader did not think that name would surface lightly.

"What is it?" he rumbled instead. The man's face regained some of its colour.

"Senator Organa of Alderaan is scheduled to meet with you in five minutes, to pledge her continuing loyalty to the Empire and your regime."

Vader let out a snort the vocoder didn't pick up. Loyalty. The Organas were tied up in the Rebellion, no doubt, and the moment he had the slightest bit of evidence they would be dealt with like the traitors they were.

"Admit her when she arrives."

"Yes, my emperor."

"And—" He half-turned away from the throne room window, hands still tightly clasped behind his back, and looked at his aide directly. "Have any of Palpatine's individual unassigned officers reported in as ordered yet?"

The aide swallowed at the intensity in his tone, but shook his head. "None, my emperor."

Vader ignored the disappointment in his chest. He'd been expecting it, after all. "They fear reprisal from the new regime. They think they shall be executed as wild cards or disloyal agents, to eliminate a threat to my throne."

"Indeed, my emperor."

It was a reasonable fear. After all, Vader was planning on doing exactly that to most of them.

Using someone to achieve one's goals then throwing them under the speeder when all is said and done was a common tactic in the Imperial Court. Under these circumstances, how could the boy expect anything different?

"Inform me immediately if one reports in," he ordered. There was no need to clarify which one.

"Of course, my emperor." The aide glanced at his datapad. "Senator Organa has arrived."

Vader waved a hand. "Send her in."

Then man scuttled off to do just that.

Vader re-folded his hands behind his back and stared out over Coruscant again. Theirs—all theirs. The galaxy was theirs and yet, standing here, Vader wanted desperately to be on the bridge of the Executor again. The glimmering lights of Coruscant were a poor substitute for stars.

But in order to do that, he needed a suitable person on the throne...

The doors swung open and the Princess Leia Organa strode in.

He turned to behold her.

"Your Highness," he greeted dispassionately.

"V— Lo— Your Majesty," she replied, not quite able to hide the bite of disdain in her voice. She was not as subtle as she thought she was. "My congratulations on your coronation. I regret that I was unable to attend in person, but I had urgent business on Alderaan to attend to."

"Understandable." And it didn't escape Vader's notice that most of the senators suspected of Rebel ties had been regrettably unavailable for the snap coronation—had, indeed, been elsewhere.

He let a little of his impatience through when he barked into the ensuing silence, "Was there anything else?"

She lifted her chin and he had to be impressed at how she refused to quail under his gaze.

"Only to express my deepest condolences at the loss of your mentor"—he twitched in shock at the comment, anger boiling at the realisation that she'd caught it—"and my deepest desire to help you and his empire"—another, unwitting twitch of irritation—"however I can."

He was done. He was no bureaucrat; he was no politician. He had no patience or proclivity to sit—or stand—through the insolent princess's mind games.

"Thank you for your generosity," he snapped back sarcastically. He could sense his aide cringe at the familiar mood, but Organa still refused to flinch. "Though I confess to being surprised by it. Your father and the rest of your planet are not know for looking kindly on my empire."

That shook her minutely, he knew—a subtle indication that he knew of her rebellious ties—but he'd never have realised it without the Force; her face stayed stoic.

"My father and I are extremely different people, Lord Vader."

"Emperor Vader," he corrected hotly, though he knew it had been an intentional jab. "And the differences are evident, Princess—you are far less subtle than the Viceroy."

There was a genuine reaction on her face at that naked threat, but his gaze didn't linger long enough to see it.

"You are dismissed, Senator."

She hesitated, frowning, the opened her mouth—

"Dismissed."

She snapped her mouth shut again, snapped her heels together, and bowed so shallowly it was clearly an insult.

"Yes, my emperor," she said dully then turned and left.

Vader turned to his aide so briskly his cape flared. "Have there been any updates?" he demanded. He was putting up with all of this for one reason and one reason only.

His aide shook his head; Vader almost reached out to crush it mid-motion. "None, my emperor."

That wouldn't do. "Run the search again."

The aide did as he was told, his white-knuckled grip growing tighter with every second. "My emperor..."

So caught up in the search, neither of them noticed Leia Organa pausing for a moment just before the doors to the audience chamber shut behind her.

"...no results for the name or image of Luke Skywalker."


"What happened to your face?" the spacer asked Luke the moment he lumbered into the living area of the freighter they'd booked passage on.

The Wookiee—Chewbacca, Luke remembered—sniggered as Mara rolled her eyes.

Luke would do the same, but it hurt too much. The meagre bacta rations they'd been able to afford after settling the deal had cleared out their emergency funds.

"Brawl," Luke said shortly. Stars, he hated that excuse.

"Looks like you lost pretty badly."

"Oh, he won," Mara chimed in, slinging a casual arm around his shoulders. It was a common enough gesture between them—years of collaborating as sparring partners and on missions meant that physical contact was hardly unusual—but it was the very familiarity of it that made him tense and relax simultaneously. The defensive-on-his-behalf tone didn't help matters. "You should see the other guy."

The spacer—Solo?—raised one eyebrow sceptically, but didn't object further. Luke almost smiled at the look he was giving him, actually: he knew he looked small, sweet and harmless. His master had told him that often enough in a fond tone, followed by the order Luke had written his life around: take advantage of it.

My little, harmless, innocent boy... snap their necks when they turn away.

"Where was it you wanted to go again?" Solo asked nonchalantly. Luke could tell it was false: he was not nonchalant at all.

"Naboo," Mara said sweetly. Her arm was still slung around Luke's shoulders. "We want to pay our respects to the late Emperor before going on our way."

It was true. Paying their respects was one way of putting it.

Han eyed them. "You sure you wanna do that? Naboo's gonna be in uproar. Getting through all that Imperial security's gonna cost you extra."

"All in advance, Solo, remember?" Mara reminded him, still sweetly. Luke was familiar with that tone: it was terrifying when used on him. "We paid you already, you agreed. Take us there."

Solo frowned. Leaned back. Luke wasn't an idiot: he sensed his hand go for his blaster. He quietly set it to stun.

Just in case.

"Or we'll be very upset," Luke said.

Solo turned to him. "Are you threatening me, kid?"

Absolutely. "Absolutely not. We just want to avoid any trouble and pay our respects to the planet that great man originated from."

"'Cause you and your girlfriend got pretty tense there."

Mara did tense at that, but Luke lightly took her wrist in his hand and squeezed it as a warning. It's a good cover, he thought at her, for all that whatever bond was between them was only sometimes strong enough for her to hear him.

Besides—it wasn't like it was the first time they'd used that excuse.

"We're grieving," Luke supplied. "As I said, he was a great man."

Han rolled his eyes.

"Sure he was," he said, then he and Chewie stalked off to the cockpit, muttering something about Imperial fanatics along the way.


"Leia," her father folded his arms across his chest, "you said you had evidence to support your earlier allegation?"

Leia swallowed, eyeing the ring of Rebel leaders lit up in blue around her holotable. "Of sorts. Not evidence, but... something to support my suspicion. And something interesting."

Draven frowned. "Let's hear it then." Mon and General Rieekan nodded their agreement.

"I went to Vader's audience chamber to give the new pledge of allegiance expected from every senator," she began. "We had a few minutes' conversation."

"And?"

"Most pressingly," she looked straight at her father, "I believe he suspects Alderaan has Rebel ties."

Contrary to her own alarm at the idea, her father only pinched his brow in slight unease.

"He has likely suspected for some time now," he said. "He simply couldn't or wouldn't voice it under Palpatine's rule, for whatever reason. Do not think too much of it."

She nodded. "Alright."

"Otherwise...?"

She turned to Draven. "Further to my suggestion that it was Vader who killed the Emperor, during the course of the conversation I used specific words and watched his reactions to them. He was irritated when I referred to the Empire as Palpatine's, and expressed shock that I would assumed he'd be mourning Palpatine's death. Both of these, I believe, signify that they had a sour or at least distant relationship—"

"I have no doubt they do, Leia," Mon said quietly, "but that does not mean he killed him."

"And how did you know Vader was irritated?" Draven pointed out. "He has no visible face to read and his voice is modulated by that vocoder. How can you be certain?"

"I... don't know." She was correct—she could feel that in her very blood and bones—but she didn't know how. "But I'm sure of it."

"Leia—"

"If my daughter says she's sure of it, she's sure of it," her father said firmly. "But Mon is right: while this perhaps bears further investigation, this is not proof."

Leia wanted to argue... but she knew he was right.

"And what was the last piece of information you said you had for us?"

Leia perked up—that was big. She knew it.

"I believe it has to do with Vader's order that all of Palpatine's agents report in," she said, "though again I have no proof. But I do know that Vader is searching for one person in particular."

"Do you know who this person is?"

"No," she admitted, "but he has the name of Luke Skywalker."

The adults had frozen. They were giving each other pointed looks.

"Skywalker?" her father asked. "Are you sure?"

Leia nodded. "Positive."

"Skywalker? Like the Jedi?" Mon turned to Leia's father and paused at the understanding she saw on his face. "Bail, what does this mean?"

"It means that I agree with Leia," he said gravely. "Vader did kill Palpatine."

"But why Skywalker?" Mon insisted, then— "Oh."

"What?" Leia's head whipped back and forth between them. "What is it?"

"Meet me on Alderaan in three days," her father ordered. "Especially you, Leia.

"I have something to tell you all."


They arrived at Naboo a small while later and then it was time to disembark.

"What was your name again, kid?" Solo asked as he shook Luke's hand goodbye.

"Luke Antilles," he lied. Antilles was a common enough last name.

"Well, see you, Antilles. And you—" He glanced at Mara.

"Whitesun."

"Yeah. Have fun paying your respects to the old man." Han didn't manage to keep the scorn out of his voice that time, either, but at least he was trying.

Chewbacca roared something unflattering about Palpatine, but neither Luke nor Mara reacted: they'd been pretending not to understand Shyriiwook all trip, after all.

They'd kept their cover while Rebels insulted their master, before. Had taken joy in killing them once the mission was over, but dealing with one howling smuggler was nothing in comparison.

"Yeah," Mara clipped out, reaching for Luke's arm like the close-but-not-too-close partners they'd been posing as since Bothawui. "Good luck to you too."

With one last nod, Solo and Chewbacca returned to their ship and it peeled away from the ground. Mara turned away the moment it took off but Luke watched it ascend, duck behind a cloud, shrink to a black dot against the azure sky, then vanish.

Only then did he take a look around.

In all truth, he'd been avoiding it.

Naboo was his master's homeworld. One would never be able to guess. It shone in the Force, the light Palpatine had been the shadow of. It made him uncomfortable.

Because he was not light. He was his master's creation. He was a stain on this beautiful planet.

And if there were... other reasons... he didn't want to be here—didn't want to seize the revenge Mara was so hungry for—well...

"Come on," Mara said, using her grip on his arm to pull him towards the exit of the spaceport. They had no one to perform to anymore, but she didn't let go. "Government district, here we come."

"You said you'd tell me what you saw once we arrived," he argued, though he had a pretty good idea of what she'd seen. Of who'd killed Palpatine. "We've arrived. What vision was it that knocked you out?"

"Our master's death."

"I know that," Luke said irritably. "But what did you see? Who did it? Who are we seeking revenge on?"

"What makes you think we're seeking revenge?"

"You interrogated me for the location of Master's most well-stocked safe house. Stocked with Sith artefacts and other weapons, not means of lying low. You're looking for the sort of stuff that will take down an empire—and you wouldn't want to take down Master's empire unless it was now in the hands of the people who killed him."

Mara paused halfway down the promenade. "...astute," she admitted. "You know me too well." Neither of them addressed the tension in that sentence.

Even without the verbal confirmation, even if he hadn't already known, the tight, stressed line of her mouth betrayed their predicament.

"Vader?" Luke asked quietly.

Mara nodded. "Vader."

Luke cursed quietly.

"Well then," he said. Looks like we're overthrowing the galactic government. "Let's find those supplies."


Since a fateful meeting on Alderaan where a Rebel plan of action was officially decided among the numb, horrified silence of a young woman who'd just learnt the truth, Darth Vader had not been the only one searching for a young man named Luke Skywalker.

And while both parties were aware that Skywalker had every reason to go to Naboo, a convenient fluke in the software meant that the Rebellion would be the first to hear of a Luke with a suspiciously common last name, registered as having arrived in Theed spaceport with a woman a similar age to him aboard a freighter.

It was a lead for desperate people. But both parties were desperate. They both acted.

And due to that fluke, one party acted just a little too late...


Typical. The moment Palpatine died, Vader gave permission for Theed Council to tear down the museum to His Majesty's greatness.

The museum was set in a grandiose building next to the palace. It was rumoured to be connected by secret tunnels to where he'd worked as a senator.

Luke and Mara knew better. Or rather, they knew more precisely.

There was a tunnel—two tunnels, in fact—that connected the buildings together.

But there was a stop in between.

The large sign on the museum door loudly proclaimed that due to planned demolition, the place was free to enter until it closed for good in ten days. The fact that Vader was stripping his memory from the galaxy so soon rose Luke's ire and relief simultaneously. He tried not to dwell on it.

Instead, it was much easier to fixate on the tone inside the place. It was buzzing: parents were there with their kids, like it was a museum of natural history or science or something worthy of a smile. There was laughter traded around—mocking, relieved, cheerful—and neither parents nor curators objected to children graffitiing the displays.

Luke looked at one such work of art and had to hold in a snort himself. He didn't know whether the kid's use of yellow had been intentional or not—his master's Sith identity had been a well-kept secret—but the eyes and demon horns doodled on the standard, state-approved portrait of him were amusingly apt nonetheless.

"Disgusting," Mara muttered.

Luke said nothing—just tugged at her wrist.

"C'mon. The turbolift's this way."

They stepped in, the lift mercifully empty. Luke stretched out with the Force to keep it that way while Mara fumbled about in her pockets.

"For emergencies, right?" she quipped as she finally produced the key card. It looked perfectly unassuming: black on one side, white on the other, textless.

Luke fixed her with a mock glare. "He will know if you use it without permission," he drawled.

She didn't laugh. "Not anymore," she said, then swiped it in the slot above the buttons.

The white light illuminating the lift went red. Luke hadn't even noticed the tinkling music until it stopped.

They descended.

It was a short wait, but it felt like eons to Luke—his own guilt roiling in his chest, Mara too-tense and on-edge beside him. He could feel the anticipation, disgust, dread rolling off her, and... he didn't know how to feel about it himself.

His master had not been kind. Had never been kind. His threats had sometimes been more than Luke could bear.

But the memory of a shadow looming over him, a gentle-but-harsh bass tone both coaxing and forcing lethal information out of him, the promise whispered and roared that I will make it right...

Luke pushed the thought away with a shudder. Mara tensed further beside him.

"What is it?" she asked urgently.

"Nothing."

She gave him a sceptical look. "It's clearly not nothing, you—"

The turbolift doors slid open.

Shock—and a sort of horrified awe—froze the breath in both their throats.

Luke stepped forward, out of the lift, in a daze. The red, black and grey colour scheme Palpatine had been so fond of held sway in here as well: the lights were dim, dusty shelves and tables lined with black cloth. The lights themselves were red, casting across Luke's skin shadows sallow and strange, sparking Mara's hair like heat to gasoline.

It was cold.

There was no breeze: Luke took in a breath and choked on years' worth of dust and cobwebs. Palpatine clearly hadn't favoured this place as his secret retreat.

Perhaps that was why it was the only one he'd ever allowed them to know of.

Mara's voice drifted back to him through the drafts and the dust particles; he didn't realise how far he'd wandered, dreamlike, until he turned to look back at her.

She seemed much paler than usual—or maybe that was the light. She was hugging her torso, hanging just by the now-closed turbolift, though her eyes were fixed on one specific point of the room.

"Find everything we need in here?" she asked, a little weakly. Frowning, Luke reached out to her—sensed a smudge of guilt and, paradoxically, something like regret before her shields slammed down and she glared at him with all her old fire.

He murmured, "Theoretically." Then, because her gaze had moved back to that one point, "What are you looking at?"

She looked at him again briefly, then finally detached her arms from around her waist and stepped away from the shadow of the lift. Two, three, five hesitant steps, then she was standing before a ledger of flimsi files, their titles printed neatly along the top.

"Flimsi?" he asked with a slight snort, peering over her shoulder to run his eyes along them.

"He always did like having physical copies," she mused dispassionately. "In case of emergency."

She reached out a hand to draw one from its slot. Trembling—her hand was trembling as she took it in hand, turning it over in her fingers, and Luke couldn't tell if it was nerves, anticipation, or the thick stench of darkness that permeated this room.

Luke and Mara had been raised in the dark side. They knew it well.

That did not mean either of them liked it.

She turned it over in her fingers one last time and Luke finally caught a glimpse of the title that had so enraptured her.

It was a simple, generic word—but it stilled his blood and his breath and his beating heart.

HANDS.

Mara kept turning it. She didn't look like she wanted to open it—or was about to, any time soon—so he took her right hand in his left and folded it closed, gently tugging the document towards him with his other hand.

He held it deliberately—it was so light, for all that it was thick, how could anything so light be so important—before loosing a breath and tearing it open.

He scanned it with his eyes. His hands—trembling themselves, now—clenched into fists.

"What is it?" Mara asked, voice hushed.

He cleared his throat, stumbled a little, then began: "'Training logs. Nine AFE to sixteen AFE.

"'Galen Marek is a skilled duellist, but lacks the subtlety and loyalty required for a Hand. Corrupted by Vader. Executed 15 AFE.'"

Mara frowned, but it was a taut, fraught frown; she knew exactly what this could mean. "Go on."

He scanned the document again, eyes landing on a random name. "'Tem Tapalo. Loyal and devoted, but simply because she lacks the intelligence to betray. Killed during training.'"

Luke pressed his lips tightly together. Mara did the same.

"And?"

"'Alyan Cohl trained in espionage, discovered and killed by Rebels, 14 AFE. Cartis Graf: assassin, vanished after failed mission to assassinate Bail Organa, presumed dead. Perek Bedifin: active, skilled and devoutly loyal. Mara Jade"—his breath caught—"slavishly, narrow-mindedly devoted but highly skilled in most fields. One of the only Hands who does not believe herself to be the only one, but one of two; subsequently works often and best with—'"

He paused.

"'Luke Skywalker: strongest candidate for a Sith apprentice to replace Vader, as well as an effective hostage. Attached to Jade"—he read the words without processing them, then stubbornly kept reading despite his fierce blush—"which may be taken advantage of if relationship progresses to... sexual...'" Oh, stars, he wanted to throw up. "'...as any offspring would also be strong in the Force—'"

He choked and threw down the file. It landed on the table, stirring up dust. He choked again.

He couldn't look Mara in the eye.

In his peripheral vision he saw her open her mouth...

...and she said, "You're a hostage?"

That's what you're focusing on? he thought, but didn't voice or transmit. This was awkward enough as it was.

"Let me see that." She snatched up the file, flicked her eyes over it and finished, "'Attempts to wean him of his birth name for security purposes have proven ineffective despite his otherwise malleability; he has not responded to any of the punishments in this area, indicating a stubbornness that could prove problematic.'"

She snorted. "'Problematic' is your middle name."

He couldn't keep quiet any longer. "That's what you're focusing on?"

She tensed.

Ah.

Maybe he shouldn't have.

"What else should I focus on?" she asked lowly—dangerously. "The fact that my master—our master—whom I served faithfully and slavishly for years, never actually considered us special? Had a whole slew of replacements? Lied to us about our very role in the Empire we so loved?" She spat on the floor. "Oh, I'm focusing on it."

He definitely should have.

"So—" Luke's head was still spinning. "Master—"

"I will not be avenging him," Mara declared, fixing him with a look. "All of his crimes, lying to us, threatening—" She cut herself off. "I will not take on Vader to avenge him."

Oh, thank the Force and all its creations.

"I won't either," he said quietly, reaching for her hand. She clasped his gently, giving him a searching look—the sort of look that reminded him that he had just read out a report all but confirming his attachment to her—and he fought not to flush.

"Maybe we can find a peaceful life instead," he offered, the together left unspoken. "In the Outer Rim or something. If we manage to avoid Vader's attention long enough."

She hesitated, then smiled. "I guess we could," she said. She no longer looked quite so pale.


It was not meant to be.

So distracted by the lingering presence of the dark side, they didn't sense the suspicious lack of guests in the museum until they stepped out of the turbolift.

And by then—with no lightsabers, hands still laced together, distracted—it was far too late to stop the stun bolts that leapt at them from every direction.


Luke woke up with a headache.

It was the sort of headache that demanded to be recognised: it pounded no matter the position he adopted and shouted every time he so much as twitched his eyes.

Not that there was much reason to twitch his eyes. It was pitch dark in here.

Usually, he didn't rely completely on his eyes to see. Usually—always—the Force would provide.

But the headache distracted him, made it difficult to access.

Or maybe the binders at his wrists were Force-suppressant.

Whatever.

He didn't know how long he lay there in that dark cell, but eventually the headache faded. He blinked—it was just as dark with his eyes closed as with them open—and tried to stretch his memory back, to how this situation had begun—

That infernal hideout. Turbolift. Stun bolts.

He sat bolt upright. His headache roared.

Mara.

What had happened to her? What had happened?

Their assailants had worn a hodgepodge mess if purely functional clothes, he remembered. Rebels, then.

The thought engendered as much anger as it always did, despite his (not so) new disillusionment with his master and his methods.

They had kidnapped him and Mara.

Anger was a natural reaction.

Finally, the door cracked open and Luke lifted his chin to sneer at the newcomer.

It was not who he'd been expecting.

Leia Organa, Princess and Senator of Alderaan, did not look at all odd in that same hodgepodge garb of a Rebel. She frowned when she saw him, flicked the lights on and sat on the floor in front of him.

Well. If he ever got out of here, he at least had some information to give Vader in exchange for him and Mara being spared: Leia Organa was a Rebel.

It probably wouldn't be enough, but he could try.

Organa was still looking at him strangely.

"Luke... Skywalker," she said.

He tilted his head, a little mockingly. "Yes?"

She pursed her lips. "You didn't change your name."

He blinked.

"Palpatine no doubt wanted you to change your name to something less... recognisable, but you wouldn't let him." She leaned forward a little. "Why?"

Luke asked, "Where's Mara?"

Organa looked taken aback, though it was quickly replaced with the impassive mask of a politician. "What?"

"My companion. Where is she."

"Safe," Organa dismissed. "She's not important here. You—"

"Not important?" He didn't expect the fury that rattled his chest so fiercely at that—though perhaps he should've. Even Organa shuffled back, alarmed, at his quickly-aborted lunge. His chains clattered. "Then let her go."

"Answer the question, Skywalker, and we'll consider it."

"So you're holding her hostage?" he sneered. How original. "Very noble of your Rebellion."

"Your Empire is hardly better."

"We don't pretend to do what's noble. We do what's necessary."

"Like assassinating emperors who get in the way?"

Luke froze.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Answer my questions and maybe I'll explain it to you." She smiled. "Let's return to the first one I asked, shall we?"

Luke ground his teeth.

"Why keep your name?"

"It's who I am," he got out, insistent. The natural fierceness from years of opposing his master on this rose to the forefront. "Everything I am belongs—belonged—to my master. I cannot change that, and he cannot change exactly what that is."

Organa frowned.

"Not what you were expecting?"

"Palpatine was a bastard."

"Glad you noticed. Considering you're a Rebel, shouldn't you have noticed a little sooner?"

"Next question," she snapped. "Why were you and Jade on Naboo?"

"I want to know more about how Jade is, first."

"She's fine. Still unconscious from the same drug we gave you—she's smaller than you are."

"She's nearby."

"Yes. Now—" She froze. "No—don't you get any ideas of escaping."

"Wouldn't dream of it." His smile said otherwise. "And why was I on Naboo?"

Organa hissed out a breath. "Yes."

"Simple. We were visiting the museum."

"We found the Sith storehouse on the bottom floor," she snapped. "What were you planning on doing with what you found?"

"Nothing. Mara and I were actually planning on finding a nice, quiet, obscure planet to build two nice, quiet, obscure lives on—"

She snorted. "As if. And you weren't looking to avenge your master's death in some way?" He opened his mouth; she added, "And don't you dare lie. I'll know."

Oh , would you? he wanted to say, but the words rang true.

And that, more than anything, made him notice something wonderful:

He had the Force back.

Apparently it had been the headache, not the binders, that blocked it.

He reached out to Organa. Her mind was tightly shielded, but now knowing what to look for, it was obvious: she was Force-sensitive.

He swallowed. More ammunition to lay at Vader's feet and beg for mercy with, he supposed, but...

He couldn't lie.

So...

"Yes and no," he admitted. "We originally wanted that. We changed our minds."

"Why?"

He shook his head. That, he would not answer.

Thankfully, she didn't seem inclined to force him. She just asked her final question, the big question, the one she'd clearly been building up to all this tie:

"Did Vader kill Palpatine?"

Luke froze.

He swallowed.

Organa narrowed her eyes at his reaction. "And remember: don't lie."

He forced past his dry throat, "Mara—"

"Is still unconscious. I told you. Answer the question."

He swallowed again. Guilt gnawed at his chest.

"Well?"

"Yes," he admitted quietly, "and no."

Organa blinked. "What? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think Vader did it," he said. "He probably did. I'm almost certain of it."

"Why?"

"Because..." He took a deep breath. "Do you know where my master was when he died?"

Organa frowned, a furrow appearing between her brows. "No...?"

"He was on a secret space station. Visiting it, to motivate the workers—"

"Slaves," she corrected. He didn't disagree.

"And check up on its progress. It was expected to be completed in a year's time." Mara had run her own errand there only a few weeks before.

Organa tilted her head, slowly. Realisation dawned on her face.

She asked, "'Was'?"

"Vader... knew of a flaw in its design. He spoke to me about it briefly."

"What did he say?"

"That if someone were to chuck a proton torpedo down a two metre exhaust port it would destroy the whole station. Kill everybody aboard."

He took a deep breath.

"And then he asked me the dates of Palpatine's visit."

Organa stilled.

She worked her mouth for a while, trying to find something to say. While she did, Luke stretched out further with the Force, picking out Mara's slowing-stirring form a few doors down more from familiarity than anything else, then surveyed the whole base.

It seemed small. Poorly manned—they probably hadn't dared to bring them to their main base. He could do this.

He just needed to get Organa shocked and distracted enough to overpower her.

"So," she finally said, "what did you do? Tell Palpatine his right hand was plotting to kill him?"

"No," Luke said baldly. "I gave him the dates."

Her mouth fell open.

Luke shrugged. "So yes, Vader killed him," he said, faux-blithely. "And no, he didn't. I did."

Organa breathed, "Why?"

Why, indeed?

Where should he start? The years of torture, of deception, even if he hadn't known that at the time? The way Vader had interrogated him almost gently to get that information, the soft, bass, honest words that wormed into his head? Or—

The knowledge that—

That Vader was—

And Palpatine had threatened Mara. Whenever Luke had started to fail, to push back, he'd found an excuse to punish Mara.

And Vader was his—

And Vader, hopefully, wouldn't do that. Vader might be better. Vader—

Might have been lying, might just be waiting for that naive teenager he'd ensnared to return to Coruscant so he could tie up the final loose ends, eliminate him once and for all, so Luke wouldn't. Luke wouldn't risk him and Mara like that.

But he would risk his master.

Luke was eighteen. He was young and he was scared and he was rash. He'd spent his life on the end of a Sith Lord's chain, teased with the potential of becoming the apprentice, but always—always—the servant.

Treachery was the way of the Sith.

Luke said, "Because."

And that was when he struck.

The Force to the binder locks, foot to her blaster, hand to her throat, knee to her chest—she gasped for breath that wasn't coming, kicked back and Luke held on tighter. Wrestled her hands into the now-empty binders.

Snapped them shut.

The door slid open. There were guards outside; before they could run in or flee or shoot, he snapped their necks like twigs.

Keeping her in place with the Force, he summoned the blaster to hand and flicked it off the stun setting.

"Don't struggle," he told her, almost amiably. "I'd hate to put a hole in your foot. Or even your head"—he pressed the end of the blaster to her temple—"but if you struggle too much, my finger may twitch of its own accord."

She stopped struggling. Hate rolled off her in waves.

If Vader was inclined to form his own set of Hands, he'd put in a recommendation for her. She'd be beyond powerful with the dark side.

"Good," he praised. "Now walk."

They stumbled to their feet and out of the cell, into the harsh light of the corridor beyond. She was hissing something at him—threats, probably—but he tuned them out. He had more important things to worry about.

Mara's door slid open at his approach. She was pacing when it did, face like thunder. She turned to glare at the newcomers, took in the sight of Luke holding a suspected Rebel at blasterpoint and quickly clocked onto the situation.

"Where're we going?"

"Out."

"Taking her with us?"

"If we need to."

"Picking up any other information?"

He snorted. "For who?"

She arched a single eyebrow and then he sensed it; he'd been too distracted by her and Organa before.

Someone was in orbit. Someone strong, dark and calling to him...

...oh no...

... someone with stormtroopers.

"Our priority is escape," he decided. "Deal with Vader later."

"Vader—?"

"Shut it, Organa. He'll deal with you too, then." Mara grinned at the thought.

"Oh, really?" There was something terrifying in the phrase, as belligerent as it was—something that stank of irony, amusement and panic all at once. "Then you be sure to inform him when you hand me over that I'm the biological daughter of Padmé Amidala."

"How nice for you." The name meant nothing to Luke beyond vague history lessons of how Palpatine had gained power. "I'll keep that in mind. Now let's go."

As if to accentuate his point, alarms started blaring.

Mara looked amused. "Looks like they've got even fewer resources to rescue you with, Princess. Too busy fending off Vader and his troops."

"They'll come—"

They did.

They took care of them with ease—"Only knocked them out? Are you going soft, Skywalker?"—and continued on.

"Which way's the hangar?" Luke murmured to Organa. She made to stamp on his toe; he pressed the blaster harder into her head.

She tried, "On the right—"

"Remember you said you'd know if I lied? That goes both ways."

She pinched her lips together. "Second on the left," she said mutinously.

Luke nodded at Mara. Truth.

The door slid open as they approached. Luke's eyes darted around, taking in shuttles, X-wings, TIEs...

...and the looming Sith Lord standing waiting for them.

With a contingent of stormtroopers.

Luke just couldn't catch a break.

Vader's helmet tilted slightly to glance at Mara and Organa, before fixing itself firmly on Luke and not moving an inch.

"Skywalker."

"Vader," he replied. Another word fell onto his tongue, warring for dominance, but he pushed it away.

Organa made a noise—of fear, of protest, he didn't know—and Luke suddenly remembered her existence.

They were in the hangar; she wouldn't be escaping anyway with Vader here. He shoved her away from him, letting her trip over her own feet and fall. He held his left hand out to Vader as a warning, the Force sizzling at his fingertips, but kept the blaster trained on Organa—trained on the person it would actually be effective against.

Vader crossed his arms, unimpressed. "Cease your grandstanding, my son," he ordered. Luke flinched at the term; he didn't dare look at Mara. "I mean you no harm, but you are coming with me."

"'Son'?" Mara asked. Luke continued to flit his eyes between Vader and Organa.

Strange: Organa didn't seem surprised at all.

"Wait," Mara said; Luke just knew her tone meant narrowed eyes and hands on hips and the unspoken implication that there had better be an explanation for this, or the person she was addressing would not be happy— "Luke is your son?"

Luke flushed again. He hated the pity—at least, the pity that bled through the anger—on Organa's face.

"I was—"

"How dare you."

"I— I was going to tell you—" He did not flinch a third time. The pity would have been intolerable.

"You bastard," Mara spat. She marched forward, wrenched Luke's shoulder and tossed him behind her, lifting her chin to glower.

Staggering back, Luke gaped.

She had planted herself between him and Vader.

"How dare you? All those years, Luke got shavit after shavit from him, and you did nothing—"

"That shavit was a punishment for me, Jade," Vader snapped. "What could I have done that wouldn't have brought down more?"

Luke and Mara exchanged a look. "Hostage," they breathed in unison.

"I did everything I could."

"Yeah, I know," Mara bit out, voice wobbling suspiciously. Luke frowned; she certainly wasn't on the verge of tears, so...? "Murderer."

She watched Vader's reaction. Luke watched Vader's reaction. Organa watched Vader's reaction.

It was... negligible, but not insignificant.

He stiffened slightly. Hook one thumb into his belt. The other hand came up in that infamous claw-like shape... then his helmet turned towards Luke a little and, jerking, his other hand came to his belt as well.

Finally he said, infinitely gently, "It was not I who killed him, child."

Mara started shaking.

"What?"

Luke ignored Organa's outburst in favour of his own shock.

Because...

Because...

Because Mara had been on the Death Star a few weeks before its destruction.

"I went fully armed and ready to do it, child, but you know as well as I do that it was already ashes and stardust when I arrived—"

"No, stop."

"—from a homemade bomb planted in the main reactor with a hastily assembled timer, sat there for weeks—"

"No, I didn't—"

"—because the assassin was torn and didn't want to kill him but felt like she had no choice—"

"I said, stop it!" she screamed, and launched herself at him.

Luke didn't wait for Vader to overreact, or under-react, or react at all. F— father or not, he didn't trust him not to hurt her.

So he caught her himself, the Force cushioning her as he lowered her to the floor. She glared at him, but it was half-hearted.

She turned back to Vader. "I— I—" She shook her head. "He— he was threatening, said he'd kill—"

"Luke," Vader said, and a silent understanding passed between them.

She whispered, "I couldn't let him."

Vader's helmet tilted back to him. Luke had long since lowered his hand, but the blaster was still pointed at Organa.

Vader said, "We have that in common, at least."


Luke... wasn't entirely sure what happened after that.

Vader's troops had taken the base. Organa was still a prisoner and very grumpy about it. Somehow, Luke and Mara had willingly stepped onto a lambda shuttle with Vader without threats of grievous bodily harm.

And, for some reason, Luke was listening to him speak.

"...I have never forsaken you, my son. I want you by my side more than anything."

The shuttle had docked in the hangar of the Devastator a while ago. Mara had escorted Organa and the other prisoners to the cells. The greeting party of stormtroopers was still waiting for Vader outside.

They would wait for hours if necessary.

And Luke and Vader sat in the cockpit, in the co-pilot and pilot's seats respectively. The silence between the words was pregnant with something Luke couldn't name.

He shifted. The blaster he'd taken from Organa was still strapped to his side.

"So," he finally asked, gnawing on his bottom lip, "what would being by your side entail?" What do you want for me?

Vader heard what he didn't say.

"I want to declare you as my son and heir before the galaxy. I want to make you the prince you should have been from birth and give you everything you deserve. And—" He paused momentarily. Despite the vocoder, he sounded incredibly, incredibly vulnerable when he said, "I want to know my son."

His helmet had, fractionally, tilted towards his hands; now it tilted up again to meet Luke's eye.

"Do... do you—"

"I want to know my father as well," Luke said, quietly but firmly.

Then he added, "Mara—"

"Can stay. Or go. Whatever you prefer."

Luke cocked his head. "You don't like her."

"Thus far Palpatine has done his best to pit us against each other, son. I hope I'll soon have a more reliable viewpoint to work with."

That... made sense, but it also raised a question Luke had been trying to avoid. He didn't want to ask it, couldn't ask it, he—

He asked it.

"How long have you known about me?"

Vader had been cruel to all the Hands he encountered, he was sure, but Luke distinctly remembered some of that cruelty.

"A few years," Vader admitted. "The discovery and death of an... apprentice of mine meant Palpatine feared my loyalty wasn't assured. He had you, so..." He clenched his fist. "He took steps to assure it was."

Luke nodded, suddenly remembering: it had been shortly after the death of Marek that his master had finally stopped pestering him to change his name.

There had been no one to hide him from after that, he supposed.

Luke took a deep breath.

The facts were simple: his master was dead, by Mara's hand. His father was the Emperor. And Luke could be the Imperial Prince, if he wanted.

If he wanted.

"Alright, Father," he said, and his decision was clear just from the title. "I'll come with you. I'll be your heir."

Something snapped into being in his mind.

A bond, he realised. Like the one he'd had with Palpatine, but... natural. Not a cancerous extension of himself—a support built in to help him grow.

He could sense his father's joy through it and it mingled with his own.

Vader rose from his seat and touched Luke's cheek gently—likely the most affection he'd shown in close to twenty years.

"I... am glad, Luke." The Force revealed how much of an understatement that was. "I must go an interrogate Organa and her people now, but I... look forward to speaking with you further."

"Organa?" Luke's mouth curled up into a dry smile. "She told me to tell you something."

"Oh? What was that?" His father sounded amused as well.

Luke racked his brain. "That she was the biological daughter of... Padmé Amidala?"

Shock.

Roiling shock.

The hand that had touched his face clenched into a fist. The tinkling of shattered glass sounded, somewhere.

Vader said, "What?"

Chapter Text

Eden. The Beginning of the World. Circa 6,000 years before the End of the World.

Despite the fact the concept of a "week" had only existed for as long a time period as the word described, Luke Skywalker—newly-appointed and newly-failed Angel of the Eastern Gate—could already say he'd had a bad few weeks.

He was a young angel, as far as angels went. Young enough that he was not, in fact, part of the batch She'd first created, but Her creation nonetheless in that the two angels who had created him had been created by Her—one had been Her son, in fact. Not that Luke knew the difference between his father being Her son and everyone else being simply created by Her, but it wasn't like the Almighty showed Her face (or ethereal, incorporeal equivalent) often enough for him to ask.

Nevertheless, the point was that Luke was a wee principality as far as principalities went, and he was very much panicking.

It really hadn't been his fault. There were other gates into Eden, each with their own guardian angel. However the intruder had entered—and by all reports he'd had the nerve to just... rise up out of the ground underneath that infernal apple tree—it certainly hadn't been through his gate.

Leia had sworn up and down that she hadn't seen that snake enter either. None of the other guardian angels had been interrogated. Typical.

And they wouldn't even admit why they were the ones being interrogated as such. Luke wasn't an idiot. Acting like he was, whether it was because of his youth or anything else, was just rude.

But for all of Archangels Yoda and Obi-Wan's suspicions, he'd had nothing to do with it. With any of it.

He hoped She knew that. She had to.


He was standing atop the great wall around Eden while all this fretting took place, and it was there that the snake found him.

He did his best to ignore it, but it was massive. Far thicker than both his arms combined, and it reared up unnaturally, stick-straight, so that its hooded head was above even Luke's.

Luke, for all that he'd been very fond of Eden's small grass snakes, felt deeply uncomfortable.

"Angel of the Eassstern Gate," it observed, tongue flicking with every syllable. "Impressssive."

"Invader," he shot back. Anger was beneath him—what filled his voice was mere irritation, or even righteousness. Yes: that was it.

The snake hissed strangely rhythmically, tongue flicking even more expressively. It was a moment before Luke realised it was laughing. "Vader, actually. I decided to drop the in."

"When choosing your demon name?" It was distaste in his voice. Not betrayal in any way.

"Yesss. It is a name I chose, not one forced upon me."

"Perhaps. But it's your choice whether you want to live up to it or not."

"Choiccce. Free will. Isssn't that what Sshe just banished the humanss for?"

"I'm sure it's all a part of Her plan."

"Of courssse. Her plan." The disgust was evident in the hiss. "But what name do you have that'ss worth living up to, Angel of the Eassstern Gate?"

He bristled. "Luke Skywalker." He knew that.

"Luke." Strange—it didn't sound at all odd coming from a snake's tongue. "A ssshort name, for an angel. Obi-Wan, Ki-Adi—"

"Perhaps," Luke allowed. A tiny smile curled his lips. "Why did you name me that, Father?"

There was a moment of silence, then—thank the Almighty—his father began to shift out of that unnerving snake form.

Luke cast a sideways glance at his now-humanoid form—and did a double take. "The helmet's a bit much, isn't it?"

"It keeps angels from lopping my head off with flaming swords," came the reply. Even his father's voice had changed: it was deeper, though still held that dry tone he so often sported. "Though, of course, an angel would need one in order to do so."

Luke looked back at the ground and resolutely did not blush.

"What did happen to your flaming sword? Sabre of light. Saber of light?" He frowned. "Whichever one."

"I think the humans will decide whichever one."

"You think they'll agree?"

"After what you did? Absolutely not."

"You say that like such a thing wasn't my intention," Vader observed.

"I know that was your intention, that's the problem—"

"You didn't answer my question," his father pointed out, naked amusement in his voice. "What did happen to your sabre of light?"

"'Lightsaber' would be a shorter way of putting it."

"Luke?"

He sighed.

Mumbled, "I gave it away."

"You—"

"I gave it away!"

It was his father's turn to sigh. "Of course you did."

"There— there are dangerous beasts out there! And She jsut kicked them out! And Eve's with child! And I said— stop laughing!"

He could not see his father's face behind that dark helmet, but he imagined he was smiling. "The war did not change you a bit."

"Well it changed you," Luke bit back. "Look at you!" He gestured at his dark armour, the dramatic cape across his back. "Where are your wings?"

His father stiffened.

Luke thought better of it. He opened his mouth to take it back—

"Still healing. From the Fall."

Luke shut his mouth. Then, curiosity overwhelming sense, opened it again. "Is it—"

"Yes it's true they burn as you Fall, Luke. Yes it's true they turn black."

He pressed his lips together. "I was going to ask if it was true you were a snake now."

"You just saw me transform."

"Yes, but— that's it? Permanently?"

"Why does it matter?"

"It's just... a snake?" Luke frowned. "Not something that, you know... flies?"

His father turned his head to fix him with that one, intense stare. "I'm not a Skywalker anymore, Luke."

"No," Luke murmured. "Evidently not."

An uncomfortable silence fell.

His father tried, and failed, to break it. "How are the rest of you?"

"Leia's Angel of the Western Gate. She's still furious we were the only two guardians interrogated about how you got in."

"I see." Vader paused, then... "And your mother?"

Luke squeezed his eyes shut.

It had been a bad few weeks.

The War in Heaven, the creation of Eden, the apple and the snake and the Fall of man...

"She was killed in the war," he said quietly.

"She was a healer."

"So she was killed."

He couldn't feel his father's grief. He couldn't see his face. But he did see his helm turn away—see his fists clench and tremble.

He had so much to ask his father. Why he'd Fallen—why he'd rebelled against Her, why he'd left them behind.

But now was not the time to ask.

A storm was coming. It rolled over Eden—the first of many. Thunder boomed, lightning crackled. The angel and the demon still stood there.

His father looked miserable, standing there in the rain. He'd no doubt look miserable whatever the weather, but...

Luke stretched out a wing to shield him from the downpour anyway.


London. 11 years before the End of the World.

Tarkin was a prim, proper demon. He kept himself clean and looking professional at all times, despite his mole-rat aspect; he carried out orders from his dark lord Sidious unquestionably; and, most importantly, he was never late.

Ruthlessly manicured hands tightened around the handle of the basket. A sound emitted from it, but he ignored it. It was irritating.

Next to him, Motti shifted impatiently. Tarkin shared the sentiment, but was not uncouth enough to show it.

"Where is he?" Motti complained. Tarkin wrinkled his nose; his skunk aspect became... painfully obvious, when he grew angry.

And he was a demon. He was always angry.

Tarkin checked that pathetic little ticking thing he'd picked up the last time he had the displeasure to be on Earth—sometime in the sixteenth century—and scoffed.

Tarkin was never late. But apparently Vader was.

Sidious only knew why he was the one chosen for this starring role. Tarkin would give his right arm—well, someone's right arm—for this honour, and Vader couldn't even deign to show up on time.

It was, he thought, hand tightening on the handle of the basket again, almost as if he didn't want it. And if he didn't want it, he certainly didn't deserve it, a fact Tarkin was certain he would be able to persuade Lord Sidious of...

Then came the roar of one of those disgusting metal contraptions humans moved about in and light blared from the darkness.

Tarkin sneered faintly at the row of gravestones it illuminated, but stuck to the trees near the graveyard, knowing that Vader would see him. He could certainly see Vader—the demon towered like a behemoth even in his human body and the shadow he cast much taller.

Tarkin's lip curled. He'd spent far too much time in that shadow as it was.

"Hail Sidious," he said, and barely waited for the echoed "Hail Sidious" before barrelling on.

"You," he clipped out, "are late."

Vader fixed him with his yellow, snake-eyed stare that had had lesser demons running for their lives from the respected Lord of Hell.

Tarkin was not a lesser demon. "Well?" he snapped.

It didn't impress Vader. Typical. For all that he'd had to affect human airs and graces and manners to fit in up here, he couldn't muster up the basic respect due to a demon of Tarkin's rank, who'd been a respected part of Sidious's inner circle ever since the Fall, whereas Vader had always appeared to do nothing but disobey and question and challenge orders—

"Well what?" Vader growled. "I sent my reports. I received my commendations. What is the meaning of this meeting?"

Tarkin's lip peeled back from his teeth, but he held out the basket.

"This," he said.

Vader stared at the basket for a moment. Then his typical belligerence fell from his stance and his shoulders seemed to simultaneously tense and cave in on themselves. He held his hand out for the basket.

Tarkin, with great reluctance, handed it over. He watched Vader carefully as he received it—thought he saw the customary and expected awe, excitement, anticipation... but also something that looked a lot like dread.

It was hard to tell: Vader always adopted his demon form when meeting with them—as he should—and that helmet he was inordinately fond of made reading him a mystery.

No matter. Tarkin watched him hold the basket like it contained a snake, smug in the satisfaction that it contained something much worse than that:

A baby.

"You'll receive your instructions, Vader," Tarkin said maliciously, watching how he jerked in shock at the sudden address. Vader had been the brightest angel of them all before the Fall, he remembered, had had his own children and betrayed them; Tarkin wondered how he felt now, holding another baby. A baby that would take him into direct conflict with those children again and finish what he'd started six thousand years ago.

Tarkin discarded that thought as well. Vader had never betrayed any latent signs of affection towards his ethereal offspring, despite the fact that one of said offspring had spent even more time on Earth as he had; it did not seem to be a weakness Tarkin could exploit. Which meant that he had no use for it.

"All we've worked for," he said instead, taking a petty pleasure in how Motti nodded sycophantically along to his every word, "for all these centuries... is finally upon us."

Vader paused.

"Not everything," he said. "And not yet."

He turned and left the graveyard without another word, the night mists shrouding his figure in a sinister silver.

Tarkin watched his retreat with narrowed eyes and pinched lips. Then he heard the baby's reedy cry drift back through the darkness.

Those lips stretched into a smile.

His future lord—or lady; apparently they were all subscribing to the mortals' petty notion of equality nowadays—or not, that child's cry was misery.

And Tarkin always took pleasure in misery.


Vader flung that bloody basket in the trunk of the car, flung himself into the driver's seat and took off.

"Call Luke," he ordered, his voice rough with something he couldn't name.

A ringing sounded. Vader knew full well that Luke, always more up to date with mortal technology than he was, had changed his number several times to avoid his father's calls, but they were occult beings. (Well, Vader was occult, Luke ethereal, if one wanted to split hairs.) What they wanted technology to do, technology did.

He ordered it to call Luke. It called the wrong number. Luke's phone rang anyway.

"What?" came a tired voice. The boy had probably been out too late, running himself ragged performing miracles. Again.

His hand clenched on the steering wheel. Luke had been here for six thousand years. One would have thought, by now, that She would have recognised his innocence in a crime millennia old, let him come home and give him a break from dealing with an insufferable species like humanity for so long. He'd heard Leia was campaigning for it, certainly; it was one of the few things he and his daughter seemed to agree on.

But now. She was unforgiving. All the infinite mercy and compassionate Her disciples preached on Earth meant nothing in the face of them, Her flesh and blood, whom She'd expel and punish without a second thought or a shred of evidence—

"What is it, Father?" Luke snapped, and Vader realised his thoughts had been drifting.

"We need to talk," he growled.

"If you want to talk about the same thing as last time, then I'm afraid that you seem to be having trouble with your recalcitrant offspring again, Lord Vader."

Vader sucked in a sigh. He really hated it when Sidious hijacked his car, or his radio, or any nearby technology like that.

"No more so than usual, master," he replied.

"I recognise that tempting him to Fall is something of a hobby of yours. I cannot fault you for that, my friend; it is so enjoyable to take a pure soul and corrupt it. But if he interferes in this job..."

"He will not." He knew his voice sounded indignant; that was because it was. But he was perhaps the only person who could speak to Sidious this way and not get fried for his efforts. He was too valuable an asset.

Vader thought it was more like pawn.

"Good. Good. Then here are your instructions, Vader—and take care you don't get distracted. Centuries of work are riding on this."

"I know, master." He closed his eyes as Sidious... transplanted the information into his head, or however that worked. It was efficient—he had to respect that—but it was unnerving.

At least he knew exactly what to do, now.

"My daughter will be the destroyer we have all been waiting for. She is the culmination of our efforts. Do not let me down."

"I won't, master."

"Good. Then I'll let you return to your conversation with the angel. That would be the sweetest victory of all, for you—with the fall of humanity and Heaven, comes the Fall of humanity's loyal protector."

"Indeed."

Sidious cackled. "They are even considering giving him a medal, in Heaven. I wish you luck, my friend."

He released his control of the phone; it returned to the static hum of hold.

"Humanity's loyal protector," Vader snorted. It was annoying how accurate that was—and how much Luke really did deserve that break. He idly hoped Leia was successful, before he shook himself and thought of more demonic things.

Sidious hadn't even mentioned the main reason he wanted Luke, but Vader knew it. He revelled having Her son under his command, serving his every whim, slave to the darkness he controlled; he wanted Her grandson, as well. And Her granddaughter. Only then would his victory against Her be complete.

If he could reach Heaven, he'd drag Leia screaming out of it. As it was, he was raising Hell—by way of sending Vader—to entice Luke.

It had been six thousand years.

Vader was getting pretty tired of Luke's stubbornness.

"Call Luke again," he ordered. "And if he doesn't reply, text him. Say—"


Artoo jumped onto the sofa next to Luke and laid his head in his lap.

Luke stirred, lifting a hand to sleepily rest it on Artoo's head, scratch behind his ear. Artoo was getting dark grey fur all over his sofa.

Luke tilted his head back and smiled to himself distantly. He was tired—there'd been a mess up in command and he'd spent all day trying to find which Waterstones bookseller he was supposed to bless, considering the company had two hundred and eighty three shops in four countries, and not the paltry little two they'd had when Heaven had last checked up on them in the eighties.

Really—Luke could've told them that. If they asked...

He yawned, shaking away the negative thoughts, and let himself drift back into a half-sleep. Angels didn't need rest, necessarily, and he always had so much to do that he didn't really see the point of lying horizontal for a recommended eight hours a day, but Artoo liked to sleep on the bed next to him and he didn't want to upset the poor dog by sneaking out in the middle of the night. So he'd picked up the habit a few years ago.

He'd found it was much easier to stay positive and resist the wiles of his demon father when he wasn't at risk of discorporating from his body's sheer stress and fatigue.

A sharp ringing cut through the haze of sleep. He groaned.

Artoo jumped up—punching Luke in the stomach while he did, that was not comfortable—and barked his head off at the mobile phone lying innocuously on the coffee table, beside the thick notebook Luke used to record all the miracles he did, should Heaven ever try to check up on him. They never did—which was probably for the best; Luke's organisation was... not always stellar—but it was the thought that counted, he supposed. No matter what his father might say about how much She cared.

He glanced at the phone and his lips flattened into a frown. Speak of the devil...

"What?"

It was his father. The caller ID said Unknown, but he could hear his heavy, rasping breathing in the background. He'd caught a touch of the Black Death or tuberculosis or something in the many years he'd been on Earth and his lungs had never fully recovered.

But he didn't say anything.

Luke waited. And waited. And—

"What is it, Father?"

A sharp, surprised intake of breath, like he'd forgotten he was there. Luke rolled his eyes.

Then came the growl, uncharacteristically un-snakelike: "We need to talk."

"If you want to talk about the same thing as last time then I'm afraid—"

A chime and the call cut off.

Luke stared at the phone for a bit before he put it back on the table with more than a little frustration. Not that he wasn't glad the conversation was over—he was, frankly, tired of all the entreaties to join me in eternal darkness and torment—but still. Rude.

He sat back down on the sofa. Artoo leapt up beside him. He reached for the remote, flicked the telly on, dithered for a bit then switched the channel to BBC One. The ten o'clock evening news was on.

"—trains in the southeast are experiencing delays unlike anything seen before as the tracks 'go haywire', says a spokesperson for National Rail—"

"I didn't know you had a dog."

He yelped.

"—there have been three accidents but, as of yet, no casualties. Wildlife up and down the country have also been showing strange patterns of flight unseen at this time of year—"

Artoo lifted his head dispassionately as he lashed his head round so fast he got whiplash. His sister smirked at him elegantly, lowering herself into an armchair and swinging one leg over the other.

"Leia!"

"—though enthusiastic birdwatchers have been excitedly noting that in the last twenty-four hours sparrows seem to have made a comeback—"

He shook his head. "Sorry—what did you say?"

"I said, I didn't know you had a dog," she repeated, that smirk shifting into something a little more genuine as Artoo padded up to her and sniffed her hand. Evidently he liked what he smelled, or he just trusted her anyway—that happened with angels, sometimes—because he plopped his head in her lap in a way that meant he wanted cuddles.

"—the American ambassador and his wife were engaged in a car crash near Westminster and have been rushed to hospital, along with their newborn daughter—"

Her hands—pale, slim and unblemished in the way that meant this body was newly-taken out of and would be shortly returned to storage—played with his ears as he said, "Oh, yeah, I... adopted him a few years ago. It was getting pretty lonely down here and no one else would take him." He smiled fondly. "Battersea said he was difficult."

"A few years' interaction with you and I don't think anything mortal would still be difficult by the end of it," Leia drawled; the way Artoo politely sat and lifted his head to request scratches under his chin was evidence enough of that.

"Heh. Maybe." He paused, then added, "You know, I did say all of this in my yearly reports. Three times."

"—the ambassador's wife has already died of her injuries; the ambassador and his daughter are not expected to survive the night. An enquiry has been launched by the US government to investigate any possible contingencies where—"

"Yeah." Leia grimaced. "Keep doing those, they're good for posterity, but no one actually reads them. There's just too many."

"I send one a year!"

"Exactly. That's six thousand."

"—now gale-force winds have been reported in the west, thought to be the remnants of a hurricane that formed over the Atlantic; schools in the area have been alerted to not let children outside at break or lunch—"

"It wouldn't be a lot if you read them as they came. They're not even that long!"

"But you send them so often!"

"Once a year!"

He stilled at the pity in her face. That was almost worse than the rejection or dismissal he faced normally.

Artoo, probably sensing his upset in some way—that dog was smart—padded back to him and reclaimed his spot on the sofa. Naturally that spot involved spreading himself out right over Luke's legs, but he didn't mind. He just idly petted his head and reached for his hot chocolate again.

"The humans' concept of a year is the blink of an eye to us, Luke. You've spent too much time on Earth," she said regretfully. "You've been here longer than you were in Heaven!"

"Time didn't exist before—"

"You know what I meant."

"—finally, we hand over to our war correspondent, who reports on an unexpected conflict just south of—"

Luke muted the TV.

"You know," Leia offered, "I'm sure—if you requested it—they'd let you come back. They're probably desperate for you to come back. They let me back four thousand years ago, all suspicions erased."

"You didn't have Father come right up to you and reluctantly engage him in conversation, Leia."

"Nor do I still call him Father." She frowned at him. "Vader had—has—his own agenda. You know that. But that is not our problem anymore. It doesn't have to be our problem. I talked Yoda into granting you the recognition you deserve; you're getting a medal for all the service you'd done on Earth. This... banishment, or whatever it was supposed to be, is long over. You could come back. We— we miss you."

Luke looked at his sister. He loved her, dearly and fiercely, but she didn't understand. She was the righteous angel; Luke was the compassionate one.

They could not have been more different beings if She had created them to be.

"I miss you too, Leia," he said quietly. If his stint on Earth had taught him one thing, it was that bottling up your love, hiding it, pretending it wasn't there or never bothering to voice it for fear of seeming strange or weak or wrong, was never the right choice to make.

Leia slammed her hands against the arms to the chair. "Then come back with me! Come to Heaven—we can be happy, there, and don't have to deal with any of this."

"Wait." Luke jerked his head up, narrowing his eyes at her. "What is this?"

She hissed out a breath through her nose. "You had to fucking focus on that, didn't you?"

He stifled a smile. "Are Archangels-to-be supposed to swear?"

"One: it teaches intolerant people tolerance of other people's language choices, as well as patience. Two: it's really satisfying." She was illustrating her points with expressive hand gestures, but froze when she stared at him for the last point. "And three: how the fuck do you know that?"

Luke shrugged. "Some of us actually read the updates we receive. And you never answered my question."

She glowered.

Then conceded: "It's the actual reason I was sent here."

"So you didn't come just to chat?"

"Oh, very funny." He forced himself to laugh. "The reason I'm here is because we have sources that indicate... things, are afoot."

He tilted his head to the side. "What... things?"

She nodded at the still-silent telly. Images from the earlier rundown flashed across the screen: the news banner at the bottom read strange bird behaviour baffles ornithologists and the camera flicked to footage of a great... storm of birds, almost. A tag in the corner said that the footage was from the Brighton seafront.

Luke had been to Brighton. He'd seen the massive flocks of starlings (and occasionally seagulls) mob the skies. But he'd never seen a veritable hurricane of them surround the burnt-out West Pier like something out of that horror film from the sixties.

Leia said, "Strange, unnatural things. Against Her order."

Luke blinked. "Leia, I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to be more—"

His phone rang again. Artoo barked; Luke barely glanced at the caller—Unknown, of course; typical—before he declined the call.

"Someone you know?" Leia asked, raising her eyebrow at him.

"Spam," he said automatically. There was no way Leia would know what that meant and that was all the better for him. "I believe you were about to actually explain whatever it is you're talking about?"

She gritted her teeth. But she finally said, "The Antichrist has been born."

His eyebrows shot up. "Sidious's kid?"

She nodded—and he paused to think about what that meant. "How does that even work?"

"I try not to think about the devil's sex life, Luke," Leia bit out, looking a little pale at the mere concept, "or the lack thereof. The Antichrist has been born. Vader is due to deliver her—"

"Her?" Luke snorted, oddly pleased. "That'll piss off all those Renaissance painters who worked so hard to visualise what this would look like."

"Oh no." Leia's voice seemed... odd. Haunted. "They never visualised anything like this."

Then she shook herself, and the moment was gone. "Vader will deliver her to the human couple they've chosen to raise her, then on her eleventh birthday she'll trigger the start of the apocalypse, the four horsemen will ride and it'll be the end of the world. The War between Heaven and Hell will begin, and we'll see who'll finally emerge victorious."

Luke rolled his eyes. "We will, of course—" he said unthinkingly.

She grinned. "That's more like the Angel of the Eastern Gate I knew."

"—but must Earth be destroyed?"

Her grin fell.

"You know it has to, Luke," she said. She was incredibly gentle about it; Luke almost thought it'd be better if she wasn't so sympathetic. "That's part of why I think you should be recalled to Heaven—I know you're attached, but this is all part of the Divine Plan. It's what has to happen. You must understand that."

He nodded, a little sadly. He shot a rueful look at Artoo and suddenly felt tears pressing the backs of his eyes. "I do."

Artoo pushed his nose into Luke's palm and those tears pressed harder.

Leia stood from the armchair, prim and proper and everything an archangel should be. Luke's chest ached more.

Nothing is crueller than virtue, he remembered reading somewhere. Where had it been?

"That's what I came here to tell you," she said. "In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing, but try to keep an eye on the Antichrist as well. If you can, find out who they gave her to; if not, we have people on the case anyway. We'll get back to you soon. And—Luke?"

He realised his gaze had dropped to the still-moving TV. A perplexed National Rail employee was being interviewed.

He jerked his gaze back to her. "Yes?"

That pity was still in her gaze. "I'll be back here in two days." That meant two weeks; angels were constantly bewildered by humanity's short timeframes. "With your medal, and also a list of options for your replacement," she grimaced, looking around the comfortable little haven he'd built for himself in this flat, the now-cold hot chocolate sitting on the table, "should you wish to come home."

Home.

The word rang hollow.

"Okay," he said. A faint crease appeared between her brows—apparently she hadn't learnt that new word in the English vernacular yet—but she clearly got the gist.

She nodded. Smiled a little. Luke had to smile back. "See you then, then."

She never seemed to tangibly vanish into thin air, but one moment she was there, the next she was gone. Luke breathed a sigh—of relief, of disappointment—once she was.

His phone, lying on the table, buzzed. He ignored it.

Switched the sound back on for the telly. That perplexed interviewee—an engineer? A manager?—was still talking.

"—no, we have no idea how this could've happened. In fact, we were hoping you clever buggers at the BBC would be able to tell us—"

He muted it again.

The phone buzzed again.

Luke sighed, again, and caved—walked over to it. Artoo sniffed at his feet as he bent down; he took a quick moment to press his hand against the mug of hot chocolate. Sure enough, it was stone cold.

Because this evening hadn't already gone badly enough.

Finally, he flipped over the phone and skim-read the texts. The first one was long and unwieldy; he had to open it on the app, because the preview didn't show it all.

He read it. Groaned. His father was a whiz with technology. He could take it apart and put it back together. But apparently he couldn't use it.

This is not about the same thing as last time, though the last time the same thing as last time erase that last part you stew pit machine. Restart. This isn't about your future or the very sensible proposals I offered for it—

Luke snorted.

—even though that remains a major factor in this no wait don't type that. Anyway, this isn't about that. This is about one thing. Now send. Send!

The second was much shorter. Much more to the point. It made Luke's six thousand years feel like a million and reminded him just how heavy angel wings could be.

It read, Armageddon.


Luke tore off another piece of bread and threw it to the ducks. "You delivered the child? Really? Because we had some questions—"

"No." His father sounded traumatised by the mere notion of it. "I did not deliver it. I was handed the child by Tarkin and then I—"

"Delivered it?" Luke asked.

"...yes." Vader was in his human form—a man in his forties with wavy blond hair a few shades darker than Luke's and a scar from that time he'd really pissed off Artoo—so Luke could read the expressions on his face instead of guessing them by the cant of his helmet. He was currently glaring at him, exasperated. "I gave it to the idiots who will raise it until its eleventh birthday. Swapped it with their newborn child, it wasn't hard. They'll take care of it, nurture it, give it all sorts of love thinking it's their own," he said the word love with something akin to disgust, "then it'll be their destruction."

Luke hummed to cover up how deeply unsettled his father's words made him.

Well, everything about this left him unsettled, but his father's... blasé—no, not blasé, disdainful—attitude towards parenting unnerved him. Reminded him of Leia's words from the previous evening.

Vader has his own agenda. You know that.

Made him wonder why he was still talking to the man at all, considering how Heaven would react if they found out...

"Was she a cute baby, at least?" Luke asked. "All these years of having to stare at old paintings and predictions of what the end of the world would look like, did she at least look like any of them?"

His father shrugged. Ducks lunged for his feet almost before he even threw the bread. "I never opened the basket. Never even checked the sex." He shot Luke a look. "How did you know?"

His heart fluttered in panic. "I have my sources," he chose to say airily, and ignored it when his father snorted. "Oh, shut up. Who'd you give the princess of this world and lady of darkness to, anyway?"

Vader tossed him a look. Luke couldn't tell with those sunglasses over his snakelike eyes, but he seemed to be rolling them.

"Am I supposed to tell you that?" he drawled. The last scrap of bread in his hand was chucked over his shoulder; he started a fight among two ducks and a goose that dived for it at once.

Typical: he sowed discord wherever he went.

Luke shrugged, hoping that genuinely did come off as blasé. Technically, there was nothing he, an angel, would do to the Antichrist—aside from the fact that he was an ethereal being who'd never killed anything before, even during the First War, Heaven wanted the Second War just as badly as Hell did.

He was a disciple of Heaven. He would follow Leia's advice, respectfully and quietly detach himself from the wicked, wonderful ways of humankind, then when the War came Earth would be destroyed and he would be on the winning side. But.

But.

He thought of Artoo, probably snoozing on the sofa at home.

He glanced around St James's Park. A little boy babbled as he skipped along beside his mother; two young women held hands as they walked; some teenagers were playing football in the distance.

Eleven years until the destruction of Earth.

Vader didn't seem to notice his wandering gaze—he just noticed his shrug and agreed with it.

"I gave it to the American ambassador," he said with a sneer.

A news report from the previous night, the flashing blue lights of police cars on screen, his brain solemnly processing that while Leia lectured him—

"The American ambassador?" he burst out.

His father narrowed his eyes and slanted his gaze at him. "Yes," he said, "why?"

"Oh—nothing." Luke swallowed harshly. "It just seems... ostentatious. Like you're trying to appeal to as big an audience as you can."

"We don't need to appeal to any audience. Everyone will watch the show, whether they want to or not."

Luke swallowed again. "Point taken."

His father studied him for a moment. He tilted his head down far enough that Luke caught a glimpse of his yellow eyes behind the sunglasses.

"Every human will watch," he said slowly, "and each one of us will have a role. And you—"

Luke rolled his eyes. "We are not having this conversation again."

"Luke, only one side will survive the coming battle. I do not want to fight you."

"Didn't seem that way six thousand years ago," Luke muttered.

Vader stiffened. He'd definitely heard, so Luke just barrelled on—

"So what, your solution is for me to endure unbearable agony and Fall so you don't have to deal with a guilty conscience while the War rages?"

"It isss not," Vader hissed, his snake's cadences slipping out in his anger, "unbearable."

"I won't Fall. Heaven will win this War, not Hell." He didn't say it proudly, not like Leia would have—he just said it as a fact.

"You sssound ssso cccertain, ssson."

"I am." Luke refused to flinch. "Heaven will win. I may die in the War anyway, but you'll definitely die in it. The only way to avoid that is to avoid the War completely."

"Avoid the War? Don't be naive." He regained some of his more human inflections as his tone grew mocking. "The Antichrist has been dumped on Earth. Eleven years. The clock is ticking."

Except it wasn't, Luke thought. It might not be. Because the American ambassador was near death, and so was his newborn daughter.

Which meant—

He blinked. What even happened if the Antichrist died? Did Sidious just... make another one?

He shuddered at the thought.

But... it would take a while to... make... another Antichrist, he assumed. It'd taken him six thousand years to make the first one. Or there could only ever be one; there'd only ever been one Christ...

So...

Did that mean...

If the Antichrist were to die... would Armageddon be averted?

Could humanity be spared?

It was treasonous, ridiculous, as naive as his father accused him of being... but he hoped anyway.

"Yeah, you're right," he said, this time completely unable to hide his distraction.

Vader frowned. "Luke? Are you alright?"

"Fine!" he chirped, a bit too brightly.

His father didn't know.

There was very little chance his father could know—he didn't even use his telly except to take it apart and put it back together, his radio was the same and Heaven knew he couldn't use his phone very well—so there was no way he could know.

Was Luke going to tell him?

No, he decided. No. If he'd been ordered to watch and raise the Antichrist in the demonic image of her father, he'd find out soon enough when all his enquiries told him that the family was dead.

Luke squeezed his last shred of bread in his hand, then lobbed it to the centre of the pond. Ducks cruised leisurely towards it, at peace with each other. His presence could have that effect.

"I need to head back," he said. "I— I've got a miracle to perform later."

His father looked sceptical. "Oh really? Where?"

"Uh—Liverpool."

"How convenient." Vader smiled sharply, exposing a little more of his teeth than a regular human would. "I have a temptation to make up in Liverpool as well. As per our Deal, would you like me to—"

"No," Luke said hurriedly. "Actually, I remember now—it's closer to Blackpool."

"Well, Liverpool is still on the way, I can—"

"No. I'd hate to ask that of you."

There was a droll pause. then Vader drawled, "I'm sure you would, son."

Luke nodded once, sharply. "Then I'd better be going," he said, and turned on his heel. Made to march off—

"Luke?"

He forced a smile onto his face. "Yes?"

"That idea... postponing or cancelling Armageddon..." His father said slowly. "It's utterly ridiculous."

"Utterly."

"We wouldn't try even if we could."

Luke's breath caught when he said we. "Absolutely not."

His father lowered his sunglasses for a moment to study him properly. Luke felt rather like a rat being examined before a snake gobbled it up.

Whatever Vader saw, he gave a sharp nod and pushed the sunglasses back up his nose. "Alright, then," he said. "See you around."

Luke stalked off before he could say anything else.


Vader watched his son go and ignored the ache in his chest that always came when Luke left.

The boy—six thousand years old and still his precious little boy, his son—was so, so stupid. So naive.

But it still made Vader smile.

Humanity's loyal protector, indeed.


The moment Luke got home—before he even said hello to Artoo, which irritated the little dog to no end—he switched on the telly. The news should be on at this time, please say it was on—

It was on.

And the banner at the bottom crushed the weight on his shoulders into a shower of stardust.

American Ambassador and Daughter Dead From Injuries.

Luke never rejoiced in death. He had never killed anything, not so much as a fly, and death was both a natural part of the life he so cherished and an abrupt, irreversible end to it.

But he did breathe a sigh of relief and switched off the TV, flopping down on the sofa to run a hand over his face.

It was a shame.

If he'd bothered to watch the actual news story, he would have known that the ambassador's daughter's body hadn't actually been found, but that after an extensive search of the area police had simply declared her dead for lack of evidence to the contrary.

After all. There was no way a human baby could survive alone on the busy streets of London.


London. 10 years and 10 months before the End of the World.

It had been weeks since that scare with the Antichrist and his father hadn't attempted to contact him since then, so Luke was happy.

Still nearly had a heart attack and got discorporated by his phone ringing because his father hadn't attempted to contact him in weeks, but his father was hardly the only person who called him.

Luke checked the screen and relaxed when he saw Han Solo winking up at him instead of that ever dreaded Unknown. He answered it before even the third ring. "Hello?"

"Kid?" Han's nickname for him rankled, as it always did—Luke had known his ancestors, for Heaven's sake, he was dozens of times older than Han would ever be—but, as always, he let it slide. It wasn't as if Han knew.

But he let it slide especially this time because of the tension he could hear in the man's voice—and the degree to which Chewie was barking in the background.

He was instantly concerned. "What is it?"

"I need your help."


Glasgow. 152 years before the End of the World.

The first time Luke ever met a man by the name of Solo was on a trip to America.

Well, he wasn't on a trip to America. But latest news from Heaven was that there was a man with very little money and even less luck trying his hand as a sailor, intending on boarding a ship to America then travelling on from there and Leia had suggested that the man could use all the help he could get.

Of course, in Heaven's typical fashion, Leia hadn't given him a time or a specific place, so he ended up standing staring at the shipyards for hours. Endlessly fascinated by how those great arcs were constructed, he stared as the crowd ebbed and flowed around him—until he heard something cursing very, very fluently nearby.

He turned.

There was a scruffy-looking man wearing hand-me-down clothes and a scowl a few metres away, standing just by the entrance to what wasn't exactly a reputable-looking tavern. He was patting his pockets and cussing under his breath with nearly every curse word Luke, in his modest near six millennia, had heard. And quite a few he hadn't.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked, making sure to shift his accent to a local one. It only took a minor miracle, and it meant people were much more likely to trust him.

Usually.

The man narrowed his eyes at him for a moment, suspicion rolling off him in waves... but Luke smiled, and that scowl abated. Luke was an angel. He was an angel who specialised in dealing with humans. They automatically trusted him.

"Lost my wallet," he admitted. "Some bastard musta took it."

Luke frowned, tugging gently on his magic, God's compassion and mercy and love shining through... "Are you sure it's not in your right pocket?"

The man checked—and sure it was.

Some people might have been grateful for the help. Some might have just been relieved, and scurried off before they could even hope to lose it again.

Not so a Solo.

"Thanks," he said, eyes narrowing again. Then, he held out his hand. "I'm Henry Solo. I'm heading out on one of those ships, soon."

Luke accepted it and smiled. "Luke Skywalker."

This time, he was fairly sure that the man's instinct to relax worked against him—only made him more suspicious—but no matter. As unfortunate as it was, suspicion was a useful trait to have on the high seas.

If it wasn't, Luke would be out of a job.

He'd be able to go home.

He decided not to analyse the peculiar pang of longing and claustrophobia he felt at the idea.

Because this was the man he'd been sent to bless. This was the man who needed all the luck he could get.

Luke could see why with his own two eyes.

"Really?" he emphasised his awe and was proud when it seemed to feed the man's confidence—his pride. A century and a half later, he'd come to curse that Solo ego, but Henry had needed it. "Which one?"

Henry puffed up his chest. "The Corellia," he said, pointing to the largest ship one could see from this angle. The largest ship in the dock, perhaps. "Heading to New York at dawn tomorrow."

"Then may you have luck on your travels," Luke blessed. May you be safe and successful. May you and your descendants yield or fall to no storm, nor war nor hunger nor pestilence. May you always have a lighthouse in the dark, and may you be that lighthouse in the dark for others. May death itself not stop you.

"Thanks. You ever wanted to sail?"

"Exploring is one of my greatest hobbies," Luke said earnestly. It was true. Most of the reason he didn't want to go... home... was because of a deep seated wanderlust that only eternity and a vibrantly diverse world to spend it on could bring.

Henry nodded, then said with a laugh: "Skywalker, did you say your name was?"

Luke nodded in return. He tried not to think about his father—consigned to the Earth. Only able to fly when in demon form. A snake, of all things.

"I suppose you'll have to wait for man to figure out how to fly before you find your calling," Henry said with a laugh. He shook his head and made to walk away. "Like that'll ever happen."


Fifty years later, Luke was in America himself, grinning as he watched another blessing of his take off—and watched the Wright brothers become famous.


London. 10 years and 10 months before the End of the World.

Han Solo lived a solid fifteen miles away from where Luke did. It would be faster to walk than drive.

Or take the underground.

Luke took the underground.

He was there within two stops and ten minutes. Artoo tugged balefully at his lead as Luke took the steps two at a time to hit the keypad for Han's flat. A harried-looking woman opened it, recognised Luke and Artoo, then waved them in with a smile.

"Thank you, Qi'ra. Is Han in?"

"Pretty sure he is," she told him, scratching Artoo under the chin before slipping back into her own flat. Luke took the next flight of stairs two at a time as well.

"Han?" he called out. "Han, you there?"

By the time he made it to the first floor, Han was there in the wide open door and the expression on his face was haunted.

"Kid," he said. It was only then that Luke noticed the crying. "Get in here. Now."

While Han's pointer, Chewie, greeted Artoo with the customary butt sniffing and tail wagging, Luke strode into Han's living room and ran his eyes down the length of the room. The crying was coming from somewhere else, so he momentarily turned his gaze on Han himself first.

"What is it?"

Han opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again. Pressed his lips together and twisted them.

Han looked very little like Henry Solo had, save the general demeanour of scruffiness and perhaps the shape of the nose. But when his pinched his brows like he did now, the resemblance struck Luke as uncanny.

"First off," Han said, his American accent getting stronger in his indignation, "none of this is my fault."

Luke raised an eyebrow—then raised it even higher when Han slammed the door shut and started ushering him further into the flat. Towards the bedroom.

And the crying.

"Han..." Luke said in a warning tone, then all words fled as he stared on what, exactly, Han had swaddled in blankets on his bed.

The baby seemed just as surprised to see him as he was to see it, large brown eyes going momentarily wide.

Then it screwed up its face, and screamed.

Luke winced. Han swore.

Even the dogs stopped their bounding about to stare at the tiny fleshy thing and wonder why it was making that noise.

Sighing, Luke made to sweep the child into his arms and rock her gently, the blankets making her look much larger—and heavier—than she was. He automatically started humming to get her to calm down; mercifully, it worked.

She stared at him some more, as if she couldn't believe he'd had the nerve to pick her up, then he hummed a little louder and her eyes slid closed.

"Where'd you learn how to look after a kid?" Han, watching him in slightly confused wonder, asked. "And what lullaby is that?"

Luke stopped humming, not in the mood to explain that odd period in his life when he'd served as a nursemaid to the Dauphin of France and that the lullaby was one whose words in all likelihood hadn't graced the light of day in six hundred years.

"A family one," he said. His father had technically been the reason he'd had to get that job, after all. "And, Han"—he shifted so the baby girl's ears were covered—"where the fuck did you get a baby?"

"Now, now, there's no need to be so harsh—"

"Is she Qi'ra's?" he asked, concern mounting in his tone, because really, they were both lovely people but they'd never been the most compatible as a couple and he didn't think—

"No!" Han yelped. "We're over—it was a fling, you know that! She's not either of ours—" He paused. "Wait, how'd you know it's she?"

Luke loosely unwrapped the blankets around her bottom. She was stark naked otherwise, which made it easier to tell.

He shrugged, and wrapped her back up, half-humming the tune again as she began to stir. "I can just tell these things sometimes. And you didn't answer my question."

"Fine! I found her." His voice turned to disgust. "In a garbage can."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah—just lying on top of the trash, dead silent. I hung around for a while to see if anyone came to pick her up, but after an hour or two no one did, so..." He scratched the back of his neck, but looked more pained than awkward as he said, "I brought her back. Clearly no one else was gonna—I musta seen hundreds of people walk past there in that hour or two. No one who saw her cared."

Luke glanced down at the baby. She had wisps of brown hair on her head, almost the same shade as her eyes.

He wondered if this was what Leia had looked like as a baby.

He wondered why that hurt so much.

He brushed a thumb over her head and asked, "Why didn't you take her to the police?"

He regretted the question the moment he saw Han's face darken a shade. Han didn't have the best rapport with them—petty crime and minor things, but poor rapport nonetheless. No wonder he hadn't.

"I'll take her to the police," he offered instead. "Maybe they can find her parents, or give her a loving home."

Half of Han's anxiety melted. "You will?"

"Of course."

Han smiled... then, for the first time, he seemed to actually see how tenderly Luke was holding her, hear the gentleness in the hummed syllables, then smiled wider. "I knew I could count on you, junior."


His discussion with the police, and then social services, and then the police again... hadn't gone as expected.

And had lasted much longer, covering a great many more things, than he'd expected.

Luke was just staring at his newly acquired baby, who lay cradled in a baby carrier on the sofa, snug in a favourite blanket of Luke's that he'd bought in the Netherlands sometime during the sixteenth century. She stirred, wriggled and opened her mouth for a moment, but then—thank the Almighty—she fell asleep again.

He glanced down at the adoption papers in their folder on the coffee table. The name Rey Skywalker embellished the top of the page and he still wasn't quite sure that any of the last few weeks had been real.

He, Luke Skywalker, Angel of the Eastern Gate and the longest-serving ethereal agent on Earth, had just adopted a child.

What the fuck was he doing?

He wasn't supposed to get attached to the humans! If he did, then that would just betray to Heaven that he didn't think (or was in denial that) said humans would all be destroyed in less than eleven years. And that would end in either a very awkward conversation or him being recalled to Heaven, as Leia had already borderline threatened to do, but...

But Rey had looked so helpless.

And...

He was very fond of her.

He'd looked after her throughout the whole mess of the police trying to find her parents. He liked looking after her. He loved her.

And he knew how strained social services and foster homes could be. If he could ease that burden somewhat by looking after one child, and giving her a loving, positive home, then...

Well, there was nothing more angelic he could do, was there?

He took a seat behind her on the sofa, careful not the jiggle the carrier too much, then brushed a thumb over the curve of her head. He realised his face hurt from smiling.

The doorbell rang.

Whether it was the sound itself or his startled jerk that woke Rey was unclear, but suddenly her little face was red and scrunched up and...

...there was screaming.

His smile fell.

He scooped her up and cradled her in his arms, humming that French lullaby again and lightly bouncing her as he approached the door. It was a feat to open it one-handed while still holding Rey tightly, but he did, and the person he saw on the other end made him want to scream as well.

Heaven help him (or not), he did not want to deal with the judgement of his family right now.

But his father was here and, it hit Luke suddenly, he had never actually been here before. They knew where each other lived, of course, but they always texted (or stopped actively avoiding each other) when they wanted to meet up, they never... dropped by for a chat.

Which meant that something here must be serious.

So Luke scrunched up his nose, bounced Rey a little more, took a step back and resolutely ignored the bewildered look Vader shot the screaming baby.

"Are you able to just come in or do you need to be invited?"

His father scowled, yellow eyes finally moving off Rey and onto Luke. "That's vampires," he grumbled and shoved past him.

Luke called after him, "And who was that myth based on?" but Vader didn't dignify that with a response.

Luke slammed the door—quietly, now that Rey's screaming had finally died down—and followed his father to the living room. Vader was pacing in front of the TV but Luke pointedly took a seat in the armchair, cradling Rey in his lap, so his father sat down on the sofa as well.

Vader said, "You have a baby."

"I adopted her."

"Why?"

Luke did not think his father deserved to hear his full justification, which essentially meant he didn't know himself.

"What are you doing here, Father?"

Vader crossed his arms. "The Antichrist is missing," he said.

Luke rolled his eyes. "The Antichrist is dead. Remember? There was that news story several months ago about how your American ambassador and his entire family died in a car crash."

"No, she's not. You think a car crash would kill the Antichrist? Literal spawn of Sidious? Angel of the Bottomless Pit? Princess of This World and Lady of Darkness? No."

"You can't be sure of that. Besides, the ambassador's daughter was declared dead. It was right there on the telly."

"Yes, but there's no way she is dead."

Luke raised an eyebrow. "How do you know?"

"Because," Vader leaned forward, eyes uncomfortably intense and his snake's hiss overlapping with his human voice, "if ssshe had died and reappeared in Hell, my master would have dessstroyed me."

Luke, finding that he was hugging Rey a little tighter than necessary, didn't know what to say to that.

"She's still alive," Vader confirmed. "And on Earth. She could be anywhere in London. Anywhere in the country. Anywhere in the world."

Luke swallowed.

"She could be your daughter," he argued further, squinting at the daughter in question.

Luke got defensive at that.

"Rey is two months younger than the Antichrist," he said. "And look at her. She's not the Antichrist. I would know if she was the Antichrist."

"Not necessarily. The Antichrist's natural powers include the ability to hide from all supernatural beings, especially those who'd wish her harm. Suspicion like off her like..." Vader floundered around for a moment for a suitable simile, then his gaze fell on a picture on the mantelpiece. It was of Luke standing next to the pond in St James's Park. "Like water off a duck's back." He shook his head. "There was no way you would know."

"Well then," Luke said, "if suspicion slides off the Antichrist and Rey is the Antichrist, then how come you suspect her?"

His father froze at that.

"...good point," he admitted. And his suspicion slid off her. "But anyway. I need your help to find her."

Luke was... not flabbergasted, but suitable shocked and angered. "Me? Why?"

"Because there's no one else who's going to help me." Vader made a sharp, dismissive motion with his hand. "Besides, you want to stop Armageddon, don't you?"

Luke clammed up at that. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do. You love humans. You're their most loyal protector." A miracle beyond any Luke could perform was the fact that there was zero condescension in his voice as he said that. "You don't want the War to come again? Well, neither do I."

Luke pressed his lips together, watched the faint, stressed tremors that shook his father's body, and thought that it didn't take a genius to figure out why. Luke was still refusing to Fall.

"Help me find her, then I can kill her. Or you can kill her. Either way, Armageddon will never happen."

"What?" Against his will, Luke held Rey closer to his chest, as though it was her his father was threatening. "No! I've— I've never killed anything before."

"No time like the present."

"No." Luke glared. "Get out of my flat."

"Come on, Luke. It's an excellent idea."

"It's a terrible idea. All your ideas are terrible."

"Name one."


An iceberg, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. 107 years before the End of the World.

"I hate you."

"I thought angels weren't supposed to hate."

Luke wrapped his jacket tighter around him and pretended it was the iceberg they were seated on and not the words that had chilled him. "I hate you with a righteous passion. Righteously."

"Of course."

Luke swept his gaze back down to the dark water below—and the looming shape of what was left of the gargantuan ship. There was barely any left above water now, the lifeboats having long since ferried as many people as possible to safety. Luke tried not to look at the floating bodies of the people he hadn't been able to miracle a lifeboat for in time.

"The pinnacle of human invention and achievement," he said mournfully.

"The pinnacle of human arrogance, more like. Unsinkable." Vader scoffed, watching the part of the hull groan and splash beneath the dark waves. The night swallowed it just as surely as the sea did. "Ha."

"You taught them that arrogance."

"And you taught them that technological brilliance. Our little brainchild, humanity is. It's not our fault if they learned a little too well."

Luke didn't say anything, teeth chattering.

"Hey," his father said, tilting his head in a way that almost looked... well, paternal. "Don't be so hard on yourself. They worked together splendidly. Look how many people escaped with their lives, especially with your help! They still subscribe to that message of love and cooperation you work so hard to spread."

Luke didn't respond to that, either.

He just said, "It was a terrible idea for you to book us these tickets."

"I thought you'd enjoy it."

"Hmph." Luke tucked his chin into his chest. "It was a terrible idea."


London. 10 years and 9 months before the End of the World.

Vader took one look at Luke's raised eyebrows and said, "Whatever petty incident you're thinking of, keep quiet about it."

Luke smirked. There was no humour in it. "I'm not murdering a baby. Get out of my flat."

"It's not a baby, it's the Antichrist."

"Get. Out. Of. My. Flat."

Vader paused, saw the flinty-eyed expression Luke was wearing, and very wisely showed himself the door.

"Let me know if you decide otherwise," he said, then skedaddled before Luke could voice the words (and insults) that tumbled into his mind.


It was another few weeks after that when he had a visit from his other family member.

And Leia was not best pleased, either.

She appeared in his bedroom—without so much as knocking—and tossed a piece of paper at him. It fluttered in the air for a second before it landed on the edge of the bed, then slid off.

"What," she hissed, "is this?"

He raised an eyebrow at it in its spot on the floor—at the gold ethereal stamp at the top. "It looks like the report I sent in a few weeks ago." A thought hit him. "Aww, you actually read it?"

"Yeah." She looked awkward suddenly."I figured I ought to. I was... slightly concerned by some of your comments."

Luke groaned and put his face in his hands. "Oh dear."

"Luke, you called Archangel Yoda—"

"—a crusty old bastard more grumpy than good," he finished. "I remember. I was venting, and you said that no one read them."

"I see." She shook herself, and then the anger returned. "But I'm not here for that! I'm here for the part where you said you adopted a child?"

He nodded calmly. "I did."

"Why?"

He gave her the same explanation he'd given his father. Absolutely none at all.

Leia sighed. "Luke, I know this will be hard for you. I've spoken to Archangel Obi-Wan and he says that it wasn't fair to make you spend the entirety of the Earth's existence in exile for our father's crime. You can come back with me, right now, and you can work on detaching yourself from Earth before it's destruction and get used to living in Heaven again—"

"Leia," he interrupted, "I don't want to go back to Heaven. If the world is ending, I want to spend the remaining time here and make the most of it."

Leia sighed. "I understand, by why adopt a child? This... Rey... is going to die in eleven years anyway!"

Luke felt like he'd just been stabbed.

Because... it was true.

When he'd adopted her, they'd had all the time in the world. The Antichrist had been dead (through no malicious intent, just Her will playing out on the stage of the world) and he hadn't been facing the prospect of the War returning in a timescale that was, really, a blink of an eye to him.

But now, after what his father had said... now a little girl barely older than Rey would be her death.

Luke stood up from the bed. "Come with me," he said.

Leia raised an eyebrow but followed him as he left the bedroom and opened the door to the one just beside it. He held a finger up to his lips—he wasn't sure if Leia knew that human gesture but she seemed to get the hint anyway—and tiptoed in. Rey's cot was just in the corner and she slept peacefully.

Luke waved Leia in and she came forward, fixing Rey with a frown... before her face softened when Rey woke and started whimpering.

Luke lifted her out of the cot and cradled her to his chest, murmuring indistinct words. She calmed down minutely but didn't sleep—just looked up at him with large brown eyes.

Could he kill the Antichrist to save the whole of Earth? Luke... wondered, holding Rey. It certainly seemed like the lesser of the evils—only, it wasn't evil if it was God's will, was it? In Her Great, Ineffable Plan?

Leia sighed. "You pathetic sob."

Luke smiled. He could hear the affection behind it.

"You're going to lose her, Luke," she said. She wasn't malicious in the words—that might have made it better. She was just genuinely worried about him.

"I'm going to lose everything, Leia."

She bit her lip and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Not everything."

He did his best to smile. He couldn't.

"May I hold her?"

He passed her over to Leia and his sister cradled her with a reverence that was... unexpected. But Leia seemed to be as enchanted by Rey as Han, Luke, everyone else he'd met was. Save his father.

And, just as he thought that, Leia frowned.

"Something smells... evil," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Somewhere in the flat."

His father had been inside for the first time a few weeks ago.

Luke's heart slammed against his chest. He opened his mouth to say something, anything—

Then Leia looked down at Rey.

She laughed, though her expression of disgust didn't fade, especially when Rey started screaming again.

"Oh no," she said, almost mildly, "it's just that she's shat herself."

Luke nearly made a joke about Leia's swearing again, but then he swore himself.

"I'll handle it," he said, and rushed Rey off to the bathroom.


After that, time passed. Far too quickly for some and far too slowly for others, but it was what it was, and the fact was that it passed.

For eleven years, Vader scoured the world for any hint of the Antichrist even as he kept his master's constant queries off his back with increasingly vague and flimsy excuses.

For eleven years, Leia regularly visited Luke and Rey, to make sure she could ease his upcoming transition in any way, even as she found herself growing fonder and fonder of her niece.

For eleven years, Luke tried to convince himself that they had all the time in the world despite the looming evidence that said otherwise.

And for eleven years, Rey grew up.


To be continued...

Chapter Text

London. Five days before the End of the World.

Vader grimaced as his music segued into his master's rasping tones again and desperately scrambled for something to say.

"Vader," he greeted, "how is my daughter faring?"

"Very well, master," he lied. Through his teeth. "She is an extremely intelligent girl. Very evil."

"How many people has she killed?"

"None so far, master, but I hardly think evil is confined to murder." He let his distaste for the mere idea shine through. He was an expert in human evil after all, had invented (most of) it, and did not appreciate his work being belittled as such.

Sidious cackled. The machine interpreted it as static. "Indeed, my friend. You would know. But I trust that you, in all your experience of evil, find her up to par? She will seek to destroy the world?"

Wherever she is, I really hope not. "Yes, master." Then, adding on because he wasn't sure what an appropriate level of drama would be for this situation: "She longs to rule the ashes of this world."

"And she will. We'll have no use for it, after all, and no use for her, either." The dismissive tone was audible even through the machine; it made Vader... irritable, for reasons he couldn't describe.

No. That wasn't true. He could describe them.

He'd give anything to see his daughter again.

Talk to her again.

Be on the same side as her.

It was the same with his son.

Sidious had exactly what he didn't—well, would have, once he found that damned child—and he didn't give a shit about it.

"We will be sending her the hellhound soon. Then, it will be time for her to begin."

"Yes, my master," Vader said, but Sidious had already released control of his radio.

Vader sighed. He had... five days before the Antichrist's eleventh birthday.

Maybe it was time to ask Luke for help again.


Ancient Egypt, Giza. 3,952 years before the End of the World.

Luke shifted in his spot by the Nile, grimacing up at the harsh sun above his head. In the distance, through the heat shimmer, he could vaguely make out the shape of the pyramids, though he wasn't sure if that was because they were close enough to see or because he was unconsciously using a miracle to improve his sight beyond an ordinary human's capacity.

He glanced around at his feet, the wind stirring sand and his hanging robes around his legs. He grimaced.

He didn't like sand.

But he was here to see Leia, and she turned up by the river soon enough that he didn't have much more time to ponder on how he'd never thought he'd miss Northern Europe's endless mud and cold, wet rain.

Leia laughed at the expression on his face when she saw him. "You get used to it eventually."

"I hope I never have to."

She grimaced. "Yeah, well, you might. I'm leaving soon. You'll be the only agent left on Earth."

Quite understandably, he took a moment to process that second part because the first part baffled him so much. "You're— you're leaving? So—"

"So you'll be the only one left, yes. You'll get sent everywhere, instead of handling just your zone."

"No." Luke shook his head. "I mean... they let you back."

"Yes." She pursed her lips. "They decided to stop punishing me for what the person who was once our father did while I wasn't anywhere near him."

"Oh, but it's not a punishment," Luke drawled.

"It's a precaution," Leia finished. Bitter laughter was familiar to the both of them. "Either way, apparently they finally decided that I'm not a potential demon spy and they're letting me back into Heaven."

Luke saw the guilty bob of her throat and decided not to ask the burning question at the back of his mind.

What about me?

He'd always been under more suspicion than Leia. He'd actually spoken to his father immediately after the incident, even if it was just to humour him. Of course they'd keep him down here longer than Leia.

As a precaution.

"Yeah, well," Luke smiled. If pockets had been invented by that point, he would've stuck his hands in them. "Enjoy Heaven. I'll see you around. I love you."

She smiled and rested a hand on his cheek. "I love you too, Luke."

Then she was gone, and Luke could sense it in his very soul: he was the only angel on Earth.

He was alone.


London. Five days before the End of the World.

"Leia!"

Luke grinned as Rey rushed out of her room to hug her aunt, winding Leia in the process; his sister gave him a look. It was an exasperated but fond look, and it made Luke grin even more.

"Hi, Rey," she said, ruffling the girl's head. Rey backed off with a scowl on her face; when she saw Luke smiling, she stuck her tongue out at him.

But Luke's smile dropped when he saw the look on Leia's face. She was smiling—for Rey's benefit, and because she genuinely did love her brother and niece—but there was a tension behind that smile. Something she wasn't telling him.

This wasn't one of those friendly, regular social calls she'd adopted these past few years—to make sure the transition to Heaven is easier for you, she'd said at the start, then admitted the following day that she just wanted to see him and Rey again—or even just an official check up. (As an Archangel now, she could do those.)

This was serious.

"Leia!" Rey was still talking. "Do you want to play Ludo with me? I keep playing Dad and he always loses—"

"Maybe in a bit." Leia ruffled her hair again, Rey made that face again and Luke laughed again. "But you're getting big, wow! How old are you now, eleven? What year are you in?"

Aha.

Eleven.

That was what Leia was here about.

That was also, coincidentally, what he was expecting his father to try to contact him about, soon. It was their yearly bonding ritual—he contacted him about the Antichrist, Luke told him to piss off—and they were running out of time with which to perform it.

"I'm ten," Rey said sullenly. "And I'm in Year Six. Just finished Year Six. I'll be eleven in a month and a bit, though!" She lit up at the thought of it. "Dad said I can get a puppy!"

Leia raised an eyebrow at him. "Did he now?"

Luke smiled, a little sadly, and nodded at Artoo. He was curled up on the sofa, and he'd greeted Leia when she first came in, but he was getting old now and couldn't keep up with Rey as well as when they were younger. "I did."

Leia pursed her lips.

"Luke?" she asked. "In that case, can I talk to you alone?" She shot Rey a grin that didn't quite reach her eyes and added conspiratorially, "So as not to ruin the surprise."

Rey giggled.

Luke nodded, switched on the telly to distract Rey, and led Leia into his bedroom. It was more or less identical to when she'd been in there eleven years earlier, though the pictures on the walls and on his bedside table were now of Rey at various stages of life instead of just Luke and Artoo.

"Luke..." Leia said immediately.

He winced, half-turned away and closed his eyes. "I know.

"The world is ending in five days."

"I know."

"She's not gonna get that puppy!"

"I know, Leia!" He spun back round. "Don't you think I haven't spent the last eleven years knowing that?"

"Luke, you need to—"

"I need to what?"

Leia's expression was impossibly pained and impossibly unyielding. The benevolent but unswerving face of Her justice.

She said, "You need to let her go."

He scoffed and turned away again.

"You knew this, you set yourself up for this heartbreak—"

"I can't let her die, Leia."

"And do what?" she challenged. "Go against the Great Plan? Betray God, and all of us? Fall? Even demons want this world destroyed, Luke. You're on your own."

"I will not Fall," Luke said. His fists were clenched. "And there are seven billion people on Earth. I am far from alone. And even if there weren't..." He gave her a searching look. "Would I be alone?"

Leia swallowed.

She pointedly didn't look in the direction of where Rey was. She didn't look at any of the framed photos, either.

"Yes," she said. "You would be."

Luke frowned and lowered his head.

It was then that the doorbell rang.

Luke froze.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.

Not now.

Please, for Heaven's, for Hell's, for everybody's sake, not now.

Not even Rey's cheerful shout of, "I'll get it!" cut through his sudden, visceral panic.

Leia looked at him strangely. "Luke? What is it?"

Then that voice that both hissed and boomed rang through the flat, and fury the likes of which Luke had never seen contorted Leia's face.

Instinctive fury... then realisation, betrayal, and true, righteous, unparalleled fury.

"Granddad?" Rey asked, a little nervously. Vader had, of course, never expressly given her permission to call him that, but Luke had been stubbornly calling him that in front of her for eleven years and old habits die hard.

He liked to think his father liked it.

"Granddaughter," he replied, amused, and Luke's heart stopped at the world-shattering rage in Leia's eyes—in the glare she fixed him with, a slight tilt to his head that meant he needed to run like Hell.

Or Heaven.

Whatever.

"Leia," he said.

She spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.

Stormed into the living room, where Rey had somehow managed to usher Vader into an armchair and was talking to him shyly about something that was forgotten by everyone the moment Vader and Leia locked gazes.

Leia brought out a trembling finger to point at him like she wanted to smite him with it. Luke couldn't help but think that was a gesture she'd picked up from the very demon she wanted to smite.

He stepped between them. "Leia—"

"Luke," she said, deadly calmly, "have you been fraternising with the enemy?"

Luke said, "The enemy?" while Vader said, "Fraternising?"

Both Luke and Leia ignored him.

"Yes," she snapped, "the enemy. He's a demon. He Fell." She gave him a disgusted look. "Something which you weren't able to pick up at Eden and you clearly still have trouble with. Are you going to Fall yourself, next?"

"No! Absolutely not!" Leia relaxed minutely at the sheer horror he felt at that idea, but she didn't lower that finger. "But he's not the enemy, he's our father."

Leia finally put her arm down at that. Instead of anger, now, her face was full of a terrible, terrible pity.

And—more dangerously—resolve.

"Luke," she said softly, shaking her head, "this is why you were banished for six thousand years—"

"Banished?" Vader asked, looking offended on Luke's behalf.

"Six thousand years?" Rey asked, confused.

"—and if you've continued to meet with him all this time, then clearly the problem is so much worse than we thought."

Luke asked, "Who's we?"

Leia twitched and ignored him. "You need to come back to Heaven. Right now."

"Heaven?" Rey interjected.

"No! Leia, I'm not going back to Heaven! I'm staying right here, with—"

"With a traitor, a dog and a mortal?" she drawled.

Luke lifted his chin, wrapped his arms around Rey's shoulders and met Leia's gaze with a steely one of his own.

"With my family," he said.

Leia blinked.

Took a step back.

Stared at that little family portrait: Vader, all in black, sitting stick-straight in the armchair; Artoo, hair greying and eyesight failing, curled up on the sofa with his head over the arm, staring at them; Rey, standing between them awkwardly in her flowered top and skirt; and Luke, behind her, with his arms around her shoulders and looking more tired than any ethereal being should be.

"You're too attached, Luke," she murmured. "You always have been."

"And I always will be," he countered. "Don't tell them."

There was no need to specify who they were.

Leia shook her head. "I have to."

"No, you don't, they'll kill me—"

"They won't." Leia's gaze flicked to Vader, watching the proceedings he'd initiated with a tangible tension. That tension only peaked at the word kill. "They'll—we'll—just take you back to Heaven. You'll learn to let go eventually."

"When all the seas boil and stars come crashing down and all creatures great and small are murdered so two gangs can fight it out to see who's better?"

Leia didn't rise to the bait—just nodded grimly. "If necessary. Nothing can change it; it is written. There will be a world and it will last six thousand years—"

"—and it will end in fire and flame, yeah, I know. The Great Plan." Luke snorted. "Like the way She put the apple tree where anyone could steal from it? Like the way the fate of the world relies on a child? That's not a great plan. That's a cover up. She's planning something else."

It was a wild idea—one he'd never even considered before now, before he'd opened his mouth and the words had flowed like an act of grace from Her herself. But it made sense. And—most importantly—it gave him hope.

Rey did not have to die.

Artoo did not have to die.

The world did not have to die.

Leia was not so impressed.

She just shook her head. "I have to tell them, Luke," she said, and then she was gone before Luke could get any word in edgewise.

Silence reigned in the flat.

"Dad?" Rey asked. "What was all that about angels and Heaven and dying?"

As if in a trance, Luke took his arms from around her neck. He needed to tell her. He'd known that he'd need to tell her, one day.

But today...

"Father," he said, and his tone was colder than the Bottomless Pit that fucking Antichrist was angel of, "what, in all of Heaven and Hell and Earth, possessed you to drop by without texting me first?"

"Then you'd have been able to avoid me," his father replied, tilting his head.

"Then I'd have been able to keep this shitstorm a secret!"

Rey grinned. "You swore!"

Luke shook his head. "Not— not now, Rey. Isn't it time for you to go to bed?"

She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. "It's seven pm."

"Please," Luke said, forcing himself to stay calm. It was not Rey's fault, and shouting at her just to vent would be both unfair and counterproductive. "Just go to your room. You're not in trouble, but I just need to talk to your granddad about adult stuff."

Rey crossed her arms and looked unimpressed. Now that was a mannerism she'd picked up from Vader. "Like normal adults or adults who are thousands of years old?"

Luke closed his eyes. "Please, Rey. I'll explain it all to you soon, but right now I'm very angry at both Aunt Leia and Granddad and I really need to shout at one of them. I'm not going to shout at you, so please go to your room for a little bit."

Rey frowned, but nodded. "Alright."

The moment the living room door shut behind her, Vader said, "You know she's just going to listen behind the door."

"No she's not," Luke said. "Right, Rey?"

There was a grumbled, "Right, Dad," and then Rey finally stomped into her bedroom.

Luke kept facing the door, away from his father. He rubbed his temples and sighed.

"Father," he said calmly, "what was it you wanted, then?"

"The Antichrist's birthday is in two days and I still haven't found her. Hell will be sending her a hellhound on the day."

Luke folded his hands together and squeezed; the tendons stood out in stark relief on the back. "A hellhound?"

"To pad by her side and guard her from harm," he said dryly. "Once she gets the dog, she names it something—Stalks By Night, Killer, something equally pretentious—to give it its nature. Once it has a name, and a purpose, she'll have all her powers."

"Which are?"

HIs father looked at him like he was an idiot. "Total dominion over reality," he said, like it was obvious. "The ability to do whatever she wants to whomever she wants, with consequences she could wave away with a snap of her fingers."

Luke muttered, "It's a good thing she's only eleven, then." Cleared his throat, then said louder, "And then Armageddon will begin?"

"Then Armageddon will begin."

"And so long as we don't know where she is, there's nothing we can do to stop it?"

"Nothing."

"Then we'd best hope that without your demonic influence," Luke bit out, "the Antichrist will make the right decision and send the dog away. If that would even stop it."

Vader nodded. "It would stop it."

"But if she doesn't do that?" Luke didn't even know where he was going with this. All he knew was that there was a bright, burning rage in his chest and that so long as he stoked its flames he wouldn't be hurt by his sister handing him over to be executed.

"Why did you Fall?" Luke asked abruptly, that fire doused in cold realisation. Anger... unrighteous fury...

Vader met his eye steadily.

"Because God, and Heaven, has never shown any interest in helping my family," he said. "All She loved was Her Great Plan."

"That didn't mean you had to trigger it."

"Sidious told me the truth," Vader said coolly. "That it was in Her plan for Padmé to die, and the only way to save her was to make sure that the plan never came to pass."

"So you started a war that got her killed?"

Vader ground his teeth. "...yes. But, if this War was part of Her plan then it really was Her plan for her to die—"

Luke scoffed. "The Great Plan is ineffable. You had no way of knowing if what you were doing was part of it or not. You had no way of knowing if you were going against it or not. Maybe it was planned for her to live. Maybe it was planned for her to die. We don't know."

Vader was glaring at him now. "Do you care about your mother?"

"Of course I do. I'm just not in the mood to deal with your bullshit. You can't live your life because She might want one thing or another to happen—because you'll never know the truth. She's secretive like that. All you can know is what you want to do with your life, and what you think is right."

He sat himself down in the sofa opposite Vader and leaned forward. "So tell me everything about Armageddon and the Antichrist, because we're going to stop it before Heaven drags me upstairs to answer for the crime of having emotions."

"And if, in order to stop the Antichrist, you have to kill her?" Vader asked carefully. His gaze was on Luke's face.

Luke didn't flinch.

He was pissed off and he'd just stood up to his sister in defence of his family. He'd stand up to the Antichrist to save Rey. No question.

"If it's necessary," he said, then cocked an eyebrow at his father's surprise, "yes."


After Vader was gone, he went to explain himself to Rey.

He told her everything... except the fact that the Antichrist was an ever-growing threat and the End of the World was days away.

There were some burdens, Luke thought, drawing the covers up around Rey's chin as he tucked her in, ignoring her protests that she was too old for that, that eleven-year-olds shouldn't have to bear.


The United States of America. 238 years before the End of the World.

Blood stained the soil outside Yorktown and Luke stood upon a battlefield where hundreds of men had died mere hours ago. All was still.

His father stood a little way away, crouched next to the body of a British soldier. Luke didn't know why he was bothering—the man was clearly dead; Vader had nothing left to tempt him to—so he waved it away and continued moving from corpse to corpse, blessing the dead.

At least, blessing the dead that hadn't already had their souls claimed by his father in life.

"I don't suppose you're the one responsible for so much death?" Luke asked. He'd meant to inject heat into it, but... He was tired. Just witnessing one revolution play out had exhausted him and, if the current state of affairs in Europe were anything to go by, there'd be more on the way.

(At least this one had been successful. In 1848, Luke would be flitting all over central Europe and wishing that when history made an effort to turn, it would at least have to decency to succeed at it, so they weren't left trying to scrounge something out of the wreckage of the failure. In 1781, the long nineteenth century was just beginning.)

(He was glad for the improvements. Glad for the power going to the masses. But there was so much death...)

"No," his father said. "I... had thought it was your Heaven who started this."

Luke cut him a glance. "Started what?"

"The revolutions. All this... revoluting?"

"Revolting."

"Well," he said, some oft-lost humour in his voice, "if that's what you think of it..."

Luke cut him another glance. "We... suggested to a few choice individuals that life could be better for them and their own than it was. It wasn't us who invented things like the British Empire and made that necessary."

"Yeah. It wasn't any of ours, either. Though I wouldn't put it past Tarkin."

Luke frowned. "That... wasn't yours?"

"Oh, no. The humans thought up that all by themselves. Same with the Spanish Inquisition, colonialism, the Crusades..." He rolled his eyes. "Humans are never going to be good when they're capable of evil. And we made sure they were capable of evil years ago. Why do you still try, Luke?"

All that exhaustion barrelled back into him.

Why did he?

The world was doomed, would be destroyed in a few hundred years anyway, and the humans seemed obsessed with finding new ways into Hell—

"Besides," Vader added, "didn't you have something to do with the rise of the British Empire? The defeat of the Spanish Armada—"

"Granting them one fair wind is not akin to giving them reign to pillage the rest of the world," Luke snapped. He desperately tried to drag himself back from that... pessimism... of before. It was entirely unproductive. "In a way, the Americans were quite right to resist, instead of letting one person tell everyone how the world should be."

His father turned to him.

"Oh, really?" he asked. Luke had a bad feeling about this. "So, it's good and noble to resist and fight back when someone tries to claim they are inherently purer and better and more powerful than you? No matter what"—he gestured around the battlefield—"the cost in pain and lives might be?"

Luke ground his teeth. "Don't. They're not comparable."

"Why not?"

"Because unlike the inherent dichotomy of humanity, you, Father, are inherently evil." He stressed the words. "You caused the first sin and everything."

"Who says?"

Luke blinked. "I do. Remember? I was there—"

"No." Vader waved his hand. "Who says I'm inherently evil?"

Luke bristled. "Well... the Almighty." At least, so he'd heard.

It hit him that he'd never actually heard Her say it himself.

And, if She had some plan to follow which everything was a part of... why would She allow Her son to Fall, without interfering once?

Why would She plan for Luke's mother to die, if this was the result?

Luke thought back to the garden.

Why put the tree right in the middle of it, instead of on the moon or something?

What was so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway? Surely, if they understood it more thoroughly, they wouldn't engage in the sort of selfish violence that incites the righteous violence Leia was such a propagator of—

It's ineffable, he thought, and left it at that.

"Where are you going after this?" Luke asked dully. He just wanted to change the subject.

"South Carolina. There'll be a battle near Beaufort in a several months. I'm supposed to tempt and secure as many souls before it as possible, so they'll all go to Hell once they die."

"Interesting."

Vader clearly read something in his tone that Luke didn't, because he chuckled and shot him a look. "You've been ordered to do the opposite?"

Luke huffed a laugh. "Yes."

"Well, then," Vader said slyly, "it seems like a waste of time for both of us to go."

Luke crossed his arms. "What are you insinuating?"

"Toss a coin. If I win, you have to do both the tempting and the blessing. If you win, I have to." As if to illustrate the point, his father drew a peso out of his pocket and balanced it on his thumb, ready to flip.

"I am not tempting anyone." Luke had a very specific scowl for when his father tried to convince him to Fall; he wore it now.

Vader put the peso away. "Very well. I'll see you in South Carolina, then. Several months in the same place."

He left, and Luke was left with the realisation that his father would have won either way.


London. One day before the End of the World.

Luke's phone had been blowing up with texts from Vader for hours now. It was the Antichrist's birthday.

There was nothing Luke could do, so he just replied that he'd be on hand if he needed any help and stood in the kitchen.

He'd found, over the years, that baking did wonders for his nerves. Even if he couldn't change the world one miracle at a time, he could make cookies that made at least someone (usually Rey) happy.

Another text came in. Luke glanced at it, processed that the hellhound had been released, and went back to his baking.

It was barely ten minutes later that he'd put the cookies in the oven and glanced over at Artoo. It was approaching four, and he hadn't been on a walk since early that morning.

He took off the oven gloves and shouted, "Rey?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you want to come to the park with me and Artoo?"

There was a moment of silence as she considered it, then... "Alright!"


St James's Park always made Luke smile to see, for all that it was the location of several of his more... explosive arguments with his father. Artoo ran off immediately, as fast as ever, and Rey ran off after him. Luke had plaited her hair briefly before they left (in a style he'd learnt at the Austrian court quite a few years ago, which he doubted modern London had ever seen the likes of) and it bounced against her retreating back like a pennant in the wind.

He stopped briefly by the pond, keeping an eye on them in the distance, and nearly smiled when one of the ducks instantly gliding over. It eyed him with dark, beady eyes; he held his hands up to show they were empty. He hadn't thought to bring bread.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He reached for it and frowned when he read his father's text. It was nothing urgent, but...

The hellhound is heading into central London.

Well.

Luke would have to keep an eye out for him, then.

He watched two more ducks slink over and shook his head. That was when he heard the shout.

It wasn't a shout of fear, or anger, or indeed any of those negative human emotions Luke had become so familiar with over the years. It was a shout of joy, and that joy was Rey's.

Smile still lingering on his face, Luke turned to see her... and froze.

Because she was sitting on a bench, her gaze fixed on a shape in the bushes. A large shape, just as big as her. It was padding closer and closer and it growled.

That growl rattled Luke's bones.

He strode forward. No—no, if the Antichrist was in St James's Park right now they needed to get out of here, no—

Rey turned back to him, laughing. "Dad, you got me a puppy like I asked!"

"Rey—" Luke said sharply, turning to look back at the hellhound—

And froze, a mere few metres away from his daughter.

The hellhound wasn't a hellhound anymore. Well it was, he could sense its... hellishness, but it also wasn't. In fact, it looked like a little Jack Russell terrier.

It looked like a puppy.

It bounded up to Rey and leapt onto the picnic bench beside her, yapping all the way. She laughed and made to stroke it. It let her—even encouraged her, shoving its head into her hand with great enthusiasm.

Luke just stared.

And slowly—excruciatingly slowly, but for angels time was the blink of an eye—the penny dropped.

His daughter was nearly eleven years old.

His daughter was cuddling a hellhound sent for the Antichrist, and it was tame as a... well, as a puppy in her company.

Hell will be sending her a hellhound.

Shit.

Fuck.

Shit.

He took the last few steps towards her and sat at the other end of the bench. He didn't try to stroke the dog himself; the dog didn't growl at him, per se, but he hardly expected it to tolerate affection from anyone but Rey.

Artoo, finished with sniffing at the bushes and belatedly realising that Rey was no longer chasing him, started to head back over only to still at the sight of the hellhound.

Rey flung her arms around Luke's torso and babbled. "Thank you thank you thank you! Is this why you wanted me to come to the park? Did you have Han waiting with him so you could have the big dramatic reveal? I..."

Luke blinked as she nattered on, nodding along in all the right places, but his insides were lead.

His daughter was the Antichrist.

His daughter was the Antichrist.

His daughter was about to cause the End of the World...

Artoo crept closer; the hellhound snarled at him; Rey said, "Be nice, Beebee!"

...and she caused it.

Luke closed his eyes. "Beebee?" he asked weakly.

"Yup. Beebee. That's what I'm gonna call him."

Luke wanted to sob. He could feel that shift, like planets crashing out of their preordained path. Armageddon had begun.

What the fuck was he supposed to do now?

"It's a lovely name," he said.


They stayed at the park for a little while longer, mainly because Luke was desperately trying to work out how to explain this to his father. That... would not be a fun conversation.

In fact, they didn't leave until they absolutely had to.

Luke felt a prickling along the back of his neck as he watched Rey, Beebee and Artoo play—other than the general, all-consuming sense of dread he was feeling at the moment—and he turned to look behind him.

There... somewhere through the trees...

Luke's shoulders were tensed to near the point of pain. He glanced at Rey and called out, "I'll be back in a minute, Rey, I just want to have a look at something."

She called back, "Okay," without looking up from where she was peering around the ground for a suitable stick to throw.

Luke walked off quickly, towards that shadow in the trees. He was sure it was nothing, but just in case, if only because Rey was here—

Something collided with his chest and slammed him into a tree.

When he got enough air into his lungs to clear the stars from his vision, he peered up at his attacker's face. Archangel Obi-Wan looked regretful, and sad, but considering that his hand on Luke's shoulder was tight and forceful enough to keep him pinned against the tree, Luke felt like that was rather a moot point.

"Luke," Obi-Wan said solemnly; the sound of his voice filled Luke was nostalgia. He'd been the one to teach Luke to fight, before the War; his parents' most trusted friend. He'd also been the person at his inquest to suggest a temporary assignment on Earth instead of straight up banishment or damnation for mere association with a crime. "Leia told us everything."

Fear chilled him. He refused to let himself show it. "And what was your verdict?"

Obi-Wan was perfectly, perfectly calm; that was what gave the game away. "We have none, yet. We're forcibly recalling you to Heaven for the trial—"

"You mean you're going to execute me."

"Not... necessarily," Obi-Wan stammered. "It depends on the outcome of the trial." Then, as if he'd heard Luke's thoughts, seen his gaze flicker back towards Rey and the dogs, he tightened his grip and said, "Though I can't say that the fact you adopted the Antichrist and lied to everyone about it will work in your favour—"

Luke punched him.

Obi-Wan was an Archangel, and he was expecting a War tomorrow; he'd made sure he was in top fighting condition. But Luke was, technically, the grandson of God, and he was also very, very scared.

Not for himself. He would have walked into that trial and (depending on his reception) either grovelled or spat in their faces, uncaring about how it looked. If it weren't for one, vital thing:

He had no idea what they would do to Rey.

She'd just begun the showstopper (the everything-stopper) they'd all been waiting for... but she was the spawn of Sidious, their greatest enemy.

Luke did not want them anywhere near her.

His punch winded Obi-Wan; he staggered back and Luke punched him again, hard. Then, sure he was breaking about a thousand ethereal rules but figuring he was already in deep, he used a blessing to send him to sleep.

Then he sprinted back to his daughter.

"Rey," he said. "Artoo, Beebee"—he ignored the look the dog gave him; he was sure there was disgust in it—"we need to go right now."

"Why?" Rey protested. "If you need to be somewhere, you can leave me here with the dogs or take Artoo and I can come back later—"

"No, Rey, we all have to go." He bent down to clip the lead onto Artoo's collar; he supposed he'd just have to hope that Beebee would keep up with Rey. Or maybe they could lose him entirely. That'd be great. "I can't explain it all now, but there's a very dangerous man—" He broke. "It's to do with the angels I explained to you the other day; there's an angel back there, he wants to hurt us—"

"I can make him go away," Rey said confidently.

"No, you can't—"

"I can. The voices said so. I can do what I want."

For what seemed like the millionth time in the past hour, Luke froze. "Voices?"

"Yeah."

Fuck.

"I want him to be gone, so he'll be gone." Rey waved her hand, but mostly for effect; Luke would have felt that monumental shift in the fabric of reality either way. "There. He's gone."

Luke looked behind him. Sure enough, the sleeping angel he'd left at the base of the tree was gone.

"Where—" He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and turned back to Rey. "Where did you send him?"

Rey shrugged. "Home," she said vaguely.

Total dominion over reality, his father had said. The ability to do whatever she wants to whoever she wants, with consequences she could wave away as not real with a snap of her fingers.

Luke shook his head. "Okay," he said. "Okay. But we need to go." He took her hand and begged, "Right now."

She pursed her lips but muttered, "...alright."


They couldn't go home. Leia knew where he lived. That was asking for trouble.

So they went to the next best thing.

Qi'ra, face ten times as pinched and tired as it had been eleven years before, answered the door again. "Hello, Luke," she said. "Rey."

"Hello, Qi'ra," he called over his shoulder, even as he rushed up the stairs.

"That's a nice dress!" Rey added.

Qi'ra laughed. "Thank you, Rey."

Luke took a moment to smile to himself before that freezing terror rushed back in and he pounded on Han's door with the vigour of a man possessed.

Chewie barked. "I'm comin', I'm comin'!" came an irritated voice, then the door swung open to admit one Han Solo, who looked like he'd just woken up from a nap.

He scowled at Luke and Rey, scowling more fiercely when Rey just giggled in response. "What do you want?"

"Han," Luke said. His voice trembled and that, more than anything, was what appealed to the softer side of Han Solo. "I need your help."


They were sitting on Han's threadbare sofa when Luke finally finished his explanation, wringing his hands like some housewife out of a nineteenth century novel. He didn't dare to look Han in the eye.

"So Rey," Han said slowly, giving the eleven-year-old girl a disbelieving look, "is the literal spawn of Sidious?"

Luke hissed out a breath through his nose. "Yes. That's the surprising part? Not the fact that I'm an angel who met your ancestor once?"

Han shrugged. "Nah. Look at you, you've got angel written all over you. Especially with that whole holier-than-thou attitude."

"I do not have a holier-than-thou attitude."

"Okay, maybe not you." Han titled his head. "Your sister did, that one time I met her. She was very holier-than-thou."

"Yeah, well, Leia hasn't regularly interacted with humans for four thousand years. She's a bit out of practise."

"Four thousand—" Han choked. "Okay, yeah, this is weird."

"Great. We're on the same page then." Luke hesitated, playing with his fingers, then said, "So, can we stay? I don't mean to pull you into trouble, but—"

"We'll all be in trouble soon, anyway," Han finished. Luke just nodded.

Han shrugged. "Alright then. Stay as long as you want. How long 'til the Apocalypse?"

"Under twenty-four hours."

"Well," Han said, "shit."

"My thoughts exactly." Luke glanced at his phone. His father hadn't texted him an update since he'd mentioned the hellhound was heading into central London. He wondered if he'd lost the hellhound or not.

Well, he thought, eyeing Beebee where he was napping in Rey's lap. She certainly hadn't lost him. More's the pity.

His thumb hovered over the phone screen... then he typed in his father's number. Might as well update him on the situation.

It rang and rang and rang before a woman's voice told him to leave a message after the tone.

"Hey, Father," he said, once the tone had sounded. "I know where the Antichrist is. She's with me. I can't tell you where I am right now, but meet me in my flat at," he checked the time; it was five twenty three, "six o'clock today. Exactly. I won't linger, I'll be in there for five minutes only, so don't be late. Then I'll meet you and explain everything." He hung up.

Han raised an eyebrow. "You're really gonna go somewhere they'll expect you to be?"

Luke shrugged. "Yeah. Where else am I gonna go? I won't linger." He shook his head. "They won't catch me."


Vader had spent the whole day chasing that infernal hellhound all over the city, then just when it started to hone in on their mutual target, he had lost it.

Central London. Near Buckingham Palace, somewhere, he thought, but it could be on the other side of the damned country by now because he'd lost it.

He thumped his hand on the dashboard of his car and shouted his frustration. When the red light turned green, he ignored the look the driver in the lane next to him was giving him and shot right off.

"Call Luke," he said to his phone, but static interrupted the mechanical reply. Again.

"Ah, Vader," Sidious said. Vader ground his teeth. "The hellhound should have long since arrived by now, how are things going?"

"Acceptably, master," he replied. He racked his brain for something to say. "She named the dog Killer."

He hoped his disgust at his own lack of creativity would be interpreted as disgust for hers.

It was. Sidious just laughed, and said, "Ah, the limited thought capacity humans have taught her, my friend. She will learn with us, once all is said and done. So long as she has named it, and named it something suitable—Killer may be unimaginative, but at least it is fitting—and Armageddon has begun."

"It has begun," Vader confirmed. He could sense it—it had only made him panic more.

"Good. Now, as you have nothing to do until the day is truly upon us, I'd suggest you visit your son. If you want him to join us, time is of the essence."

Vader gritted his teeth. "Indeed, master. In less than a day—"

"Oh no, my friend. Tarkin informs me that the opposition discovered that he had been meeting with you—amusingly, it was his own sister that sold him out. They recently requisitioned some hellfire, and I believe they are due to execute and eliminate him as soon as possible."

No.

No.

Sidious kept talking, but Vader heard none of it. His mind was suddenly full of nothing but Luke. Luke, staring around the ruins of a battlefield with a lost look on his face. Luke, that little half-smirk quirking his lips as he tossed bread to the ducks. Luke, cradling Rey in his arms and smiling with every emotion, every transcendent emotion, Vader could remember from when he'd first held him.

Leia—Leia had sold him out?

They were—

They were going to—

"This will be an ideal opportunity to break his ties, bring him to our way of thinking and make him understand the flaws and evils of Heaven..."

They were going to kill him?

His hands, clutching the steering wheel so tightly he thought it might break, were shaking.

No. Not Luke. Not Luke

"...I shall leave you to it, Lord Vader," Sidious finished. "I look forward to seeing your results."

He released the machine, and Vader immediately said, "Call Luke," again, his voice shaking. He spun the car round and started heading in the direction of his flat; if he could warn him, get him out of there in time—

The phone replied monotonously, "You have one voicemail from 'Luke.'"

"Play it." His voice was tight. His grip on the wheel was tight. He was barely looking where he was going.

"Hey, Father. I know where the Antichrist is. She's with me. I can't tell you where I am right now, but meet me in my flat at six o'clock today. I won't linger, I'll be in there for five minutes only, so don't be late. Then I'll meet you and explain everything."

Vader released a breath and checked the time. He could make it to Luke's flat by six, easily.

He stepped on it and shot over the speed limit to get there anyway.


Obi-Wan regretted having to do this. Really, he did.

He eyed the torch of hellfire they'd procured from Tarkin, making sure to hold it as far away from this body as possible. It took a mere miracle to keep the humans from seeing him and his flaming stick, standing there in the street, so he permitted himself a moment to just stand there, looking up at the old house Luke's flat was a part of, the house he'd just seen Luke walk into, and sighed to himself.

He'd been such a promising boy. But fraternising with his father, adopting the Antichrist, attacking Obi-Wan when he tried to resolve things peacefully... the council had voted (without Her input, of course, but She was rarely around to give input) to eliminate the wild card that was Luke Skywalker, once and for all.

If only Leia hadn't reported it. If only he'd returned to Heaven at the same time as his sister. If only Anakin hadn't joined Sidious in the first place, and triggered the War at all.

If only.

Obi-Wan sighed again.

Luke had left cookies in the oven. He could easily frame the fire as a result of a kitchen accident.

If anyone could be bothered investigating once Armageddon started.


When Vader's car rocketed onto the quiet residential street, half-overcooked with its own steam, it was three minutes past six and the entire building was aflame.


To be continued...

Chapter Text

Judea. 1989 years before the End of the World.

Vader stood there and watched with every strike of the hammer and cry of pain as a young, innocent man was hoisted up onto a crucifix, and he had never hated God more.

As the crucifix was hoisted into the air, a crowd gathered at the base of it. The man's poor mother was at the very front, sobbing with something greater than grief as another woman—a cousin? Sister? Neighbour?—held her up, rubbing her arm and whispering something in her ear. Vader didn't glance at her for too long; he was too focused on the man.

The son of God.

His half-brother, if one subscribed to such ideas when the Almighty Herself was involved.

Instinctively, he glanced around for Luke, but his son was far away from here. On the other side of the world, even, spreading Her love and light and compassion even if he never ascribed that name to it. He was not here to stand under the latest casualty of God's Great Plan and listen to his poorly-contained sobs as his hands and feet bled freely.

Vader forced himself to look. To look, and remember. Remember... everything.

Padmé's smile, Sidious's poisonous promises of how she would live, and God's precious plan killing her anyway.

Luke's face, the sag of his wings, when he'd broken the news to him at Eden.

Both his children's faces, as he'd seen them in the War: betrayed, horrified, distraught.

He'd wondered—Luke had asked—too many times why he had done it.

This was why.

Because God would sacrifice Her flesh and blood, Her family—his family—time and time again for a plan She would speak to no one of. Would go out of Her way to ensure it was Her family, his family, who suffered.

And Vader would not let Her have his children suffer because of it.


London. One day before the End of the World.

Terror snatched the breath from Vader's throat. He sprinted up the steps to the front door, yanked at the handle and slammed his fist against the wood. Wrenched it open with magic and sheer force of will and sprinted up the stairs again to find Luke's flat.

The centre of the blaze.

He dived right in.

He was a demon. This was hellfire. It would not touch him.

Luke, on the other hand...

The living room was ablaze, so bright it hurt to look at. The TV in the corner was sparking, the sofa was wreathed in flame, the various newspapers and sweet wrappers and other detritus Luke and Rey had left on the coffee table glowing like a miniature constellation of stars. The carpet had caught, that lovely paisley pattern his son had spent so long agonising over charred and scorched.

"Luke!?" he shouted. "Luke!?"

There was no reply.

None. Absolutely—

He scrambled forward, into the corridor. Past the framed photos on the walls—his elbow bashed into one of Rey blowing out the candles at her fifth birthday party; it smashed to the ground and the glass shattered, fire eating into the edge of the photograph even as the glass melted around it. Rey and Luke's smiling faces were consumed in an instant.

Vader looked up. His throat was blocked; his eyes burned as fiercely as the building around him.

"LUKE!?"

Still no answer. And—

And

He couldn't sense him.

There was no angelic, ethereal presence in this building. He knew that, could sense that, among the horrid, rancid darkness of the bright, bright fire. But he stumbled on into Luke's bedroom anyway, screaming for his son until his throat was raw.

He wasn't screaming words anymore; he was just screaming... memories. Thousands and thousands of years' worth of curses masquerading as prayers, the only way he thought that his Almighty mother might bother to listen to him.

WHY DID YOU TAKE HER?

WHY ARE YOU TAKING HIM?

HAVEN'T YOU TAKEN ENOUGH?

Luke's dark blue bedspread was already a charred crisp, the wood of the framed photos bonfires, the pale pink wallpaper Rey had insisted the entire flat, even Daddy's room, be plastered with a searing yellow.

Vader fell to his knees beside one photo, snatched from its frame by a hot updraft in the blaze. Luke smiled up at him, his mouth covered in ice cream; Rey was on his hip similarly afflicted; Leia stood in the background with her arms crossed, expression exasperated but fond. There was someone reflected in the mirror behind her, above the heads of two dogs at her feet; the photographer maybe. He didn't care to look.

A tongue of flame licked at the edge and he watched Luke's hand, Rey's legs, crumble to ashes and dust.

No—he pinched it out, stuffed the photo into his pocket.

He lifted his head.

"Luke?" he whispered.

Around him, the remnants of his son's life burned. He imagined he could still hear Luke screaming.


It was half past six, and the kid hadn't come back yet.

Han folded his hands behind his back and paced, glancing at the door periodically. It was half past six and the kid—who was, at over six thousand years old, admittedly the oldest kid Han had ever met, even if the point still stood—hadn't come back yet.

He glanced at Rey. She met his gaze with large, solemn eyes and he looked away hurriedly.

Antichrist, huh?

He didn't know how to deal with this. He didn't know how to deal with any of this. So Luke had better come back soon and take charge, because Han hadn't signed up to be an occult babysitter and—

He could hear footsteps coming up the steps. Thank God.

He strode to the door and swung it open before the person could even knock.

That was a mistake.

Han spent about two seconds staring into the stunned face of Archangel Leia Skywalker before his brain caught up and he slammed the door in her face.

Or, at least, tried. Her hand shot out to grasp the doorknob and pushed. He grunted as he pushed back; Christ, she was strong.

Comes of being an angel, his inner voice said. He told his inner voice to shut up.

He was slightly alarmed to see that the doorknob was smoking.

"Solo," Leia snapped, "where's my brother?"

Somewhere in the background, the TV turned on. Rey must've found the remote.

"Your Highnessness," Han shot back, shutting the door as much as he could and moving to block her view of his apartment. He distinctly remembered Luke saying, just before he'd dashed off to meet his old man, that he was pretty sure it was Leia that had sold him out and not to let her in if she somehow remembered where Han lived.

Han had dismissed it. She'd only been here once, after all, and Rey had been tiny when she had.

But, well, here she was. So Han wasn't letting her in.

The TV blared. "—this is a brief recap of the news at six. Snow has fallen in London for the first time in eight years despite the soaring temperatures everywhere outside the city—"

She cocked her head. Her tone sharpened further. "Where's my brother, Solo?"

"Why, Princess? You wanna snitch on him some more?"

She narrowed her eyes. "He told you."

Shit. Was he supposed to tell her that? Was he supposed to talk to her at all?

"—a fire has started in a flat in central London, still burning. The fire department report that it seems confined to that building in a way they've never seen before in terraced housing of this type, though all their efforts to put it out have proven futile—"

"Where is he?" she demanded, and Han still shook his head in defiance.

Leia made to shove forward. "Get out of my way."

Han shook his head again. "No! What part of this do you not understand, lady!? You ain't coming in here! Scram!"

She growled—honest to God growled—and held up a hand. Han watched a tiny storm of ice and fire form, barrel towards him—

—and dissipate before it even touched him.

She gaped. "What—"

Han thought he heard an echo of Luke's voice—may you and your descendants yield or fall to no storm—but dismissed it as him going cuckoo. "Like I said," he shifted his feet into a more secure position, shoulder width apart, and braced himself, "you ain't coming in."

"—dozens of wars between minor states have broken out all over the world, including plagues and famines the likes of which haven't been seen in recent history, leading to many doomsayers claim that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are riding—"

Leia stared, glared for a moment, then released her grip on the doorknob. She left a charred handprint behind.

"Heaven is going to try to execute Luke," she said, quietly but urgently. "I didn't know they would. I need to find him, and warn him, and if necessary rescue him."

"You are far too late for that," someone said.

Han jumped out of his skin and swore. Fluently. But that was nothing compared to Leia's reaction.

She looked at the newcomer—a tall, blond man in his forties or fifties, with a scar bisecting his right eyebrow and eyes like snakes'—and spat, "You."

"Daughter," he replied. His tone was something that might have been amused had any capability of amusement not been thoroughly burned away by grief and rage.

Han's eyebrows shot up. Huh. This was the demon Luke had gone to fetch. He certainly looked a little bit like the kid.

"Don't you dare call me that," Leia hissed. "Not when you—"

"Where's Luke?" Han interjected. Vader blinked, turning those snakelike yellow eyes on Han, as if only just registering he was there. "He went to find you. And you're clearly here. So where is he?"

Leia blinked, fear crossing her face... and freezing into horror when her father gave his reply.

"He's dead."

Han's mouth fell open.

He didn't dare look behind him. The TV was off, and he didn't want to think about Rey listening into their every word.

Leia shook her head. "No," she said weakly, passing a hand in front of her face. "He— he can't be..."

Vader whirled on her with surprising vigour. "He is," he hissed. "He's dead. Your precious Heaven torched his flat with hellfire while he was inside and he did not escape the blaze. He's dead," he clenched his fist, "because you had to run and tattle—"

"I didn't—"

"You did—"

"Why do you even care!?" Leia shouted, jabbing a finger in his chest. She was... much shorter than her father, but terrifying nonetheless. "You Fell, you left us behind, you clearly didn't care enough to stay—"

"I cared more than anything."

"Clearly. That's why you started the War that killed Mother."

"Don't." Vader's breath was heaving now. He was, Han realised, crying. "Don't you dare, I was at least trying to save her, while you just killed your brother—"

"I didn't know!" she shouted. Han—and Vader—flinched at the tears in her voice and on her face. "I didn't know they would do that, I just wanted him recalled, because meeting with you"—she glared at him—"would only hurt him when Armageddon came!"

"Which was exactly why we were trying to stop it!"

Leia's breath caught in her throat. "Stop it?" she asked. "How? It's just started—"

"That was the part we were working on—"

Han cleared his throat. "Actually," he said, "the kid did have a plan for that, before... y'know."

Both beings, angel and demon, turned their gazes on him. He refused to flinch or cower.

The kid had told him to not let his sister in, to protect Rey... but the kid was dead. And Leia seemed, for what it was worth, genuinely distraught about that.

Vader was also gonna have to come in.

"We should talk about this inside," he said, and opened the door wider. He saw Vader's gaze catch on the black handprint Leia had left on the doorknob, but neither of them moved to explain it.

They stepped in. Han had barely shut—and locked, for all the good it would do—the door when Rey came creeping out of the bedroom with Artoo, Chewie and that new puppy in tow. She must've hidden in there from all the screaming.

"Han?" she asked, then her eyes blew wide at the sight of her aunt and threw herself at her. "Leia!"

Leia caught her deftly, even half lifting her off the ground despite Rey's size—angels were, apparently, strong—and burying her face in her shoulder.

Then Rey wriggled herself free and looked up at them all.

"What's going on?" she asked. "Where's Dad?" Then, belatedly— "Hi, Granddad. Again."

Vader's lips twitched in a way that might have been to smile or to snarl, before he flattened them again and said, "Hello, Rey."

No one moved to answer either of her questions.

Leia cleared her throat. "So," she said to Han, voice tight. "You said you had a plan to stop Armageddon?"

"Why do you want to stop Armageddon?" Vader shot at her, naked fury still in his voice.

She glared. "I will not let Luke's... work be in vain."

It was simple, but the word she hadn't said hung in the air. No one dared voice them again—not in front of Rey.

Who, still, was pretty pissed off about the secrecy.

"Where's Dad?" she asked again, and Beebee growled with her rising anger.

Leia glanced at the puppy. "He's new," she said. "Luke was always too fond of dogs."

Beebee growled louder.

Vader narrowed his gaze at Beebee. "That's not a dog," he said. "That's a hellhound."

"A hellhound—"

"Where's my dad?" Rey demanded.

Vader turned to her, crouched down so they were on eye level with each other—Rey wasn't short, but he was very, very tall—and spat, "Your father is dead."

The shock and... dismay that twisted her features hurt Han to see. He turned away.

"W— what?" she asked. Tears were starting to fill her eyes; they spilled down her cheeks like the biblical flood. "No, he—"

"He's dead," Vader continued mercilessly, insensitively. He was a demon, Han supposed. "He's dead, because she"—he glared at Leia—"killed him."

Rey turned her frightened gaze on Leia.

"I didn't!"

Rey shook her head. "No. No! He's not dead."

Leia cringed and took her hands, "Rey, he is—"

Rey ripped her hands away. "He's not. I can make it so he's not!"

Both Leia and Vader blinked, and Han... avoided their gazes. He could see the gears in their minds turning, their gazes moving back to the dog-that-was-actually-a-hellhound...

But Rey wasn't finished yet.

"My dad's alive," she declared imperiously. "And any moment now he's gonna ring the doorbell and come up the stairs to see us."

"Rey—"

"He will!"

Han felt no particular shift in the fabric of the universe, in his daily rounds, but clearly something happened.

The angel and the demon present grimaced, shook their heads like they were trying to get water out of their ears... then stared at each other.

The silence left in the wake of Rey's proclamation was broken only by the shrill shriek of the doorbell.

Leia and Vader stared at Rey.

Han grinned sheepishly and scratched the back of his neck. "...did Luke not mention that his daughter was the Antichrist?"


The last thing Luke remembered was fire.

Fire and pain. Pain that ripped him apart, shattered him like glass, until he could watch the burnt remains of his ethereal self drift off into the ether. This was not discorporation; he'd experienced that on a few painful occasions before, where his human body had entered into a situation it couldn't deal with and cracked under the pressure. He'd woken up in Heaven with Leia and Obi-Wan fussing and the rest of the angels hurrying to get him a new body and toss him back out again as soon as possible.

This... was different.

He couldn't just feel his flesh burning, he could feel himself burning, burning, crumbling to dust no one could recognise or see or reconstruct. He could hear someone shouting his name, terrified—it sounded like his father—but he just collapsed to his knees at the foot of his bed and watched his flesh disintegrate to ashes on the wind before his very eyes.

Then he was here.

Bright sunlight seeped through his eyelids—bright summer sunlight, or early autumn. As the buzzing in his head vanished he became aware of other things: the stench of petrol and car exhaust; the sounds of the cars and the birds that sung over the top of them. London.

He opened his eyes and tilted his head back. He'd woken up standing outside Han's block of flats...?

He fell over.

The pavement scraped at his cheek; he tasted blood in his mouth.

Ugh.

His head was still ringing.

Groggily, he got his hands underneath him and pushed himself up, staggering a bit before he found his feet but miraculously not falling over again. He blinked fiercely before the light in his eyes stopped blurring and refracting, then dared to take a tiny step forwards.

He didn't fall.

He took another step forwards. Again, he remained upright.

Sighing with relief, he took the last few remaining steps and rang the doorbell.

Qi'ra answered the door, as usual, smiling at him. "Wow, you're back soon."

"I am?" Luke asked. "What time is it?"

She checked her watch. "Ten to seven. Why, did you—" She broke off. "Are you alright? You look confused."

"I am alright," he said baldly. "That's what's confusing."

She tilted her head, opened her mouth... then wisely shut it, clearly deciding that that was hardly the strangest thing she'd heard him say over the years.

"Head on upstairs," she advised, already backing off into her own flat. "Maybe Han will be able to help."

"Maybe," he agreed, and jogged up there.

The door was open before he even made it. Four very stunned faces jostled in Han's doorway, staring.

Luke waved awkwardly.

"Hi," he said, "does anyone know what happened?"

Leia attacked him.

He staggered back, barely managing to avoid both tipping headfirst down the stairs.

She was hugging him, he realised belatedly. He hugged her back. "What's going—"

"I'm sorry!" she whispered in his ear. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry, Luke."

"I forgive you," he said automatically.

She hit him.

"Ow!"

"Don't say I forgive you!" she shouted. "I killed you! You were dead because of me!"

Luke stared at her blankly.

"That makes everything so much clearer," he uttered.

With a frustrated scream she seized him by the collar and dragged him inside.

Han, Rey and his father scattered to let them in, still staring. Leia did not let go of his collar but shifted to the side to let Rey run up and hug him too, burying her face in his torso. He rested a hand on her back.

"They said you were dead." She sounded furious. He wasn't sure if she was more furious at them for saying it or him for being dead at all.

"Your demonic daughter brought you back," Leia said matter-of-factly.

He closed his eyes and groaned. "I found out about that literally less than three hours ago, you are not allowed to judge me for not telling you."

"I know. I..." She fixed him with an intense stare. "I— I'm so sorry, I thought—"

He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. "I understand, Leia. It's okay."

"It's not!"

"Maybe it's not, but it's over and done with now. We need to move on."

She grimaced, nodded, and finally deigned to let go of his collar.

His eyes moved past her to Han, who gave him an awkward nod and a grin; he returned the gesture. Then he looked at his father.

His father had not stopped gazing at him since he'd rocketed up the stairs.

He took a step forward—hesitantly, almost—and rested a hand on his shoulder. Warmth seeped through his leather gloves right into Luke's skin.

Luke wondered why the gloves were covered in ash and soot.

"Luke..." he said, voice trembling with a thousand things he clearly wanted to voice but never could—

Luke rolled his eyes, wrapped his free hand round his torso and dragged him into the hug too.

Vader staggered a little before he managed it. Then he whispered, so quietly Luke doubted anyone else heard, "I thought I'd lost you, little one."

"You didn't," he whispered back, then smiled and released him.

Let Rey keep holding his hand, but took a step back.

"I'm fine," he said. "I'm here. But why are you?" He glanced from Vader to Leia, grip tightening on Rey's hand. "All of you."

He addressed his father, "You never knew where Han lives," he said, then turned to Leia, "and I'd be surprised if you remembered, let alone guessed."

His sister scoffed and crossed her arms. "Please. I remember that time we had to come back here to drop that hairy beast off—"

"Don't you talk about Chewie like that—"

"—as well as his dog."

Rey laughed. Leia winked at her.

"And I followed her," Vader said. Leia glared, but there wasn't much heat in it. "She is quite easy to sense, as are you; I knew I was right when I saw the human."

The human shot him a look. "Hey, I've never met you before."

"No, I've never had that displeasure"—Han squawked and Rey laughed again—"but I recognised you from this."

He reached into a pocket and held out a picture.

Luke recognised it. It was from that time he'd convinced both Leia and Han to go down to Brighton Beach with him and Rey, to visit the pier. Han was barely in the photo, since he'd been the one taking it, but there was a fairly clear reflection of his face in the ice cream shop behind them.

Luke smiled and tucked the photo back into his pocket. "Fair enough, then." He glanced around. "What do we do now?"

Leia and Vader exchanged a look. It was maybe the first look they'd exchanged in six thousand years that wasn't loaded with hatred or tension.

"The four horsemen are riding," Leia said slowly.

"And they're riding to Rey," Vader added. "They'll escort her to some suitably dramatic place to conclude the destruction of the world in. Megiddo, say."

Han said, "Then it's obvious what we do."

Everyone looked at him. He shrugged.

"We run."


Han's car, the Millennium Falcon, was pretty large.

That did not mean that fitting into it wasn't one Hell (or Heaven) of a squeeze.

Han was driving, because absolutely no one else was allowed to. Leia was in the passenger's seat, because no matter how much she tended to argue with Han, sitting her near Vader was an even worse idea. Rey was sitting by the window just behind Han, on Luke's right; Vader was on his left (right behind Leia, which Luke had considered objecting to but ultimately decided not to draw attention to); and Luke was sandwiched between them.

The dogs were in the boot, despite Artoo's loud and insistent barking and Beebee's oddly gentle and insistent whining.

Luke and Han had been the ones to shove them in the back. Han had checked to see if anyone else was in earshot—Vader and Leia were standing on the pavement, arguing over who Rey loved more—then leaned in and said, "Your family's a mess."

"Uh huh," he replied.

"Your daughter is the literal spawn of Satan and she's still the most normal out of all of you."

"Uh huh."

"And you don't look anything like your sister." Han glanced back at them again. "Look a lot like your dad, though."

Luke smiled to himself. He didn't feel like explaining the angels and demons' methods of using human bodies, or how Leia had chosen a woman's body at random six thousand years ago to use whenever she needed to visit Earth... but it was nice to have someone else point out, however indirectly, that while Luke had generally favoured the body of a young blond man in his twenties, his father had always made an effort to choose a body that looked both old enough and similar enough to Luke to pass as his human father, as well as his demon father.

"Yeah," he'd said, smile growing wider, "I do."

Finally, they were all piled into the car and were on their way.

They headed south.

Luke didn't know where Han was taking them, but Leia and Han had already argued about the destination enough that he, frankly, didn't have the guts to poke the dragon any more than had already been done.

He glanced at Rey. She'd somehow managed to fall asleep on the window despite the vibrations running through it; Luke scrabbled around in the bottom of the car for a few minutes before he drew out the tartan blanket Han kept back there, smelling vaguely of Chewie. He tucked it around her shoulders gently.

"Running won't help, Luke," his father murmured to him. "The horsemen will follow her to the ends of the Earth and the rest of the universe. Armageddon has begun."

Luke closed his eyes and turned away from her. "I know."

"Rey needs to face them."

"I don't want to put her in harm's way."

"We'll be there to protect her. You know we will. But we have to face them on our terms, not wherever they manage to catch up to us. We need to pick a battleground."

Battleground. The word hung in the air between them. Luke stared straight ahead, between Han and Leia and out the front windshield.

"What if we fail?" Luke whispered. "What— what if the world ends, and Han and Chewie and Artoo and all of humanity perish? What if we go to war?"

"Then all is lost," his father replied. "Neither Heaven nor Hell will be lenient with us after what we've pulled. If we don't succeed here and stay on Earth, we're doomed." He reached over to squeeze his hand. It was... an awkward gesture—Luke doubted his father was used to comforting people—but appreciated. "But we won't fail."

"How can you be sure?" Luke swallowed. He felt... young, spilling his weak, naked fears like this. "If we're going against God's plan... aren't we doomed to fail?"

He half-expected his father to fly into a rage at the mere mention of Her, but he seemed... passive, now. More thoughtful.

He said, "Are we, though?"

Luke gave a little laugh. "Well, yeah," he said. He didn't realise he was crying empty, hopeless tears until his touched his face. "It is written."

"In Heaven," Vader countered, "and I think we've established that Heaven are bastards."

Luke laughed again. "Yeah. But—"

"It was always just an interpretation of Her will, wasn't it?" Vader pushed. His voice was strained, like he hated talking about this, but it needed to be said. "She has never explicitly appeared before us and explained, has She?"

"She doesn't have to. She doesn't owe us anything."

"No. That's not my point. I don't believe Heaven could have been entirely accurate in interpreting Her love and compassion—and Her plan."

Luke wanted to believe that. Really he did. But... "What sort of proof is there to support that?"

"Well," his father said. "You're sitting here, right now."

Luke looked down bashfully.

"It was Heaven who killed you. It was Rey who brought you back. But... if all of this is in Her plan..." Vader made a vague gesture around him and Luke smiled a little. "Then I suppose She saved you, as well.

"And who knows," he continued. "She hasn't smited us yet. Maybe, against all odds, this is what my mother intended when She let Heaven and Hell prepare for the War all these years. To produce the heroes who would protect Her own."

"Humans?" Luke asked.

"And us. All of it." He squeezed his hand again, then let go. "Humanity's loyal protectors."

Luke looked down at his lap. "I'm not ready for this. I'm not worthy of being their protector."

"Luke." His father laughed incredulously. "Where the fuck did you get that idea?"

"Oh, I don't know. It started really nagging me around the invention of the slave trade." He frowned and tucked his chin into his chest. "I didn't do enough. Someone else could have done better."

"Someone else would be kicking back in Heaven right now and watching humanity burn."

Luke didn't reply.

"You have saved millions of lives at battles over the years. You have been the catalyst behind all sorts of wonderful inventions—you taught them to fly, Skywalker—"

"And then they used that to drop bombs on each other."

"Luke." He sounded frustrated, now. "You raised the Antichrist and taught her to be a sweet little girl who, when she discovered her powers, only ever used them to save people. Do you have any idea how annoyed my master is?"

Luke smirked humourlessly at the thought.

His father was quiet for a few more moments. "Humans will never be entirely good, no matter how hard you try," he said. "Nor will they ever be entirely bad. They are not angels; they are not demons. They're something better. They are human." He glanced at the back of Han's head. "And I think they will survive no matter what we throw at them.

"But that goodness they do have? That means they go out of their way to save each other on some occasions? That is the reason Solo is driving us to a spot that will make or break his entire world even now, without even flinching? You did that. We will win this," he said, "and it'll be because of you."

Luke let out a breath. "I hope you're right." He leaned forward. "Han, whereabouts are we?"

"Just leaving the Weald. About to enter the South Downs."

Leia stirred. "What the fuck is the Weald? Is it a type of sword?"

They all laughed and left Leia in irritated confusion.

"The South Downs. Yeah, that's great. Hills or valleys would make a good," he shot Vader a look, "battleground."

"Battleground?"

"They're going to catch up to us eventually. We need a place to stop that is ideal for us to face them in. You walk Chewie here sometimes, do you know any spots?"

"A valley, did ya say?" Luke could hear the grin in Han's voice as he turned onto a road and started winding his way up the hill. "By any chance would Devil's Dyke work?"

Luke grinned. "Perfect."


They arrived late in the evening. Luke pulled out some of the camping mats, the pop-up tents and limited food supplies they'd packed on their impromptu road trip and set to making a small campsite. A simple miracle hid them from prying mortal eyes.

They slept early that night; it had been a long, eventful day. And they were up with the sun the next morning, which was just as well:

The horsemen came at dawn.


Devil's Dyke, the South Downs, Sussex. The End of the World.

They came on motorbikes. Apparently they'd adapted to the modern world as well as Luke had, and far better than his father.

As was written, they were four. They all wore bikers' jackets and trousers and helmets, but they varied in colour: one red, one white, two black. Red rode first, white rode third, and despite the fact that they were last, six thousand years of reading creatures' behaviour told Luke that the taller, second person in black was the one in charge.

They didn't drive to the car park and hike down here as they had. They just crested the hill, and shot down the valley—fast enough and steep enough that Luke thought they'd fall.

That would solve a few problems.

But they were the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Of course they didn't. They just glided to a stop in front of their makeshift (and, Luke was pretty sure, illegal) camp and dismounted.

The person in red removed their helmet to reveal a head of hair the same colour—like blood, Luke thought—and a woman's face that flashed a smile at them. There was no joy or humour, or even humanity, in that smile.

"We've waited so long and you choose this place to destroy the world?" was the first thing she said. There was something... off with her voice, like she was speaking through a machine. There was a slight burr to it at the very least.

He could feel Han bristle near him, but automatically looked around for Rey. Their two tents—one for Leia and Rey, one for his father—were dark smudges in the predawn mist but the sun was starting to touch them with gold. Han had wandered over from the car to stand with his arms crossed, scowling. His father was approaching from his tent, lips pressed tightly together. Leia, as ever unbothered by petty mortal concepts like time and space, had just appeared at Luke's side at one point—wearing an identical expression to their father, though Luke would rather die than tell her that—and glared.

But Rey...

Rey was hanging by the entrance to her tent, eyeing the newcomers. It wasn't shyness she was overcome with; he knew his daughter relatively well, and that was not the face that meant she was shy. Her eyes were narrowed: she was... not quite suspicious, but wary, and—as she caught his gaze and didn't so much as twitch in response to the attempt at a reassuring smile he gave her—worried.

About him. The rest of them.

Not herself.

They weren't about to harm their master's daughter, after all.

"It's a worthy battlefield," Luke finally said, when the silence got so thick as to be stifling.

The woman shot him a look full of disgust but, technically, her words agreed with him. "I am War. Wherever I fight is a worthy battlefield."

Well. That explained that.

Leia's cutting voice... well, it cut above the rest. "And the rest of you?"

"The doom of this world, archangel," one of the people in black said. "And we are here to meet our lady and master."

Luke unwittingly glanced back at Rey again, still hanging by the tent, uncertainty weighing her down. His daughter was smart, and a force of nature, and clearly had great powers, but he really couldn't imagine her ruling the world after its destruction.

Even so, she showed a backbone Luke knew she didn't bring out often when she came forward and said, "Tell us your names."

The person in black who'd spoken earlier removed his helmet. Underneath it was a dark-skinned face with neatly-trimmed black hair and a beard, who fixed his eyes on and smiled at Rey in a way that was less a smile than a flash of too-white, too-sharp teeth.

"Famine," he said. There was no doubt about it—his teeth were fangs.

Rey had sidled up to Luke by now; he put a hand on her shoulder. Famine's eyes narrowed.

The one in white removed their helmet to reveal a grey face, white hair and grey eyes without pupils. "Pestilence," they said. When they smiled, they looked like they were frothing at the mouth.

The fourth one made no attempt to remove the helmet, but did slide the visor up.

There was no face behind that helmet. Just the yellowing remains of something that might be one, with a jaw that didn't move when it spoke.

YOU KNOW WHO I AM, it said. ESPECIALLY THE MORTAL. HE FEARS ME AND EVERYTHING I AM.

Han puffed up. "Hey, mister, if I was afraid of Death I wouldn't be here to stare it in the face now, would I?"

Rey, against all odds, laughed.

Death had no eyes to glare with, just empty eye sockets. It glared anyway.

Luke tensed as War reached over her shoulder and drew a bronze sword from the scabbard across her back. He subtly pulled Rey closer to him, but War didn't brandish it at his daughter—that was an honour she reserved for the rest of them—and just held out her hand.

He tensed further when she intoned, "My lady, Princess of This World, Lady of Darkness, and Angel of the Bottomless Pit—"

"Yeah, I think that's enough titles, lady."

Her eye twitched but she ignored Han's interruption.

"You and your hound"—her eye twitched again as she glanced at Beebee, as tiny a dog as ever there was, but she persisted doggedly—"have begun the grand showdown. What we've been waiting for all these years. Now join us in laying waste to this world and join your father as he wages his final war against Heaven—"

"My dad's right here," Rey said, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it. "So I'm not going anywhere."

Luke had the overwhelming urge to smile.

At least, until the sword caught fire.

He stared at it in War's hand. He couldn't believe it. It was a flaming sword, clearly; it looked identical to one of Heaven's standard issue flaming swords, in fact. And it was entirely likely that it wasn't the one he was thinking of, Heaven had a bounty of them, after all, but...

...War, or the version of the concept she represented, was created by the humans.

She could only have what the humans gave her.

There was only one way the humans could have got hold of a flaming sword.

Leia, next to him, said, "Weren't you issued—"

His father, just coming up behind him, said, "Isn't that your—"

"Shut up," Luke said. To both of them.

He had bigger problems anyway. Much bigger problems. War was brandishing his flaming sword. At Rey.

"Little girl," she said, "the angels and the demon were made to die in this War. The mortals were made to die in this War. You were made to rule the remains of the Earth once it was done. You cannot defy your destiny. It is written."

Rey cocked her head. "I don't want that. I don't want any war."

"War is here. I am here. You brought me."

"I don't believe in war."

"War is all there is. You have lived among the humans for eleven years; you know that all they thrive on is conflict and illness and death."

"Hey!" Han said. He was moving closer now, rage in every taut line of his body—before Vader grabbed his shoulder and halted him. Luke would have to remember to thank his father later.

"And hunger," Famine added.

"Hey!"

They were standing in a block now. Rey; Luke and Leia; Han and Vader. The dogs had hidden in the tents.

Rey lifted her chin.

"I don't believe in War," she said. "I believe in peace," she glanced nervously at Luke, "bitch."

He just grinned at her.

War's face contorted in a snarl and that explosive, animalistic nature she accused humans of took hold. She raised the sword above her head—

—Luke yanked Rey closer to him and leaned over, putting his head and shoulders between her and the blade—

—and Vader lost his grip on Han.

He surged forward and did what Luke had, frankly, never expected a mortal to ever do.

He kicked War in the knee.

Hard.

It was less the force than the shock of it that made her stumble, but she did, and Han wrestled the sword out of her floundering fingers.

Luke watched with wide eyes.

"You heard the kid," Han said, and ran her through.

And from somewhere—from Heaven itself, from Her abode, where She was watching them, was always watching them—a wind that whispered came rushing.

And on it, he heard his own voice:

May you be safe and successful.

May you and your descendants yield or fall to no storm.

The flame enveloped her. Her strangled scream was cut off as she just... erupted, as red as the blood she'd spilled for so many the years.

Ashes fell to the ground, and Luke knew with a chilling clarity that he, Leia and Vader were all imagining what he had looked like in those last deadly moments as the flat burned.

Nor war.

Famine took a step back. His dark eyes widened. He bared his teeth at Han in the growl of a ravenous beast, eyes flashing red—

—and then the sword slashed through his chest and the whole of his being flashed red and gold and yellow and he died like a flame quenched by water. Like starvation quenched by sustenance.

Nor hunger.

Pestilence actually stepped forward. Their hair grew straw-like and boils ran up their cheeks like tattoos as they raised hands that had felled entire populations with plague—

And those hands fell to the ground as ash, severed at the wrist. Their head fell next.

Nor pestilence.

Han stood there for a moment, breathing heavily. The flickering of the sword cast odd, fierce shadows over his face; for a moment Luke saw Henry in him as strongly as anything. Henry, and all of his other ancestors, who'd fought and lived and died on the ships that sailed the seas, who'd spat in the faces of all that humanity had created time and time again. Who'd lived and laughed and loved long enough that Han was standing here, right now, in front of the people he loved enough to risk everything to keep safe.

May you always have a lighthouse in the dark, and may you be that lighthouse in the dark for others.

Staring Death itself in the face.

May death itself not stop you.

Death had no skin to scowl or smile with. It had no eyes to roll, no heart to race, no blood to bleed. It was not an ongoing thing, or a sort of destruction. It was an aftermath.

And it said, YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME.

Han's lips flattened.

I AM INEFFABLE. I AM UNAVOIDABLE. I AM CREATION'S SHADOW.

One thing it did have was arms—or, rather, the bony approximation of them. It reached its right one out to Han, but Han cut it off at the wrist.

It stayed there, hovering, as it spoke anyway.

AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY I HAVE YOU IN MY CLUTCHES, HAN SOLO.

Then it spread wings like a crow's, like a whole murder of crows', like the swarm of birds he'd seen swarming the West Pier on the TV eleven years before. And then it was gone.

Han dropped the sword. It fell to the ground, scorching a small circle as it bounced and burned out.

Luke detached himself from Rey, then hurried forward to stamp out the flames still flickering on the blades of grass, taking the hilt in his hand. He held it away from him like some snake that was going to kill him.

He glanced at his father. Not that snakes were bad, really.

He said, "This is a popular tourist destination. Hikes and picnics and whatnot. We don't want to leave it spoilt."

The burnt grass healed over. Luke hadn't done that.

He narrowed his eyes at Rey. She smiled innocently.

"Right," Luke said, trying to get his breathing under control, because he did have a heart and it was currently trying to imitate a hummingbird's wings. "Now that that's over, they're gone. Armageddon's over, we need to—"

"It's not over," Leia and Vader said.

They glanced at each other in surprise. Most surprising of all was the fact that, shaken or not, they didn't glare.

"Nothing's over," Leia said.

Vader nodded into the distance, where the dawn had fully graced the sky and tinted the outlines of the approaching figures gold. "Heaven and Hell still want their War."

"And they're here to get things back on track."

The moment the figures got close enough to see, Luke groaned. Loudly. Rey gave him a curious look.

The one on the right looked like he'd risen right out of the ground—which, to be fair, he probably had. He was disdainfully flicking clumps of dirt off his suit even as he walked, steps sharp and crisp, towards them.

Vader scowled. "Of course he sent Tarkin."

"So that's Tarkin," Leia observed. "Obi-Wan—" Her voice broke in anger. "Obi-Wan says he's the guy he got the hellfire from."

Luke watched his father lift his chin. Narrow his eyes. Something sparked amidst the yellow.

He said, "Oh, really?"

"And the other one, Heaven's delegate," Leia continued with disgust, "is Obi-Wan."

Vader's eyes narrowed further. "Oh, really?"

Sure enough, Obi-Wan was approaching in those homespun robes he'd picked up wearing around the time Jesus had been born. Six thousand years or not, still a sizable distance away or not, Luke knew that look on his face: pinched lips, furrowed brows, clenched jaw.

"Dad," Rey asked, "who're they?"

He looked her in the eye and told her the truth. "Twats."

Han barked a laugh. Rey glanced at Leia for confirmation.

His sister shrugged. "It's the truth."

"Leia!" Obi-Wan said as he approached. "What are you doing here? You're missing from Heaven, they were all looking for you; now Yoda is considering revoking your archangel status for conspiring with—"

Leia took such a vicious step forward that Obi-Wan actually took a step back.

"Then revoke it," she said. Her voice was terrifying. The angel of righteousness, Luke thought as he, the angel of compassion, sidled his way in front of Rey and Han. "I'm not coming back to Heaven."

Obi-Wan blinked. "What?"

She glared at him like he was an idiot.

"You tried," she enunciated clearly, "to kill my brother. You did kill my brother."

"He was a threat! He was about to Fall!"

"Look at him!" Leia gestured sharply to Luke. "Does he look like a demon to you?"

Obi-Wan's pale gaze moved over to him... and froze.

Luke waved. "Hi."

"You're—" Obi-Wan shook his head. "You're alive. There's no way you're alive."

"There's no way you could have vanished from St James's Park the way you did, but you did. Weird things happen."

He watched Obi-Wan's face twitch and wondered if it was because he was annoyed he didn't know what weird meant.

His gaze slid to Rey. "Ah. I see."

Luke surreptitiously shuffled further in front of her.

"We do not have time for this," Tarkin snapped, his thin voice conveying all the power and pain of a narrow whip. "Girl, restart Armageddon."

Rey shook her head. "No."

"It is written. You must destroy the world, horsemen or no horsemen."

"I'm not going to take orders from you." She crossed her arms. "I don't even know who you are."

Tarkin smiled in a way that made it look more like lips moving than an actual expression of joy. "I am Tarkin, Lord of Hell. I handed you to Vader eleven years ago in a graveyard to be given to the American ambassador," a pointed glare, "and raised in Sidious's glorious image."

Rey wrinkled her nose. "You gave me to Granddad?"

Luke had to stifle a laugh at the sheer incredulity and scandal that contorted Tarkin's face.

"Restart Armageddon, my dear," he said sweetly—or tried to say sweetly. It came out through gritted teeth.

She curled her lips back from her teeth. "No."

Tarkin and Obi-Wan exchanged a look.

"Would that Heaven were more effective at carrying out executions," he bit out, glaring at Luke. "Perhaps then we would have less of a problem."

"Would that Hell kept an eye on its children," Obi-Wan riposted, then eyed Vader. "And its disciples."

"You have two angels, one an archangel, in revolt," Tarkin said coolly. "I will not tolerate insults about the disloyalty of disciples from Heaven."

"Perhaps." Obi-Wan smiled beatifically. "But I am not the one who has to report this to Sidious himself."

Tarkin turned to glare at the little congregation—the little family—clumped around Rey.

"Indeed," he said. "His Excellency will not be pleased."

And then they were gone.

Han clapped his hands. "Well then," he tried to say. "Now that that's over—"

"It's not over."

Han swore. "I am really sick of the three of you speaking in unison like some angel-demon bond thingy!"

"It's a family bond," Leia drawled.

Luke smiled.

Until the ground shook.

A pain ripped through him, scything his breath from his lungs, his blood from his heart; he doubled over swearing, hardly aware of Rey's hand on his shoulder, asking if he was alright.

Leia and Vader weren't in much better shape.

"He's told him," Luke said.

"What?" Han whipped his head around. "Who?"

"Tarkin's told Sidious about Rey's recalcitrance," Leia said.

"And my master," Vader finished, "is not pleased."

They all exchanged looks. Luke squeezed Rey's shoulder.

And then the earth exploded.


Well, was the only thing permeating Luke's mind as he watched the grass and earth of this idyllic landscape boil over and a large red thing erupted from the wound it'd wrought. The Renaissance painters were spot on in this regard, at least.

He squeezed his sword tighter in his hand and made to step between Rey and her satanic father, lifting that flaming blade higher like a toothpick against a rhino—

And his father's hand wrapped around his wrist and lowered it. "Don't."

He tried to elbow him, but it was difficult and considering he didn't want to stab him with the way the earth was rocking underfoot, he lowered the sword. "Why not? I'm not gonna let her—"

"Sidious will swat you like a fly and you know it. Rey's the only person who can stand against him. You have to let her."

"She's eleven."

"She's the Antichrist."

"She's my daughter."

"Yes. And she's Sidious's."

Even in the chaos of his rising, Luke grumbled, "You make it sound like we adopted her together then split up."

Vader found the time to laugh. "Perhaps. But you understand me. She's the Antichrist. She can defeat him," he took her hand; Luke took her other hand hurriedly, "but no one else can."

He looked down at her.

She looked up at him, and seemed oddly mature in that moment as she smiled, squeezed his hand, and let go. "I'll do it, Dad."

"Uh huh?" he asked, raising an eyebrow but—slowly—starting to relent. "And what will you do?"

She grinned. That was more like his daughter—though he'd never noticed how very demonic that grin was, before. "I'll tell him the truth."

Then the devil's head finally emerged from the ruins of Devil's Dyke, and Luke's blood froze in his veins.

It was... indescribable.

There was a head with two eyes. Wings, wide enough to blot out the sky. Crimson and maroon and bile-coloured skin, pockmarked enough to be burnt or diseased or both. Luke could both make out every bone and tendon in the creature's body and see nothing at all for sheer muscle. It towered over them, the car, the hills themselves; the devil dwarfed his dyke.

And Rey walked towards it.

Sidious writhed as the cool Sussex wind brushed against those... sores... that matted his skin, his spine bulging from his back, before he straightened up. He fixed eyes that held all the flames of Hell on Luke, Vader, Leia and something more powerful than rage could ever be rattled the air around them in a roar.

Then those eyes slid to Rey.

He lowered his arms. Lowered his charcoal wings, as well, slightly, so he could better loom over Rey like some gargoyle out of a book by Chris Riddell.

"You," he said, voice rasping and booming and trembling with malice, "are my daughter?"

Rey cast Luke a glance but did nothing, lips pressed tightly together.

"You're the disobedient, rebellious little brat?"

She raised her chin and looked the devil in the eye. "My name is Rey Skywalker."

"Skywalker." The word rolled across the dyke. Those eyes flicked back to Luke again and he suddenly remembered how painful it had been to burn.

Sidious's gaze returned to Rey, but his words were for Luke.

"I will destroy you, boy," he promised. "I will torture you for millennia after this world burns until I finally grant you the mercy of obliteration, and I will make Vader"—Luke felt his father flinch beside him—"watch every moment of it, seeing as his loyalty is so easily swayed by blood ties that belong to a dead angel."

There wasn't really anything Luke could say to that. The flaming sword in his hand felt heavy, but no matter how well-armed he was, he knew he was like the children's book's snail to the whale, here, and this relationship was far less benign.

Rey, though...

She smiled. "You won't."

They all—except Han—felt the fundamental change that shattered through existence at her words, reality hastening to obey her command.

Sidious had given her this power. She was using it.

She started walking forwards again.

"You're not my dad," she said, voice almost breaking, "and you never were. I don't need you. You're nothing."

The earth cracked. And somewhere in the back of Luke's mind, he remembered that in the local myths, the deepest part of the dyke—the deepest dry valley in the county—was where the devil was buried.

Sidious... didn't seem to know that, yet, but his expression as he stared down at her, at the earth that had suddenly vomited over his foot and solidified to keep him down... there was horror there.

"What—" He said, and his voice demanded recognition from the sun and the skies and the storms, but Rey's voice was louder.

"You're nothing," she repeated. "You have no control over Earth, you have no control over my family, and you have absolutely no control over me." She bared her teeth in something that could never be called a grin. "You don't even have any control over Hell."

All Sidious could do was tempt humanity. Teach them to be evil. All Luke could ever do was teach them the opposite.

He glanced at Han, who'd faced down the greatest evils the human race could think up and vanquished them.

Leia's voice, years ago, drifted back to him. A few years' interaction with you and I don't think anything mortal would still be difficult by the end of it.

We will win this, and it'll be because of you.

No, Luke corrected to himself. Because of her.

"You're nothing."

Cracks split the valley and now Sidious was getting dragged back under. Down and down and down, until his wings were clipped and bound, his howls echoed in his own throne room, his arms pinned at his side.

His head was level with Rey, now.

She walked forward further, no flailing wings or limbs or even snapping teeth to stop her. She laid a hand on his massive forehead and looked him in the eye.

"You'll leave us alone," she said. "All of us. Heaven will leave us alone, Hell will leave us alone. I command it."

And then the earth—and the Earth—swallowed him whole.


There were a few, tense moments of silence.

Then Han, ever the down-to-earth one, asked, "Now is it over?"

Luke sucked in a breath and dropped the sword entirely. It clattered to the ground. Singed the grass.

He lunged forward.

Rey laughed as he hugged her and he laughed too, both laughs wet and sticky with tears.

Luke whispered, "I'm so proud of you."

Rey squeezed him tighter in response.

"Yeah," he finally said out loud, looking back over at Han and unable to stop the smile breaking on his face. "It's over."

"Not yet," Rey said. He shot her a glance—then gaped.

Before his eyes, the ragged wound in the earth left by Sidious, the horsemen, sealed up like green skin time-lapsing before his very eyes. The remnants of their impromptu campsite vanished as well; when Luke glanced back at the car, the boot looked very full.

"Okay," she said, dragging him back towards the car and smiling innocently when he rolled his eyes, "now it's over."


They sat in the car for a solid five minutes in silence. Vader and Leia both seemed preoccupied; Han looked like he was trying to unsee everything he'd seen; Luke and Rey were just... tired.

It'd been a tiring twenty four hours.

It wasn't even seven am, yet.

"Where do we go now?" Leia finally asked. The question was about her specifically, despite the we; he knew her decision to... defect from Heaven was still new.

Or just to defect from what Heaven had become.

Because, Luke thought, remembering his father's words, She was still on their side.

They were all alive. She hadn't... smote them yet, or anything.

They must have done something right by Her.

Vader seemed to come to that conclusion as well, because he shrugged, casting Leia a look that was not necessarily a peace offering, but gentle and calm nonetheless. "Anywhere we want."

"Anywhere?" Leia considered it for a second. "I've never been to America."

"Never?" Han sounded scandalised.

"Not modern America."

Vader said, "Then let's go there."

Luke groaned. "Father, the last time we tried to go—"

"If you bring up the Titanic one more time—"

"Can Rey even go?" Han said suddenly. Luke didn't think about the fact that he was so ready to drop everything just to be with this eccentric little family unit they'd built up in the space of a few days—he knew he'd never get a reply if he asked, anyway. "Ain't she got school or something?"

...that was true.

Except, she didn't.

She'd just finished primary school. They could, theoretically—maybe with the help of a miracle or two—enrol her in any secondary school in the country without much ado or adjustment needed. Or whatever the American equivalent was, he supposed.

He glanced at her. "Do you want to go to America?"

She bit her lip.

She said, "I want to go home."

Their home had burned, Luke thought.

But, came quickly on its heels, it was nothing a little miracle couldn't fix.

"Alright then," he said, smiling at her, then the rest of his family. The dogs barked in the back seat. "Let's go home."

Chapter Text

"I want a pet" and "There's a herd of them!" tie in to Sparks

Vader was a force of nature—of the Empire. He worked like the machine his treacherous masters had made him a part of; he excelled in everything; and he was indifferent to hunger or sympathy or any other such human weaknesses that could hinder one's work.

Well. All but one of them.

He disliked working on Coruscant as a principle. It was, as his son often complained, too loud. It held too many memories, few of them good. Most of all, it held his master.

But right now it also held his son, so he did not want to leave this world of ghosts behind just yet.

Said boy was currently working just as hard as Vader was supposed to be, in the next room over. Their penthouse wasn't small, but Luke's bedroom and the small adjoining study backed onto Vader's... quarters... and his study, so if one ignored the petty realities of walls and doors, they were less than two metres apart.

It was distracting.

Luke was young, his mental shields new, and it was such that Vader sensed every flicker of irritation, minor triumph, even outright guilt, presumably over how poorly he thought he'd been working, as he pored over his summer work. He could almost imagine his frown, the adorable way his eyebrows furrowed just like hers had, him absentmindedly chewing the end of his pencil...

Luke had just completed his first year at the Academy. He wasn't unused to their exacting expectations for students' quality and work ethic—Vader was no lenient teacher himself—but he was still irritated by them. And an irritated twelve year old could be...

Well. Distracting.

Vader shook his head and returned his attention to his datapads. While it was highly inconvenient that the rare time he got to spend on Coruscant with his son also on the planet was spend filling out menial datapads any aide could handle, it was important to get this done, and details of Palpatine's precious Project Stardust were too classified for him to delegate.

Two more datapads to go, then perhaps he'd go to free Luke from the boy's self-imposed obligation to study; take him flying, as he hadn't for so long...

He glanced up from his datapad and started so badly he dropped it.

Luke grinned at him, a little shyly. How the boy had managed to slip from whatever sheet calculations he'd been doing next door to loop right out of his quarters and enter Vader's study unnoticed was beyond him. Perhaps the boy was subtler than he'd thought; he might make a good thief, if Vader was to teach his son to carry out his dirty work like some common lackey.

Vader, unseen behind the mask, raised patches of skin that no longer bore eyebrows. It twisted his scars painfully but Luke seemed to get the message.

"I..." He opened his mouth, then closed it.

Vader's brow-less skin inched higher. "What is it, Luke?"

Luke fidgeted, raking his hand through his hair—still cut short for the Academy—and that shy grin returned.

Vader suddenly had a very bad feeling about this.

"I— I just wanted to ask you—"

He finally squared his shoulders and said, "I want a pet."

Vader didn't blink.

"The headmaster said he'd be changing the rules next year to allow students to bring one pet to the Academy with them. Can I—"

"No." Vader returned to his work.

"But Dad!"

"Father."

"Right. Sorry, sir." Luke said the title without even thinking about it. It was a moment before Luke remembered Vader was not one of his instructors, and Vader remembered Luke was not one of his underlings.

They both laughed a little; it broke the tension.

"Father," Luke corrected himself, smiling again. "Please! I— It gets really lonely there sometimes, and really lonely here when you're away, and—"

"You have not made any friends?" Vader interrupted, ignoring his shortening of breath at the thought of Luke being lonely without him. His respirator must be acting up.

"I have," Luke said. "I told you about them."

"Remind me."

He gave him a look. Vader had found that no one could look quite as effectively as twelve-year-olds—or perhaps that was just Luke. "Biggs is the guy a few years older than me who got put into my year because the education isn't great on Tatooine, Hobbie is..."

Vader stopped listening, too busy trying desperately not to react to the mention of that disgusting dustball. He'd have to explain his less-than-kind past on that stars-forsaken planet one day, but he'd prefer to do it when Luke was less... astute.

"...and then there's Leia—"

Wait. "Leia Organa?"

Luke looked surprised—and far too innocent for either his own good, or Vader's. "Yeah?"

"You should not be befriending her. She is a political hostage for her father. She is there to learn Imperial ways and to encourage her to be a less vexing leader of Alderaan than her father is."

"Yeah? So wouldn't me showing her that not all Imperials are as mean as the ones who keep shunning her only help that?"

Vader... couldn't argue with that. He didn't try to; he looked down at his son and saw only Padmé.

"I still don't want you talking to her."

"Father." Luke pouted. "See, this is why I only have a couple of friends. And feel lonely. You say I'm not allowed to have any more! A pet—"

"Is yet another line on the list of things you are not allowed. Luke, do not try to make me feel sorry for you in order to win the argument."

Luke hissed out a sigh.

"Would it help if I cried?" he asked.

"It would make it worse."

"Blast." Luke's forehead wrinkled momentarily, then he widened his eyes, jutted his chin up, and pleaded, "Please, Father. Empire Day is coming up. As an early birthday present!"

That weak argument did little to sway him.

But Vader did share one emotional vulnerability with the rest of mankind, and it was exactly that vulnerability that Luke's puppy-like expression was designed to appeal to.

Vader stared him down, jaw twitching.

Then he let out a sigh the vocoder declared as a burst of static.

"There is an urgency to this," he observed acutely. Luke—who had been grinning at his father's apparent capitulation—blew his eyes wide. "There is a reason you want to adopt a pet now, and a reason you are being so insistent even when you know that by testing my patience is unlikely to endear me to your cause."

Luke shook his head fervently. He said nothing, but his lie coloured the Force anyway.

"Luke?"

"It's nothing! I swear, it's nothing!"

"Luke."

He floundered. "I..."

Vader closed his eyes. "Please. Tell me that there is not an animal in this home."

"Technically humans are animals—"

"Luke."

Luke swallowed.

Then he tilted his head towards his bedroom. "Come with me?"

Vader had a very bad feeling about this.

But he got up, consciously turning off his datapad and laying it down on the desk. Pushing his chair back and standing.

He saw Luke swallow a little bit when he straightened up—Vader knew he was very tall and intimidating, while Luke... was not—but he just tilted his head. "Shall we go, then?"

Luke nodded. He mumbled something that might have been yessir under his breath but it was gone too quickly to tell.

Upon entrance, Luke's bedroom did not inspire confidence.

"Did you learn such untidiness at the Academy?" Vader drawled.

The room, large as it was, was a tip. Clothes strewn everywhere, cupboards and wardrobes hanging open, crumbs spilled across the floor.

A plate of biscuits sat in the corner. It looked like it had been sitting there for a few days.

"Promise you won't get mad?"

That did not inspire confidence either.

Vader's only response was to fold his arms.

Luke grimaced and got the hint.

He tiptoed over a floor booby-trapped with clothing and blankets everywhere one looked. His foot caught on one; he tripped, head pitching towards the corner of the bedstead—

Vader caught him with the Force, irritated, and dumped him on the floor. "Trips to the medbay will not get you out of explaining yourself, son."

Luke grimaced and shoved himself to his feet. He ruthlessly dusted himself off, scowling at the plate of biscuits Vader had shoved him onto.

"Ew."

"Luke?"

He grumbled.

But he took two more steps, to the wardrobe propped half-open. He bent down to pick up one of the biscuits still scattered across the floor and held it out in front of him like a peace offering as he opened the door again. Like...

A flash of grey leapt out at Luke. Two seconds later, the blur was gone. So was the biscuit.

Luke was nursing a shallow cut in his forearm that wept blood.

Vader peered around the open door to the gloom of the wardrobe. An angry, yellow-eyed blob lay curled around four other little blobs, using what appeared to be a pile of Luke's Academy uniforms as some kind of nest.

A tooka cat, he observed, entirely without amusement, and her... offspring.

"Luke?" His voice had an edge to it.

Luke threw his hands up; the wound seemed to have stopped bleeding now. "She was already there when I got back from the Academy! She must've crept in somehow and set up a home while we were all away!"

"And why didn't you tell me? There's a herd of them!"

"A family! She's got babies! I didn't want you to kick her out to be wild again!"

"She was wild?" Vader whirled on him. "Those scratches could be infected, you need to get them looked at—"

"Can't we keep her?" Luke begged, doggedly ignoring Vader's rapid change of topic, "please?"

He pulled out the pleading puppy eyes again.

Vader had already established that he was not immune to the puppy eyes.

"No," he said, with some effort. "And you are going to go to the medbay to get those looked at."

"But Father..."

Luke looked so disappointed that, really Vader didn't have a choice but to add: "I will find a suitable shelter to give them to, son. They'll be much happier with people who have the time to look after all of them."

Vader, to be fair, had no idea that the shelter would shut down in five years and become a favourite meeting spot for a notorious burglar. He didn't know that these very kittens would grow into cats that adored that burglar.

Luke's grin was worth his promise. "Thank you, Father."

"But we are not getting pets." Vader wagged a finger in his face; Luke wrinkled his nose. "Ever. And especially not tooka cats."

Luke pressed his lips together, but they twitched upwards in a smile. He nodded his head.

"Yes, sir," he said.


"I had a bad dream again." tie in to Eclipse

Vader was woken from his meditation—the closest he ever got to sleep outside his bacta tank—by a gentle tapping on his bond with the twins, something light and scared flaring brilliantly among the shadows of Mustafar.

He opened his eyes immediately. "Luke?"

The eight-year-old was by the open door to his chambers, hovering uncertainly. Despite that Vader had given him the codes and keys and permission to go wherever he wanted in the castle—despite that he didn't remember ever living elsewhere—the boy was always... nervous, around their home. It had been six months.

Vader wondered how many more months it would take for it to wear off.

Fewer if he was gentle with him, he thought. A Sith Lord had little cause to practice gentleness, but he made an effort to lower his voice and coax Luke to come closer with, "What is it, little one?"

Leia would have responded, incendiary, at the title. Luke was no different. The fact that he didn't worried Vader further.

"Come in, Luke," he said quietly, gesturing with his hand. Luke crept forward, dragging his cuddly bantha toy—another remnant from Tatooine Vader would purge the moment he thought its loss wouldn't traumatise the boy—and tentatively sat in his father's lap.

The moment he did, he relaxed with a sigh and leant his head against his chest plate. Vader's arm came up to cradle him close.

"What's wrong, Luke?"

Luke mumbled something into his cape.

"What was that?"

He sighed and said, marginally louder, "I had a bad dream again."

Vader's hand stilled for a moment—dreams pass in time, he heard vividly, and had the overwhelming urge to say the words himself, for all that he knew exactly how false that was—before he moved it to Luke's forehead, stroking back blond locks so like his had been at that age.

Then he finally found the breath to say, "Again?"

Luke nodded. Vader noticed to his alarm that there were tears in his eyes. "Three nights. They keep coming back. Leia's got them too, but she didn't want to tell you."

"I see." He really didn't, but he supposed all he could do here was comfort as best he could.

No one had ever comforted him after a nightmare. Padmé had tried, of course, but her calm words rang hollow all these years after the dreams were proved true; the Jedi certainly never had, incompetent, robotic fools they had been; and his mother had never had cause to. When he'd been a slave, he'd never dreamed badly—dreams had never been worse than the waking up.

"What was it about?" he asked softly, not sure he was doing it right but willing to try. Luke paused—shook his head. Buried his head back in Vader's shoulder. "Luke?"

"'S stupid." The words came out muffled but despairing.

"I am sure it is not."

"You'll laugh."

"I promise you I won't."

Luke lifted his head up at that. Teary eyes met his—uncannily, Vader thought. Not even Palpatine could meet his gaze as accurately as Luke and Leia could.

"You promise?" He said the words like they meant everything—like a promise was as powerful as fate or destiny. Never to be broken.

Oh my poor, naive son. "Yes. I promise."

Luke mumbled something again. Vader was just about to ask him to repeat himself louder when he did anyway:

"...'s'not even a proper nightmare... 'S just a big dessert."

"A big dessert?" That made no sense. Luke loved dessert. He'd eat mountains upon mountains of it if Vader let him.

"Sand everywhere. No water. Nothing but sand for miles and miles and miles." Luke drew his knees up to his chest. "It was all empty. Empty and scary."

Vader went cold.

"You mean a desert," he said. The pacemakers in his chest protested as his heart began to race.

"Yeah. That's what I said."

Luke remembered.

Not consciously—definitely not consciously, or he'd be running screaming from Vader, not nestling into his arms in search of protection from the truth. But he was strong enough with the Force that it was telling him the truth anyway. And Leia too.

One day, they'd learn it, Vader realised.

There was nothing he could do to stop that.

They would learn the truth, and then they would hate him. He should remove the mind block now—alleviate these nightmares and let them know the truth, rather than risk losing them forever.

But their hypothetical hate, years in the future, meant nothing when he thought about how they'd sobbed and cried when he'd first taken them. Screamed for Beru, for Owen, for Obi-Wan. Called him a monster.

Rebels called him monster all the time. He revelled in it. But his precious ones were not Rebels.

He could not bear hearing it from them again.

So he just held Luke tighter to his chest. "Dreams pass in time," he murmured uselessly, knowing it was wrong, knowing he would regret this later.

No matter. He had suffered so much. He wanted some happiness, while it lasted.

He sat there until Luke fell asleep in his arms, then carried him back to his bed.

"Dreams pass in time," he repeated to himself in the darkness as he drew the covers around Luke's chin, more to convince himself than Luke's sleeping mind.

Because after that, nearly ten years passed.

And while some dreams passed, that dream didn't.


"I'm bulletproof... but please, don't shoot me."

Luke's hand tightened on the blaster and fired.

Fired and fired and fired, until the Tibanna gas spouted, sparked and clouded in the small dark room, pinkish-red smoke curling from the tip, the crimson bolts themselves shooting every which way like in a kaleidoscope, like a whirlwind, like a star going supernova in narrow threads of light, one at a time.

Absolutely none of the bolts did any damage whatsoever to their target.

"Stop firing, son," Vader said, and it was that word more than anything, that false untrue wrong not true NOT TRUE word that tore the ragged gasp—of defiance, of stress, of terror—from his throat, spinning through the air like a ship without its stabilisers.

He kept firing.

It was harder for Vader to block this time. Instead of firing straight ahead, straight at the red blinking lights on his blasted life support suit—red like fire, blood, the slash of a lightsaber that forever dissevered his hand from his wrist—he was firing blindly, wildly, anywhere. Vader had to redirect dozens of bolts at once or catch them on his glove or do... whatever he was doing to them, Luke couldn't see clearly in this storm of smoke and ozone.

One clipped past his defences. Struck his cape. Melted a puddle of it but didn't melt through.

It was the only hit Luke got.

Vader's hand lowered and there was a harsh tug on the blaster. Luke wrapped his hands around it with a half-scream, half-shout and kept firing

"Son, stop," Vader thundered impatiently, like he had any right to be impatient, like this entire situation wasn't because of him. "Do not shoot me."

Luke's prosthetic twinged at the joint.

"You seem to be dealing with it pretty well," he snarled, and then the storm of light and fire came again as he fired

That tug did yank the blaster out of his hand now

"I am bulletproof... but please, do not shoot me," he conceded. "It takes unnecessary effort and wastes unnecessary amounts of time."

"It's the very last thing from a waste of time if it has a chance of taking you out—"

Vader didn't so much step forward as loom; suddenly Luke was very aware there were mere inches between his face and that death mask, his panicked breathing almost as loud as Vader's in the silence. The office—it must be an office, it was an abandoned office building he'd been cornered in, wasn't it?—felt very, very small.

Luke had never considered himself particularly claustrophobic before now.

Vader reached out a hand and Luke flinched, expecting harshness, brutality, cruelty—expecting Darth Vader.

Instead, what he received was someone more akin to the father he pretended to be as Vader gently wrapped his hands around Luke's and lowered them, quieting their tremors to stillness.

Then he spoke. Luke flinched again at the first hint of sound, still expecting that cruelty he'd demonstrated so beautifully on Bespin, but it too was gentle. Soft—softer than he'd have ever expected that vocoder to go.

"Calm, my son," he said, and Luke closed his eyes against the words. It was worse, hearing them so tenderly; as long as he raged and screamed in denial, he'd found, he could deny it, but if not...

And amidst this tenderness, he didn't want to shatter it with sound.

Binders slipped round his wrists, cold and biting, but the concept of anything about Vader being father-like had sucked the fight out of him. He could do nothing but follow meekly in the Dark Lord's footsteps and desperately hope what he claimed was true.

Because if Bespin was how Vader treated him if it was true...

...Luke didn't stand a chance if it wasn't.


"W ill you stop breathing for one damned second!?"

"What are you doing here?"

Vader crossed his arms and looked amused. Not that Luke could see his face, but he was definitely amused. It was somewhere in the tilt of his helmet.

"Surely you knew I would be on planet when you accepted the mission," he rumbled. "I had assumed your very presence indicated your desire for a meeting."

"Yes! I did know! But I wasn't intending to meet you, Father! I'm subtler than that!"

Vader tilted his helmet a slightly different way—he was probably raising an eyebrow, now—and the strange, greenish shadows cast by the jungle canopy played across the contours of his mask oddly.

He sensed Luke's weakness and pounced. "So you haven't told your Rebellion about our plan, yet?"

He bristled. "They know. They trust me—"

"Side effect of blowing up the Death Star for them, son."

"They just don't trust you yet."

Vader snorted. "'Yet.'" His hand came up to rest on Luke's shoulder affectionately; Luke leaned into it slightly. "You are so optimistic, my son."

"One of us has to be," Luke shot back.

As loathe as he was to break contact with his father, he could sense someone coming from a little way into the jungle; he took a half-step back so that a large grind disguised him, and leant against a tree.

He was sure he sensed a stab of disappointment, but by mutual consensus, they ignored it. Vader tilted his helmet in the direction of the presence.

"I doubt whoever it is will notice you in that getup," his father pointed out. "You appear to be wearing a tree."

"Hey! It's camouflage!"

"Which was exactly the point I was making, son."

"You—" Luke glowered good-naturedly. "You were being condescending about it."

"I am condescending about everything, little one."

"Too right," Luke muttered—

—then froze.

"Get down."

"Down?" Vader stared at the ground as though it had mortally offended him.

"Or behind a tree—whatever! Just get out of sight and be quiet!"

"I am not the one wittering on like a nuna bird about inconsequential things—"

"Then quiet your respirator! Or something! Just—will you stop breathing for one damned second!?"

Luke watched his father hesitate, debate arguing the semantics of his request, before eventually deciding that Luke's agitation was great enough to be worth conceding to. He silenced his respirator, as had been the spirit of Luke's admittedly poorly-worded request.

Thankfully, it was only then that the stormtrooper sauntered into view.

Luke gestured at his father to get down and, to his credit, the man… hunkered… as best he could.

He still stuck out like a Wookiee in the Imperial Army, but the trooper seemed—astoundingly—negligent enough not to notice him.

"Governor Parka is a fool and so are his men," Vader growled. "He only suspects there is a Rebel meeting somewhere in this rainforest and has no idea where to start looking."

"Great," Luke hissed back, watching the trooper check his chrono and evidently decide it was time for him to have a little sit down on the log. "But if he goes much further that guy will stumble onto it. I need to contact Leia." He went for his comlink. "I'm supposed to be scouting the perimeter for a reason—"

Before his fingers even touched the device, a loud crack made him flinch.

He looked at the trooper—and immediately wished he hadn't.

"Father!"

"There is no need to hush yourself now, Luke. The threat is past."

"You didn't have to kill him!"

Vader straightened himself back to his full height and planted his hands on his hips. "You object on moral grounds!"

"Of course—"

"Then I care not for your protests. Your morals are askew if you believe the Rebellion's Republic is more right than the Empire when helmed by yourself."

"Oh, we are not going into that here," Luke grumbled. "We're allying with the Rebellion. You agreed. That's final.

"And it's not just moral…" he continued weakly. "They— they might notice his absence! Be suspicious!"

His attempt to appeal to his father, as usual, failed.

The log the trooper had gone to sit on shifted itself slightly to settle underneath him. Luke squinted at it, suspicious…

"Perfectly plausible that he slipped on the log and broke his neck."

Luke huffed. "It would take an idiot to believe that."

"Then it is a good thing this planet's Imperial forces have them in abundance, isn't it?"

He rolled his eyes. "I assumed your mission here is to fix that, though? Will the governor survive?" Will there be enough incompetence left for us to get off-planet safely?

"Luke," Vader laid a hand on his shoulder again, "do not worry. I— I am well-accustomed to breaking things I am supposed to fix."

His gaze flicked up to look him in the eye. "Father…"

His comlink bleeped. The meeting was over.

"I have to go back," he said.

Vader squeezed his shoulder one last time then dropped his hand. "I know. I… will miss you, my son."

That made Luke smile. It was rare for his father to initiate that sort of affection.

"I'll miss you too," he promised, then promised on top of that: "There'll be a comm coming through soon. High Command are this close to accepting our plan."

"I am sure they are," his father said, though Luke could hear the amused scepticism in his voice.

Whatever. Luke had seen his father again and soon they'd be able to see each other more often. So they'd be able to change the galaxy.

So he smiled one last time and walked into the woods.


"Are you sure that's the decision you want to make?"

As a technicality, Captain Firmus Piett had the codes necessary to get into any room on the Executor. The engine rooms, the bridge, the techs' dormitories—all of them. And while there were some rooms he'd certainly never enter out of respect for their inhabitants, in some cases that respect was also tempered by the simple knowledge that if he did enter them he'd be risking both his job and his life.

He was walking past one such room when a childlike scream from within it had him crashing through the door, consequences be damned, blaster out.

Blaster out and ready.

Vader's quarters were as austere and monochrome as one would expect from his commander, save the colourful fluffy toys littered all over the floor. Piett trod carefully, avoiding the pink bantha on principle: if he remembered correctly, it squeaked.

As he crept, he reached for his comlink and keyed in a short message for Lord Vader. He was on the bridge; he should be here soon.

If he couldn't sense his son's terror as it was.

The child was still screaming.

Piett picked up his pace. Little Luke's room was in the very back of Vader's quarters: the farthest away from approaching enemies, but also the farthest away from allies. He could hear something like shushing from inside the room, and heavy footsteps, and—his blood froze—the hum of a lightsaber.

"Luke," the voice was saying, somewhat hoarse with stress and age, "Luke, be quiet, youngling, stop screaming—"

Luke screamed louder.

"Is it the lightsaber? I can turn that off, see, it's off, but you have to stop screaming and come with me—"

Piett burst into the room.

Luke's bed was against one wall and the boy was cowering against the corner behind it, sobbing. An aging man approached across the brightly carpeted floor, lightsaber hilt in hand, a massive section of the metal wall carved away as if by a laser.

Well, Piett took a split second to muse, he knew exactly what security upgrades Lord Vader would order next.

His blaster—set to stun for so many reasons, the least of which being that Vader would want to give the intruder his full attention later—snapped up and he fired.

The man—Jedi—whipped round just in time for his saber to snap to life and deflect the bolt. Piett took his moment of distraction to take three long strides and plant himself between the Jedi and Luke.

Luke's screaming died down a little; he wrapped his arms round Piett's leg and hiccupped, "Peet?"

"Yes, Luke," he murmured, shifting so that his body almost entirely shielded the little boy. "I'm here. I'm here."

He eyed the door—he'd left it wide open, but what did that matter? The Jedi would never get off this ship alive.

He shot the Jedi again and again it was deflected, sizzling uncomfortably close to him this time. If he went down, let the Jedi get Luke...

His finger tightened on the trigger again—

And it was wrenched out of his hand and into the Jedi's.

Luke sobbed. Piett had to wonder if he'd felt the action, the way he could feel the individuality of each trooper and the way his father could feel the shape of a trachea before he crushed it.

The Jedi lifted the blaster, flicked it off the stun setting and levelled it at Piett. He had the nerve to look regretful for a moment—

Then a shadow filled the doorway and Luke shouted, "Dada!"

"Are you sure, Kenobi," Vader boomed, stalking forwards with his lightsaber buzzing in his hand, "that is the decision you want to make?"

Kenobi didn't hesitate. He took the blaster off Piett and shot at Vader.

Vader caught it on his glove but Kenobi didn't flinch; the distraction was enough for him to whip his lightsaber out and crash it down—

A flash of red and Kenobi's saber fell to the floor.

He stared at the stump of his hand in dismay for a split-second and that split-second allowed Vader to take the other one.

Piett blinked. It had barely lasted a minute.

"You have grown weak, Kenobi," Vader growled, summoning the blue lightsaber to his hand as the Jedi fell to his knees, "and foolish, if you thought you could escape with my son alive."

"If I have to die to ensure another innocent boy doesn't go the way Anakin did..." Kenobi wheezed. After a moment, Piett realised he wasn't wheezing because he was tired—he was wheezing because Vader held a death grip on his throat. "Then so be it."

Vader lit the other lightsaber and brought them against Kenobi's neck, one red, one blue, ready to scissor his head off in a moment. Sweat rolled down Kenobi's temple.

"Dada!"

Vader jerked. Piett jerked too, automatically reaching out to the small boy as he darted out from behind him.

"No, Luke, wait—"

Luke threw himself at his father, who dropped the blue lightsaber to bring an arm up to catch him. He cradled him against his chest.

Even without the Force, Piett could feel how terrified he was.

"Dada," he whispered, and the hand holding him constricted.

Vader extinguished his red lightsaber and hooked it to his belt to hold Luke properly, the boy sobbing into his shoulder.

Kenobi gaped at the display.

Vader tossed the blaster back across the floor to Piett with the Force; he caught it and found it had been set back to stun. He took the hint.

He shot Kenobi before he could even gasp.

"Have the Five-Oh-First escort him to interrogation," Vader ordered and Piett reached to obey. Though he knew interrogation wasn't Vader's primary goal here.

His thumb was rubbing soothing circles on the back of Luke's head.

"And have these walls reinforced before Luke has to sleep in here again. I—"

He stuttered slightly, helmet tilting down towards the golden little boy in his arms, beginning to fall asleep on his chest plate.

Piett shifted on his feet. It never got any less surreal, seeing his lord act like a human being.

Vader's arms tightened around Luke. "I never want anything like this to happen again."


"I need a place to stay."

"I need a place to stay."

Vader was at this hotel on this world undercover. He was here to investigate the local Moff's dealings from a more intimate perspective, making use of the Kaminoans' improvements to his health and going without the infamous death mask for once. That meant he could not afford to seem suspicious. He could not afford to be seen as anything except the self-absorbed holiday-goer he was pretending to be.

He turned to look at the speaker anyway.

They were young—too young to be alone on a world as notoriously corrupt as this, he thought, then grew irritated with himself for having the thought. The boy's hair was messy and didn't look like it'd been washed recently; his clothes were filthy and threadbare; he waved his hands around too much when he talked, like his desperation and passion had to be dissipated or they'd shatter his slim frame with their vehemence.

Vader clutched the handle of the luggage tighter, momentarily regretting that he couldn't lift it with the Force, get out of here all the quicker and have done with it.

The droid at the desk drawled in its monotone voice, "Unless you have a booking or are prepared to make one now we cannot allow you to stay—"

"I'm not asking you to! Not for free! Just— do you have any job openings? A bell boy, or someone to clean out your stables? I can—"

"We have no job openings at this time," the droid said, turning away.

The boy let out a ragged sob, his vehement fist falling to his side.

Vader made to wonder who he was, then stopped—he didn't care. But... the Force was drawing his attention towards this boy oddly, shimmering like a mirage. He reached out—

—and nearly recoiled from what he sensed.

Satisfaction welled in him.

Ah. The boy was Force-sensitive.

And, if he was correct, a powerful Force-sensitive. Certainly strong enough to be a contender for the Inquisitorius—maybe even the future head of the Inquisitorius—but now...

In light of Vader's recent health improvements, and the possibilities the Force had started whispering to him therein...

He would be a worthy apprentice.

He stepped towards the desk. "I will pay for the boy to stay here. In the attached room to mine." Just so he could keep an eye on him.

The droid droned on about the costs of changing so last minute, confirmation as he tapped the command into the keyboard, but Vader wasn't listening. He was watching the boy—the shock and fear that had suddenly flooded that brighter-than-bright Force presence.

"Why?" the boy asked warily, damning hope and reckless dread chasing each other across his face.

"Not for the reason you are considering," Vader said, hooking his thumb into his belt as he observed him. "You seem like a useful person. I have a job for you, if you want it. You will not be harmed in any way. I shall explain more inside the room, and you can choose to leave if you do not like it."

The boy had absolutely no reason to trust him. He'd clearly seen the darker side of the galaxy already, and had absolutely no reason not to think this was different.

Except that wasn't true: He had the Force.

And the Force was no doubt whispering to him as much as it was whispering to Vader.

"...alright," he said.

"What's your name?" Vader turned to the droid as it looked up and began to drone on again, but the boy's reply still froze his blood and stopped the galaxy in his spin.

"Luke Skywalker."

Vader had been wearing a mask for fifteen years. He was not used to having to hide his expression. The shock on his face rang clear.

He turned, very slowly, to study the boy.

A worthy apprentice indeed.


Character in Peril & Accidentally Saving the Day

There was an immense amount of tension in the room. Xizor's office on his skyhook was opulent, lavish—everything Vader would expect from a rich, spineless lizard—but it all showed up as varying shades of red in Vader's vision anyway.

"I heard, Xizor," he boomed, "that you put out a bounty for Luke Skywalker's death."

Xizor arched the part of his face that could pass for an eyebrow—a human expression he'd no doubt picked up to seem more Imperial—and said, "Is there a problem with that, Lord Vader?" He made distaste sound like an art form. "I was under the belief that he is a Rebel, his death would only benefit this glorious Empire—"

"Enough," Vader snapped. The tension in the room was boiling over, racing his heart—it felt like someone was using his ribs as a glockenspiel. The Force kept firing danger sense after danger sense at him and he knew it wasn't about him.

It was about Luke.

His son was in danger. Immediate danger. He'd get to the Executor and track him down the moment he dealt with this spineless serpent, but he might as well eliminate this threat while he was at it—before it led to his son's death as well.

Far, far too many scenarios would lead to his son's death, he mused grimly. Even the boy himself could be responsible, if Bespin was anything to go by...

He'd started choking Xizor almost without noticing it, his hand out and the Force leisurely squeezing the Falleen's neck. Xizor's eyes bulged, his hand came up, the other hand scrabbling for some button near to the computer console. Vader dragged him into midair before he could hit it.

"The—kghkkEmperor—"

"Values Skywalker's life and my judgement over yours, Xizor." The rush of the dark side made that danger sense fade, the irritated rattling suddenly very far away...

Then Xizor slumped to the floor, dead, and the dark side abated. And Vader realised.

The danger sense hadn't faded. It was gone entirely. The peril was past.

So why...?

Vader turned to look at the console in the corner of Xizor's office. He'd barely spared it a glance on the way in, too preoccupied by the scum who'd threatened his son to pay heed to anything else. But now he did... and he cursed himself for a fool.

The console showed a cell. It looked like one of the death cells that could be kept on skyhooks occasionally, with mechanisms that meant the inhabitants could be vented into space to die a horrible death at the touch of a button.

Like the very button Xizor had been so eager to get to, before he died.

There was a young man—boy—pacing inside the cell.

And Vader's heart both froze and leapt when the boy lifted his chin to glower at the security holocam, as if he could feel his father watching him.

Vader glanced back at Xizor's cooling corpse, then smiled behind the mask. Revelled in the twinge of pain it brought him. The peril was past. He'd saved his son.

Now all that was left to him was to retrieve him.


"I swear, I'm not crazy."

"There's a shadow coming," Luke said idly as he sawed a too-big bit off of his bantha steak and speared it with his fork.

"Luke, honey, don't eat it like a lollipop," Beru said distractedly. She opened her mouth to ask what he'd meant by that, saw Owen's wide eyes and violent head shake, ad asked anyway. "And what do you mean?"

"Beru..." Owen said sharply. Luke flinched a little at his tone. They both knew that tone, that was the I-don't-want-any-daydreams-in-this-household tone, and though Beru knew he was afraid that Luke's daydreams would come to life and take him away from them, she thought forbidding a little boy from dreaming was the cruellest thing her husband could do.

Make the boy be happy. She'd resolved, when Kenobi first put that child in her arms, that she'd dedicate her life to making him happy, to making up for the tragedy surrounding his birth. She'd be damned if Owen were to add to that tragedy as well.

Luke looked up at her with wide eyes, as vast as the skies themselves, in a shy head jerk that reminded her slightly of Shmi, and she nodded encouragingly.

"I mean that there's a shadow coming," he enunciated, stabbing the meat on his plate again. "It's all cold and it has a big cape and it's coming in a starship!"

"Oh?" she humoured him, unable to ignore the unease pooling in her stomach. "Is that good? Do you want it to come?"

He cocked his head at that, munching on the bite he'd taken. He poked noncommittally at the vegetables on his plate.

"I dunno... It's cold," he said, "but it's coming in a starship."

Starship. That must be why Luke was so hung up on this.

She smiled and dared Owen to say something. "Well, isn't that nice, then?"

Something in her tone—or her emotions in general; Luke was... a very perceptive child—didn't ring true. Her nephew gave her a look. "I swear, I'm not crazy."

She smiled broader. "I don't think you are, Luke." That's the problem.

It didn't work. Luke put down his fork and pushed himself away from the table. "I want to visit Grandma."

A refuge of his, Beru knew, where he'd retreat from the living people who would scorn his dreams and babble to the woman who'd given everything to make his father's dreams come true.

She exchanged a look with Owen. "Finish your plate," she said, "then I'll take you out to watch the sunset as well."

Luke finished quickly and then they were out. Beru stood a little way away as he knelt in front of the grave and painstakingly watered the little flowering cacti they kept on Shmi and Cliegg's graves, before he started talking in a hushed, urgent tone Beru couldn't make out the words to from here. She watched them carefully, the boy and the stones; though the sight of them only ever caused an impossibly tender sadness to well up in her, she wondered if Luke sensed, in the way he sensed so much, something else. The love Shmi would have—should have—smothered him with, had she been alive to meet her grandson.

Beru sat on the ridge next to the homestead, alternating her gaze between the boy and the sinking suns, watching the world turn ethereal in the dusk. The suns glimmered gold and the sands glimmered gold and Luke's blond hair glimmered gold with it, like it was spun of material as rich as the clothes of that fancy offworlder Beru still thought might have been his mother. Hoped had been his mother. They had the same smile, she and her son, and Anakin had so obviously loved her so, so much...

A thought sparked like the metal of the moisture vaporators on the horizon: nothing gold can stay...

She wondered where she'd heard that line before. It sounded like poetry.

Finally, Luke had finished confiding whatever secrets he held into a woman ten years dead and trotted up to stand next to where she sat. Beru looked up at him, saw that same, inexplicable, sublime melancholy reflected in his too-young face, and opened her arms.

He sat in her lap and snuggled into them gratefully. She closed her eyes when he did, his small hand splayed across her collarbone.

"There's a shadow coming..." he whispered, then the whisper fell into the rhythmic breath of sleep.

Beru sat still with her boy in her arms for what felt like an age before the shadow fell. It fell in the form of the buzzing of speeder engines on the horizon. It fell the thump of a footsteps as they disembarked from that speeder. And it fell over her as an actual shadow, the silhouette she sat within suddenly, violently familiar.

They didn't watch the holonet often, but they didn't need to. Every citizen in the Empire knew that silhouette.

She lifted her head to stare at the giant wreathed in metal and darkness, and croaked, "Vader."

His hand was on his lightsaber. Beru had the inane memory of Kenobi's hand drifting to his lightsaber the last time Owen had chased him off the farm with a rifle.

"Beru," Vader replied, and she wanted to ask why he knew her name, why he was talking so gently, why he seemed to know her, personally, but the words stuck in her throat. "I have come for the boy."

Her arms tightened around Luke. He stirred slightly but didn't wake.

"No," she whispered. "No. I won't let you hurt him."

That hand flexed on the lightsaber; his voice was like a growl. "I am not going to hurt him."

"You killed all the Jedi. You killed all Force-sensitives. You killed his father."

"I did what?"

She flinched at the fury contained in that snapped sentence—and, perhaps more importantly, Luke flinched in his sleep. Vader seemed to force himself to calm down.

"That's what he told us," Beru said, a little coolly now—if she was going to have her nephew ripped away from her, she wouldn't let them get away with it without having a piece of her mind first— "when he first dropped Luke off."

"When who first dropped Luke off?"

The man seemed to have guessed already, if the spike of anger and resonance in his voice was anything to go by, but Beru just pinched her lips together.

She didn't trust this man. This Imperial who wore death like a cloak and dared to call his sword justice. She, quite frankly, wanted him off their property.

And Vader seemed to know that.

"I do not want to hurt you, Beru," he growled, "but only because it may traumatise the boy for the future." They both glanced down at Luke's still-sleeping form, fluffy head against Beru's shoulder. "Yet if that is the price of taking him with me, I will gladly pay it."

"And why should he go with his father's murderer?" She was glad her voice came out steady—she was barely holding herself together as it was. She'd always been able to stand stoic in front of anything, but that was before she'd had Luke to love and lose.

Vader tilted his helmet. "I am not his father's murderer. I am his father." In the quiet shock, he said, "And that is why he should come with me."

"Anakin?" she asked.

He stiffened—but the helmet gave a sharp jerk.

"Yes," he said shortly. "Luke is my son."

"Huh?"

They both looked down in unison at the tuft of hair that shifted with a yawn and the pale face that turned upwards like a flower.

"Oh," Luke said, bleary eyes fixing on Vader. "The shadow's here."

Vader knelt down beside them and held out his hand. Luke shifted in Beru's arms swinging his legs round, like he was about to get up. She unconsciously tightened her hold.

"Hello, Luke," Vader—Anakin—said. His tone was a softer sound than Beru could have ever thought that vocoder would produce.

Luke pushed himself to his feet. Beru reluctantly let go of the boy as he staggered forwards, one step, two...

The suns vanished below the horizon. It was suddenly much colder.

Luke looked up at his father and took his hand. Vader's fingers closed around his.

Beru shivered as she watched the last rays of light slide off Luke's hair. They no longer looked so gold in the darkness.


"How drunk was I?"

"How drunk was I?"

"Very." Vader didn't sound as amused as Han had when he'd informed Luke exactly what had happened at the gala for Palpatine's birthday the previous night. But then again, Luke was pretty sure his Captain of the Guard was perpetually trying to get himself fired, so it wasn't exactly out of character for Han to inform him of something like that with that much glee.

Luke groaned and flopped back down onto the bed. His father's form dominated the doorway to the bedroom, but he ignored it, instead choosing to bury his face in the pillow and groan. Loudly.

His head hurt.

"Did I do anything... untoward?" he asked, almost afraid to ask.

Vader stepped forward, into his bedroom then, and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. It wasn't as soothing as it was clearly meant to be, but it did calm him somewhat. "No, son. You became very... weepy," he said the word carefully—not with disgust, but... something similar, "which concerns me if those are the feelings you are keeping bottled up at the moment, but the only thing you really managed to do before Solo had the prudence to remove you from the gala was vastly entertain Princess Organa."

Luke groaned again. "Well, there goes our luck and credibility for getting an alliance with her."

"Relax, young one. I believe if anything her perception of you has shifted positively. To someone who is genuinely empathetic and earnest, rather than the ruthlessness she expects in a son of mine." Before Luke could clump his spiralling thoughts together enough to offer some sort of comfort or riposte to that, he continued, "She even feels a little sorry for you, what with the embarrassment of bursting into tears in front of everyone. I expect she may drop by later today to see how you're doing—and to discuss the proposition you raised with her just prior to the incident, now that she's convinced you were sincere."

"Still." Luke tossed an idle arm over his eyes—the light was too bright. "I made a mess of things."

"You did no such thing."

"I didn't even drink that much!" he protested, and his headache protested the volume he used. "I don't know why—"

"Captain Solo suggests your drink was spiked. One of the only good ideas I've ever heard him come up with." Luke would have rolled his eyes if it wouldn't have hurt even more. "Considering you noticed nothing amiss in the Force before or after, until it was too late, my only conclusion was that it was a Force-sensitive responsible, and that they were clouding your perception."

Luke had a bad feeling about this. To be frank, his entire body and mind was one bad feeling at the moment, but he had one about this especially. "Palpatine...?"

"Indeed." Vader ran another hand through his hair. "I believe he suspects something is up, and he thought that lowering your inhibitions would be one way of finding out what. Of finding out your true feelings towards the Empire, if nothing else."

"Did I let anything slip?"

"No, son."

Luke breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I—"

"Kid?" Han materialised at the doorway, raised an eyebrow—Luke just felt his father's irritation spike—at the open affection Vader was showing, then continued, "Princess here to see you. If you're up to it."

"He is in no shape—"

"I can do it, Father." He waved his hand. "The plan must go on, right?" He smiled and did a pretty good job of hiding how much it hurt to stand up.

Vader's hand dropped to his side. "Indeed," he intoned. "The plan must go on." He touched Luke's cheek briefly, to the astonishment of Han, and continued, "But do not burn yourself out, Luke. I am concerned about you."

Luke caught his hand as it came down and smiled. "I'll be fine, Father."


"Are you going to talk to me?"

"Luke?" His father's voice was a forced calm, but with anger chasing the heels of frustration. "Are you going to talk to me?"

"I'd rather not." The pillow muffling his words took away a lot of their power, but none of their meaning.

His father ignored them. He took several more steps into Luke's bedroom; Luke heard the clattering that meant he bashed his head against the model starfighters that hung from the ceiling. Then he sat on the edge of Luke's bed, the mattress dipping under his weight, and rested a tentative but heavy hand on the back of his head.

"Luke..."

"Go away." Luke lifted one arm to bat at the hand; his father grabbed it, and used it as leverage to flip him over so he was facing up.

Luke struggled a little, but gave up when that iron grip tightened. His father wasn't going to let him get out of this.

So he thought of his cousin, thought about what Vader had done, and let that anger sharpen his tone. "What do you want?"

His father paused, the mask tilting down. "You have not been eating. Or sleeping."

"I wonder why."

"Son, she was a traitor."

"She was my cousin. Your niece."

"Senator Naberrie," his father stumbled over the words, "made her choice when she colluded with the Rebels. She allowed Organa to escape."

"Because people tend not to like it when their best friends get killed."

"People tend not to like it when their cousins turn out to be traitors either, son, yet you seem to be taking to it surprisingly well."

"What's that supposed to mean?" He tried to glare, but he was fairly sure the tears that flooded his eyes ruined the effect.

Vader tilted his head up at the hanging ship models above his bed—at the many X-wings nestled among the freighters and the TIEs and the Jedi starfighters.

Luke slumped back down onto his pillow. The material was hot and sticky from his tears. "So? What? You gonna kill me for treason as well?"

"You have not committed treason, son."

"How many people have you killed just on suspicion of Rebel sympathies, Father?" He said the word, but he said it with disgust—hurled it like a curse.

Vader's hand reached out to rest on his head, thought better of it halfway and returned to dangling in midair. "Luke—"

He turned his face back into the pillow. His words were muffled, but strong. Shaking.

"Leave, Father. I don't want to talk to you."

Vader hesitated, breath scraping in and out of his respirator. "Luke..."

"Father."

Another moment of hesitation, then Vader turned on his heels and left.

Luke resumed crying. The starfighters jostled into each other above his head.

He'd long since fallen asleep by the time Vader returned to rest a blanket over his slim, shuddering shoulders.


"Take your medicine."

"Father," Luke narrowed his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest and glowered. "I. Am. Fine."

It had no effect whatsoever.

"You are ill."

Luke opened his mouth to deny it—then he sneezed, which did not help his case.

"I'm fine," he said, then sneezed again.

His father took another step forward and loomed above his. "Get into bed. Right now."

"It's just a bit of dust!"

"This is the Imperial Palace, son," his father said, gesturing round at the quarters they were assigned every time His Royal Wrinkliness called his father back to Coruscant. "Mouse droids have been over this room three times in the last hour. There is no dust." His tone darkened again; he took a menacing step forward that sent Luke stumbling back towards his bedroom. "Now get into bed."

"I'm fifteen. I can survive a common cold. If that's even what I have!"

"You're right." Vader nodded sagely; Luke simultaneously relaxed and tensed. He was being suspiciously cooperative... "Coruscant is full of strange diseases. You may have contracted something worse. I'll comm for a medic—"

"No!" Luke yelped. "Don't do that!"

"It would only be prudent to—"

"Father, please." Luke grabbed at his arm before he reached for his comlink. "I don't want to make a fuss. I don't want you to make a fuss."

Vader froze, gaze riveted on Luke's hand on his.

"You are my son, Luke," he said, as softly as the vocoder would let him. "Of course I will make a fuss if you're ill. I don't want—"

"I know." His grip tightened on his arm. "But I don't want you to pull a medic away from a situation where he may be needed more to check on me just because I have the sniffles." Not again. "If it gets worse tomorrow, feel free."

His father's gaze was searching; he could feel it through the mask.

"...very well," he conceded, nodding his head a little sharply. "On the condition that you take things easy today, and if you get prescribed anything by the medic you will take your medicine as ordered, when ordered."

Luke grimaced. "I'm not a kid."

"You did that six months ago, Luke."

They held each other's gazes for a few moments, then Vader's hand twitched towards his comlink again and Luke conceded the battle.

"Alright," he said. "It's a deal."

"Good." His father smiled at him. "Now, go to bed."

"Father."

"We agreed you would take it easy, did we not?"

"That doesn't mean—"


Unofficial Prompt For a Fluffy Sick & Injured fic

Inside a dark room, a door creaked open. The bacta tank that stood inside it was the brightest thing, pale in the shadows. Inside it floated the burnt body of a man.

As the door swung open, the man shifted scarred grey skin to crack one eye open, as gold as the lava fields beyond the castle's shields. He narrowed those eyes as the light of the doorway grew, scything through the darkness, before fixating on the figure who entered.

The doors swung shut behind the newcomer and the light vanished. But they kept walking forward despite it, surefooted and unapologetic. Perhaps it was good that the light was gone; the burned man's eyes had shifted from gold to blue upon spotting them.

The newcomer—young, blond and sardonic—stopped with a snappish step, clipping his heels together and giving a perfunctory bow. He lifted from it immediately, far faster than the burned man's manservant would have; neither of them had much time for such airs, but they had to keep them up, or they'd forget them entirely.

The boy's lips twitched. His amusement could clearly be felt by the burned man.

"Father," he greeted, faux-solemnly, "Director Krennic is here to see you."

He did not miss his father's eye roll, or did his father miss his giggle. His father just gave him the standard sharp tap through the Force that indicated he was ready to get out. The boy walked over to the controls, pushed a few buttons, and his father began to rise out of the bacta tank.

How long has he been standing there, Luke? Vader asked mentally when his son took hold of his arm—still damp and a little slimy from the bacta—to guide him into the seat for the droids to work on reattaching his limbs.

"A while," Luke answered. He laid his hands on his father's shoulders. The droids whirred and worked; though Luke knew from his own experience that it must be painful, the way they did this, Vader didn't flinch. Luke squeezed his shoulders in reassurance regardless.

He drawled, "Vaneé has been entertaining him."

A sound that might have been a snort emerged from behind the breathing mask. He still didn't speak aloud—Luke knew he didn't like the sound of his own weak croak, with no vocoder to assist it—but his amusement rang the Force like a bell. I assume he is here for more demands for funding or recognition?

"That was what I sensed."

Then he must love Vaneé.

The sheer indignity of having to deal with a manservant for so long when he'd thought himself important enough to come and see a lord made Luke giggle again.

"Have fun dealing with him when you get out," he quipped, then his hand stilled even as it fastened his father's cloak round his shoulders. "If you're feeling up to it...?"

Vader's newly-attached hand batted away his and he finished fumbling with the fastening himself.

"I had a few lightsaber burns, Luke, I was not at death's door," he rasped, amused but also... touched... at his concern. Luke pointedly didn't look him in the eye—let him hold onto his dignity as a Sith for a little longer.

"Still," Luke insisted, "you're sure the bacta healed them? No infections?"

"I am certain." The droids finished their work, lowering the mask back onto his face—Luke sensed the brief, violent claustrophobia and took his father's hand in his—so his voice boomed out of the vocoder.

Luke hid his smile. "Try not to kill the sycophant, this time."

Vader snorted as he stood, and gently released Luke's hand. "I am not in a bad mood this time."

The reason why was left unsaid, but the way his mask tilted down at Luke, and the hand he placed on his back to guide him out of that dark room, was answer enough.


"You're bleeding all over my carpet."

Lord Vader, commander of His Majesty's royal forces and sorcerer of the highest order, was not amused.

He had spent years studying magic and warfare—and magical warfare—to his level. His position was earned, bought from fire—his enemy—and blood—his enemies' (and his wife's). And so, for all his apathy regarding everything nowadays, he was proud of the castle his master had gifted him for his efforts. Was proud of the effort put into that castle, the numerous wards around it to misdirect passersby, to catch and torment intruders (but not kill. That pleasure was reserved for Vader alone, after he'd extracted as much information from them as possible.) Wards that had, apparently, been useless. This boy had got past of them with ease.

Or... perhaps not ease. Perhaps the wards were the reason he now clutched the gaping hole in his stomach, weeping blood all over the lush carpet from Naboo. (An insistent luxury from his master that Vader secretly hung onto because when she had started planning what their nursery would look like, the carpet she'd settled on was nearly identical.)

But, regardless, the fact that the boy was here was evidence that his wards needed improvement. He'd just find out where that improvement was needed, and then he'd dispatch of him. He looked to be on death's door, anyway.

Finally, the boy's gaze slid from its curious vacant staring to latch onto him, looming in the doorway, and a highly belated flash of fear ran over his face.

His hand moved from where it was wrapped around his stomach in an attempt to inch across the floor. It was futile, and rather pathetic.

"Tell me how and why you got in, boy," he ordered.

The whine of metal was loud in that lush living room as he drew his sword from its scabbard. He would not slay this boy with a spell; there was clearly some magical anomaly going on here that might have unforeseen consequences. Besides, the sword was so much more satisfying.

"Then I might be inclined to make your death quick."

The boy blinked harshly, gaze focusing back on Vader. He wondered if he was even present enough to process he'd said.

"Tell me what weaknesses my wards hold," he snapped when no answer seemed forthcoming, "and I'll fix them so next time they'll kill you quickly rather than consigning you to this." He waved his hand at the deep, deep wound.

Honestly, from the amount of blood he could see, it was a miracle the boy was still breathing.

And yet, spiting that even further, he chuckled. Oh, he looked confused for a moment, but when the confusion cleared, he chuckled nonetheless.

"Your wards," he croaked out, "didn't do this. They were easy to break."

...well. That was even more concerning—because if any wards of his were easy to break, then this was a very powerful sorcerer; while he wouldn't be around much longer, whether any others of such skill had survived the purge remained to be seen—but Vader hid that. Forced himself to hide it.

Snorted, instead. "You're bleeding all over my carpet, boy. Clearly something went wrong."

Against all odds, the boy chuckled again. "It did. But that was... before I came here. Why I came here."

"And why," Vader took two measured steps forward to rest the tip of his sword on the hollow of the boy's neck, "was that?"

The boy swallowed—a bare bob of his throat, but the sword was sharp enough that it pricked the skin and a ruby of blood swelled. Slid under his collar.

"I guess I hoped that, despite what Master Obi-Wan says, you might not want me dead, Father," the boy said belligerently. Vader brought the sword back quickly—both to keep from skewering him before he got answers and at shock at that last word.

What—

Obi-Wan

"I hoped you might even be inclined to save me," the boy continued, but eyed the blood-tipped sword with a disappointment that... hurt, actually. "Evidently not."

Save him

"Who are you?" The question rushed out of him; Vader couldn't have stopped it if he tried.

The boy looked at him oddly. "Your son," he said, puzzled. "Luke Skywalker. Didn't you know that?"

No. The thought rang his mind. He mouthed it too, wide gaze moving from the boy's hair colour (his) to the nose (hers) to the chin (his) to the stature (hers) to the training sorcerer's robes (his, in a way)—

To the blood still staining the carpet.

Obi-Wan, he thought. Oh, Kenobi. What have you done?

The decision was made before he was even aware it was a question. He sheathed his sort then strode forward, ignoring his son's flinch and scooping him into his arms.

He felt a surge of elation mingled with anger—his son lived his son lived—which in turn mingled with fear.

Blood was hot and sticky and throbbed with the slowing heartbeat.

Vader had supplies for healing spells just a few rooms over.

"No," he said finally, squeezing the boy against his chest. He could see writ in every line of the boy's face his bewilderment... as well as his relief. "I didn't."


"Stay awake."

Stay awake, Luke heard as if through the blizzard itself, for all that he could feel strong, unyielding hands holding him, hoisting him up, as the speaker drew him close. The blizzard was barely letting up—intensifying, even—and he flinched unwittingly as it stung the open, weeping wounds left on his face by that wampa.

Stay awake.

The hands tightened as he flinched and he heard a voice, far away, ask something. He couldn't hear the shapes of the words, he could just hear the general tone in a way that he knew was picking up on things through the Force just as much as through his ears.

Strange; it didn't sound that much like Han...

Stay awake, the voice ordered again, far more authoritative and demanding than Han's ever was; Leia, then. Come to think of it, who else could it be? He didn't feel like that with anyone else, like he was standing next to someone he was as connected to as he was to the Force itself...

Stay awake. But those hands that held him were large; far too large for Leia's dainty, aristocratic hands, despite all the menial use they'd seen in the last three years. Both of them, then; Leia to command and Han to carry. They'd both come to save him...

But the hands were cold too, even as they pulled him against a chest that bled heat like the whirring of a machine, and Luke didn't think that even with frostbite or a fever Han could get that cold or hot...

Stay awake. There was desperation in the voice now; Luke didn't wonder why. Hoth was cold and unforgiving and impassable in storms, like Tatooine's more evil twin. He must have been out here for hours thanks to that wampa and he didn't know how much longer he could survive...

There was a bright light coming. Luke took a moment to muse about death and religion and a light to guide the way before he recognised it as harsh and bright, like the lights around base. Somehow, Han and Leia had brought him back and the relief that barrelled through him was sweet, glorious, unparalleled—he did not want to die here.

He was so out of it that he didn't notice the voices blurring and changing around him—or rather, he did, but he didn't have the thought capacity to process what they meant.

"Lord Vader!"

"Keep him alive."

"Lord Vader, this is an ordinary shuttle; we don't have the resources to treat severe cases of hypothermia—"

"Treat. Him."

"Yes, my lord."

He was jostled and poked and prodded, and though the temperature inside base was warmer than outside, he still felt... chilled. Individually. That voice itself was cold, especially when it told him to—

Stay awake.

He disobeyed it.

When his consciousness resurfaced, it was to the death mask of Darth Vader. Luke did what any reasonable, half-delirious Rebel would do in that situation.

He screamed.


"How could I forget about you?"

"Artoo?"

Luke poked his head around the corner, blaster up and ready, but there was no one in sight. Good; he hadn't been able to sense anyone, but his training had been erratic at best so that really didn't account for much...

No one in sight included R2, though.

He sighed and continued to creep along the halls.

Not that door; that much he knew. Not that one, either...

That one. He thought. Frowning at it. It looked as nondescript as the others: plain grey, slightly taller than him and—most importantly—locked.

But... there was something behind there. He was pretty sure.

So, well, here went nothing.

He rammed the lightsaber to the control panel and lit it. Thankfully, it meant it slid open.

A sharp whistle, an upwards jerk to the corner of his lips—

"Artoo!"

R2 whistled appreciatively—he thought; he hadn't quite picked up binary as well as he wanted to yet—and tried to shuffle forward to greet him. Luke's eyes were immediately drawn to the restraining bolt fixed like a leech on his side.

"Oh, Artoo..." He leaned down, pulling tools from his belt as he did, and started working on getting that thing off. "You have no idea how long it took to find you in this place."

A sharp whistle, a whirring sound, then a squawk. It sounded... admonishing?

The restraining bolt pinged off.

"Well, of course I was gonna come back for you. No I didn't forget." He rested his hand on his dome. "How could I ever forget about you?"

R2 squawked and... oinked a few more times, but Luke shook his head. "C'mon, we gotta get out of here—"

R2 jabbed him with his retractable arm.

"Hey! What was that for!?"

R2 shrieked.

The silence left in the wake of that horrible noise was ringing, and seemed quieter than before. Perhaps that was why, at long last, Luke heard it.

That ersatz hiss.

Shavit.

His head whipped around. Vader stood in the doorway—the still open doorway, because Luke had destroyed the controls—and if the situation hadn't been suddenly so dire Luke could have sworn he'd sensed amusement from the dark lord.

Luke's hand twitched towards his father's saber at his side. Vader's hand twitched towards his own in response.

He tilted his helmet slightly. "You should have listened to your droid," he had. "You should not have come back. Of course it was a trap, Skywalker."

Oh. So that was what R2 had been trying to say.

It didn't matter. Luke would have come anyway. They both knew that—it was why Vader had set it.

So Luke just said belligerently, eyeing the door space around Vader's bulk and the freedom beyond it, "Alright then. You've got me. Do I get a choice in how I die or is it a short trip to Imperial Centre to get strung up and executed?"

Vader's mask showed no emotion, but he imagined he frowned at that comment. "You... will not be dying anytime soon, Skywalker."

For some reason that wasn't nearly as reassuring as it ought to be.


"Tell me you need me."

"Go," Luke said, his voice ruthless and unyielding, "away."

"I am not the one invading someone else's dream, son."

Luke swept his gaze around the dreamscape and snorted. The sands stretching for miles in every direction, the sheer cliffs of Beggar's Canyon, the distant whirring of ships—too low to be a Skyhopper but sounding a lot like the salvaged pod Biggs had put together and tested when Luke was fourteen—were just like he remembered.

Of course, the black-cloaked Sith Lord smack bang in the middle of it wasn't part of his memories.

He crossed his arms, ignoring the... discrepancies in motion between his left hand and his right and fighting off the other title that was crowding his tongue. "Pretty sure this is my dream, Vader."

"I see you have not accepted the truth, then," the man said. Did he sound... disappointed? It was hard to tell; there were no corporeal forms for them in this mockery of Luke's childhood adventure land and that dark mask kept flickering to something akin to a human face, golden-haired, bright...

He shook himself. Trying to peer into the psyche of h— of Darth Vader was not a good idea.

"In more ways than one," the man continued, waving a hand around. "I raced here in my... youth, also, child. You know this. I won the Boonta Eve—"

"You didn't," Luke retorted. "My father did."

"I am—"

"Shut up." The dreamscape flickered around them, endless sands replaced by the machinery and howling winds of Cloud City.

Vader growled, "You presume too much, boy." Then, a pause, as the distant whirring of the pods got louder and he said, "They are coming."

And come they did. One after the other, all in varying species, shooting past them with a speed that made Luke's head ring. He blinked in shock.

All in varying species, none of them human, except...

Luke blinked as a pod piloted by a sandy-haired little boy shot past, wobbling but working.

He glanced back at Vader and caught that flickering mirage of the loving face again and blanched. "That's—"

"Me," Vader agreed, taking a step closer to Luke and even daring to lay a hand on his shoulder. Luke's heart hammered in his chest but he didn't move away—just stared up as the face was once again replaced by that implacable mask.

Luke recoiled. "Then— you—"

"I was telling the truth, my son. I have never lied to you."

Luke shook his head fiercely. "No. No, go away—"

"As I have already said: this is my dream. You are the one who has to leave."

Luke took a step back at that—or, at least, tried to. The hand constricted on his shoulder and he couldn't move an inch.

"I don't know how!"

"I do." Oh, V— his father was enjoying this far too much. He sounded even jovial. "You need only ask me."

"No." Luke glared.

"You need my knowledge. Tell me you need me, my expertise on the subject of dreams from the Force"—there was something disgusted in his voice, freer and richer without the vocoder—"and I will show you how to leave."

"I don't need anything from you," Luke spat. "You weren't there. You have no right to be now."

That hand on his shoulder tightened fiercely; Luke struggled not to cry out.

"You were stolen from me," Vader hissed. He did not sound jovial now. "I—"

"I don't care. I don't need your help, and I won't ask for it."

"Then I suggest you get comfortable, my son." There was an emphasis on the title, but Vader's spitfire anger was being wrestled under control, to be replaced by sly amusement. "Because you will be here until you wake up. And seeing as we are sorely lacking any father-son bonding experience—"

"That doesn't involve freeform amputation?" Luke shot back, desperately trying to ignore the fact that he'd just heard Darth Vader say the phrase father-son bonding with his own two ears.

"—I suggest an in-depth conversation may be a good place to start, don't you agree?"

Luke swallowed. But he couldn't swallow his pride.

"Only until I wake up," he said.

"Once you wake up, you will be gone. If you insist on keeping the bond between us closed"—the words were... pointed—"then no. We will not be able to continue the conversation."

Vader released his shoulder. "Now, may I suggest that as a beginning topic, we discuss what lies you were told about your family?"

"Only until I wake up?"

"Yes, son. That is what I said."

Well then.

"Now, I understand that Obi-Wan deceived you into some fool's quest to avenge your heroic father—"

Luke pinched himself.

He did not wake up.


"Hold still."

The collar of the uniform was far too tight around Luke's neck. Of course he fidgeted.

"Luke," came a deep voice, "hold still."

Hands at his throat and Luke couldn't help but flinch slightly, swallowing. His father froze—they could both hear the howling winds of Bespin over their bond—but Luke's steady gaze bade he keep going, so he did, tucking his collar into position neatly around his neck.

"Your sister would not be pleased if you stepped out onto that balcony with your clothes askew," he said finally. While the booming of his voice ought to painfully loud, this close to his ears, his tone was soft.

"Yeah." Luke huffed a laugh. "And it's not like she needs anything else adding to the pressure of the day. Breaking news: Imperial Prince's messy uniform suggests the declaration of a New Republic to be a trick."

"How does one even get there?" His father sounded genuinely perplexed as he dropped his hands from his collar and just tugged at the edge of Luke's cape slightly. "They seem entirely unconnected."

Luke shrugged. "Failure to take it seriously? I don't know, Leia's told me some horror stories. The media drones are more ravenous than dianogas." He tugged at the corner of his cape and eyed his father. "I'm not sure whether to thank or chastise you for threatening them with bodily harm if they came near me after Bespin."

"Thank." His father sounded affronted by that, but Luke could sense his jest. "Naturally. I saved you much trouble, son."

"Uh huh."

He could feel his father appraising him so he squinted up at Vader to return the favour—then realised... "That's not the cape Leia told you to wear."

Vader stiffened abruptly. Something like a huff came out of his vocoder.

"Your sister's recommendation was foolish," he argued. "Wearing a dark green cape to symbolise new growth, or even a red one in accordance with your Alliance to Restore the Republic, would do nothing to detract from the fact that my mask is a symbol of brutality, son. Until such a time that I can go without it in public—"

"Foolish." Luke chose to focus on with a snort. "You wanna tell her that?"

His father went quiet.

Thankfully for Vader, to Luke's disappointment, that was when Winter came hurrying down the stairs, looking harried, and made a sharp gesture with her hand. It was time for them to ascend the balcony. Stand behind Leia while she made the speech, as the new empress of the galaxy.

They met her on the small antechamber beside that balcony that it was due to happen on.

Leia made Vader put a burgundy cape on before they began, though.


"STOP INTERRUPTING ME!"

Luke Organa—except he wasn't Organa; that was the whole reason Vader was here—stilled his fingers where they had been furiously typing something into a datapad. The fine white Alderaanian robes he'd been wearing in the Senate that morning rustled and fell gracefully around him, draping onto his desk, almost swallowing him.

Like a pall, Vader thought, then shivered.

"You need to get off this planet."

Luke raised one sceptical eyebrow, took a deep breath, and Vader cursed to the winds that such a man as Bail Organa had ever existed.

"Greetings, Lord Vader," he said calmly, with... an undertone of retort in his voice. He had no idea of the special position he occupied at court, and had never dared to voice any of the discord his mind painted into the Force.

Not in front of Vader, at least.

He valued his life somewhat. Not as much as Vader would like, but somewhat.

He turned off the datapad and carefully placed it on his desk, something about the motion dainty and particular and incredible Padmé-like. Vader saw far too much of her in his son.

And when he spoke again, it was with that cutting charm she'd practiced so often—perhaps it was not Bail Organa who Vader needed to curse, after all.

"What can I help you with?" he asked. His gaze flicked back to the door to his office, but not out of a desire to flee—the tension in his shoulders was not for that. His gaze was riveted on the fallen guards just visible beyond it.

"They are unconscious, not dead," Vader rumbled. "And you—"

"One would hope that the Imperial right hand would respect Imperial rules about entrance to rooms in the Senate building," Luke said swiftly, cutting him off. Vader's hands curled into fists and something outside shattered. Not anything inside; he didn't dare risk hurting his son like that. "Lord Vader, I'm sure I don't need to inform you that choking the bodyguards of an elected official to unconsciousness and barging in is hardly the proper etiquette to achieve a meeting."

"You are—"

"—highly annoyed that you did so, yes—"

"STOP INTERRUPTING ME!"

Luke swallowed. Vader could feel his heartbeat pounding in the Force, startled.

"Yes, my lord," he said demurely—afraid.

It wasn't until a moment later that Vader realised the temperature had plummeted.

Vader's fists slowly unclenched and he let his respirator fill his lungs with three slow breaths before continuing.

This foolish boy was far, far too much like Padmé.

"The Emperor has reported to me a threat on your life," he said slowly. It technically wasn't a lie. Palpatine had made it clear that Luke's life would be in danger if his idiotic kidnappers were seen to have anything further to do with that fledgling Rebellion; wasn't it convenient, he'd implied, that even as they betray us, we have the thing they hold most dear to them nestled in the very heart of our stronghold? "You are to leave the planet immediately."

Palpatine had no idea of his relationship to Luke. No one did or even ever had, except presumably his kidnappers, and the now-deceased ISB agent he'd hired to get hold of a blood sample for Vader to run tests on when the similarities and the Force were driving him insane. Palpatine had no idea, so he had told Vader completely unknowingly, and Vader had to make the most of it.

Luke, however, did not appear to see it like that.

He drew himself up, incandescent and indignant and so much like her and said, "Excuse me, Lord Vader, but I am a member of the Imperial Senate. I have adequate security. I will not run based on a threat, nor will I allow it to interfere with my work—"

Vader took two steps forward and loomed over him, hands planted on the desk, mask now inches from Luke's frozen face. Close enough that he hissed words the vocoder barely picked up—words the security holocams certainly didn't.

"Leave now, Organa, or you will die. Run off to Alderaan, to your parents' little Rebellion, to where no powerful Imperials can find you, and only then will you be safe. Because a target was painted on your back the moment you were born and your family's actions have outlined that target in blood."

He paused for dramatic effect. Politician's faces aside, Luke's mouth was slack, open; his eyes held terror.

Vader knew. Vader was an expert in what terror looked like.

He hoped that the politician the boy had been taught to be would read between the lines and see a threat where there was none—hear the accusation of rebellion and treason and think he was being pressured to step down before the Empire caused a scandal and hit to morale by executing one of the most charitable, beloved and wealthy senators, from one of the most powerful Core families, for treason.

He hoped.

"Run," he repeated, and watched the boy nod minutely. He drew back.

Luke took a moment to compose himself. "Very well, Lord Vader," he said, visibly shaken. Vader watched it with some regret but it couldn't be helped: whenever the right time to tell him might be, it certainly wasn't now.

Luke fled Coruscant the next morning.


"I'm too sober for this."

Han had been sitting listening to this Weequay's tall tales for an hour now, waiting for Chewie. He was getting bored.

"—and then, when I was much younger and sprightlier—but still very skilled and experienced, you understand, very good at my job—I encountered this young girl, Togruta—"

"I ain't interested in your exploits," Han cut in, because the rest of this had been awful but that was crossing a line.

"Oh, no, nothing like that, my friend! Not my type at all. Besides, if anything had happened, she would have shoved a lightsaber right through my head, and that would ruin this pretty face now, wouldn't it?"

Han rolled his eyes—then froze. Lightsaber...

"I've, uh," he said, rising from his seat in the booth despite the fact that the bar was still sans Chewie, "gotta go now."

"Oh no, stay, my friend! I have one more story for you before I have to go on to more adventures! It is about," he paused for dramatic effect and Han, despite himself sat back down and leaned in, "Lord Vader and a little boy."

Han was intrigued.

He would later regret being intrigued.

.

Luke clutched Old Ben's hand tightly and tried not to cry.

He didn't succeed.

He cried—hard, big fat droplets rolling down his cheeks to splatter onto the floor of this cantina Ben had brought him into. Ben had dragged him to Mos Eisley, away from the burnt out homestead and his aunt and uncle's— their b—

He was here, and Ben hadn't wanted to take him in there despite the fact that Luke was a big boy now, he could handle anything.

But, even he had to admit, the atmosphere in this place was... scary. There were tall men everywhere, it smelled funny, and something felt... off, like he knew when a sandstorm was coming or that a vaporator was beyond fixing. He wanted to go outside, no matter what Ben had said about not wanting to risk that someone took him.

(Luke knew what that meant, even as young as he was. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru's terror had never been hidden from him, and he knew about his grandmother.)

But finally Ben stopped talking to that human at the... bar? He turned around, took Luke's hand and firmly marched them to the booth where that man had gestured, giving Luke a weak smile as he did. He looked distracted.

He'd made Luke sit with his back to the rest of the cantina, which Luke resented—scary or not, there were more species in here than he'd seen in his entire life!—but it meant that he got to watch Ben closely. He'd never spoken to him much, Uncle Owen'd hated him, but he'd been the one who'd shown up when he was hiding in the little secret trapdoor in the garage and he said he'd known Luke's father...

He was watching him closely. He saw the moment his face fell, his eyes bulged, and his lips moved silently.

Curious, Luke twisted round to see who had upset him, and saw a big tall alien—a Weequay? He'd only ever seen one picture of them, he wasn't sure—sashaying towards them, arms spread wide and braids swinging. Luke found himself grinning just at the sight of him; he looked like fun.

"Kenobi!" he called out, and he was delighted to see Ben, Luke could tell. Luke grinned wider—he must be a friend. "You are alive! I knew it, I knew it—you know, I tell people about my Jedi friend and they oh no, he's dead! You'll never see him again! But I knew it, no droid or clone or Imperial would ever take down the great Obi-Wan—"

"Shhh," Ben hissed, paler than Luke's clothes. "Yes, I'm alive. If you keep running your mouth like that, I won't be for much longer!"

The Weequay laughed a lot, though Luke was pretty sure Ben wasn't joking.

"That's my good friend Obi-Wan, always so modest," he said. "And no worries, before you ask—I will not sell you out to any of those nasty Imperials on this sleepy outpost. We are friends, are we not? And it's not wise to upset a Jedi," he shook his head sadly, "it's not good business."

Then he perked up again. "Now! It's been lovely seeing you, but I have a fine gentleman somewhere over here looking for passage to Alderaan!" His eyes scanned the surrounding booths. "Who do you think it is, that distinguished-looking man over there?"

Luke frowned. Glanced at Ben. He was staring at the Weequay and had somehow paled even further.

"Ben?" Luke prompted, finding his voice for the first time. The Weequay's gaze snapped to him and Luke felt his massive curiosity. "Didn't you say— are—" He swallowed at Ben's warning gaze but considered doggedly, "aren't we going to Alderaan?"

The Weequay froze, staring at Ben with his eyes comically large.

"Why, Kenobi," he said, "don't tell me you're the person looking to visit the planet of beauty?"

Obi-Wan said something.

Luke was pretty sure it was a swear word.

.

The Weequay's name was Hondo, and he was awesome.

He let Luke play in the turrets—"Just shoot at a random point in space won't you, my boy, it'll all come in useful one day, eh?"—despite Ben's objections; he let him help with the jump to hyperspace—"I'll show you which buttons to press and you press them!—despite Ben's objections; and, most importantly of all, he told Luke stories about his father.

Also despite Ben's objections, but they were half-hearted at most. From the moment Luke's father had been brought up, he'd known he'd lost that battle.

"Your father? Oh, I knew him, little one, we were almost as close as me and Kenobi here were! Excellent pilot, excellent—"

"I thought he was a navigator on a spice freighter," Luke pointed out. Hondo was clearly in that sort of business himself; shouldn't he know the difference? Uncle Owen had made it painstakingly clear.

Ben winced. Hondo was surprised.

"At least, that's what Uncle Owen told me... But," he crowed, "if he was a pilot as well, then that's even cooler!"

He did not hear the small whimper of despair Obi-Wan gave when he called working on a spice freighter cool.

Hondo's eyes were wide. "Oh. Oh my. You didn't know? He didn't know?" He addressed the last part to Ben, who shook his head grimly—and a little pointedly. "Oh dear. My sincerest apologies."

"What don't I know?" Luke added dubiously, "That he was a pilot...?"

Ben sighed.

"Luke," he said gently, "come into the back room. We need to talk."

.

"My father was a Jedi?" he asked Hondo the moment he came back out. Hondo grinned and patted him on the head.

"Yes he was! One of the greatest Jedi ever to live, in my humble opinion. Second only to our beloved Kenobi, of course."

In the background, Ben sighed. "Don't fill his head with ridiculous ideas, Hondo."

"I would never dream of it, my friend! Are you going to train him to be a Jedi too?" He poked Luke's arm lightly.

Luke looked up at Ben and did his best innocent, hardworking and humble expression.

"...yes," Ben ground out, though he managed to make himself smile at Luke. "I will. If he wants—"

"I do!"

"Then yes," he smiled wider and patted him on the shoulder, "I will."

There was a beeping from the cockpit and Hondo jumped into action. "Looks like we are coming up on our destination, my friends!"

"Good," Ben breathed a sigh of relief and ushered Luke into the cockpit behind Hondo. "Once we reach Alderaan, I will get you your payment, Hondo, and then, Luke, there's someone I'd like you to meet—"

The streaks turned to stars but no planet loomed before them.

Ben froze.

"This isn't Alderaan," Luke observed mildly, but no one was listening to him.

Ben was shouting. "Hondo—"

"Now, now, you understand, Kenobi," Hondo said, turned around quickly, snapped his blaster up from his side and stunned him. "You were offering a wonderful sum, but someone else is offering more for your head and, well," he shrugged, "it's just good business."

Luke stared at him, wide-eyed and suddenly terrified.

He glanced at the scopes—Hondo had shown him how to use them. There was a massive, wedge-shaped ship to their left, just to the side of the viewports.

Hondo winked at him and put away the blaster. "Don't you worry, little one, no one is going to hurt you! It's only Kenobi that Lord Vader wants, I doubt he'll care about a little squirt like yourself, no matter how wonderful your father was!"

He was lying.

Luke's fear ramped up a notch. He felt... cold...

A little light on the console began chiming. Hondo flicked a switch and a holo appeared of a scary-looking figure—droid?—with a mask.

The voice thundered. "Ohnaka. You have Kenobi?"

"Of course, my lord. Hondo always delivers, doesn't he?" He wagged his finger in an odd way; Luke could tell that this Vader was not amused.

"Apparently so. But—" Vader stiffened. Luke, against his will, squeezed his eyes shut when that cold doubled, and it seemed to double around him. "You are carrying someone else on your ship."

"Oh, no one, just a little boy Kenobi picked up in his wanderings, a stray. Nothing to worry about, Lord Vader. Now, about my payment—"

"I will be the judge of what I worry about, Ohnaka. Bring him to the holo."

"My lord—"

"Bring him."

Hondo swallowed, the only sign of fear he'd shown, and it made Luke even more scared. He tried to duck when the pirate reached for him, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder and he was dragged in front of the holoreceiver.

He looked up and automatically met that dark lord's eye... plates?

"Hi."

Vader tilted his head. It was a pretty big head, so the tilting was obvious.

"What is your name, young one?" he asked, curiously softly.

Luke had no idea what was going on, but his aunt and uncle had not raised a liar.

"Luke Skywalker," he said.

That... cold... constricted, making it hard to breathe for a moment, Then it was inside him, his head, poking and prodding where it shouldn't, where it was rude, and Luke gave the mental equivalent of a shove and a tongue stuck out at it.

To his surprise, it retreated. A whisper of amusement and surprise lingered.

On the holo, Vader had not moved his helmet to gaze at anything other than Luke.

"We have you on our scopes, Ohnaka," he said. The ship shuddered. "We have a lock on you and will tractor you in to a hangar bay. Then you can bring me Kenobi, and..." He hesitated, his stare seeming to triple in its intensity.

"And bring me the boy."

.

"And that, my good friend," Hondo finished, "is how ten years ago, I accidentally gave Vader his son, without even realising it!"

Han stared.

And stared some more.

Then he shook his head, more out of pity than disgust, and said, "I'm too sober for this nonsense."

He left, ignoring Hondo's squawked protests behind him and met Chewie outside.

Chewie roared a question; Han gave a short, obligatory laugh.

"Ah, nothing. I think he's gone crazy. Talking about this kid, who was supposedly Vader's son... it's a lotta nonsense."

Chewie groaned his understanding, then gave Han the best news he'd heard all day: they had a client.

"Oh really?" Han asked as they approached the docking bay the Falcon was in, seeing a slim figure already waiting for them inside. "Who is it?"

Chewie inclined his head; Han turned to look. The figure was a boy—adult on a technicality, he supposed—with two droids trailing him: a gold, annoying-looking one and a blue astromech. The boy smiled when he saw Chewie and Han, but he looked... tense.

"Hi!" he said. "My name's Luke Skywalker."

Han did a double take at the name—but no. Hondo's story was too ridiculous, too far-fetched. He wasn't even going to think it.

The boy, though—Lord Vader's son, if that tall tale was to be believed—sharpened his smile a little, eyes flashing a little gold in the light.

Vader, he remembered belatedly, was supposedly able to read minds.

Skywalker rested a hand on the astromech's dome; it curled slightly, nails digging into the finish, with either tension or anticipation.

"I don't suppose I can purchase passage to Alderaan for myself and two droids?"


"I feel like I can't breathe."

"Father!"

Luke... There wasn't a word for the way he smiled at Vader. He beamed, but it was full of a painful relief and a tragic joy, a shattering of tension he'd carried for as long as he could remember. He grinned, and something in Vader's chest shattered with it. He felt like he could finally breathe again.

He ran towards him across the battlefield, the stormtroopers' and Rebels' bodies underfoot, but... they'd won. They'd won. They'd won.

He reached him and grinned. Vader's hand reached for him automatically, wiping some blood away from his cheek with his thumb, settling his hand on his shoulder in a half-reassuring, half-possessive fashion.

The fight for an Empire was typically not fought on a backwater planet with a number instead of a name, but this place was rich in the Force and that Force thrummed with their victory. They all—even those insensitive to it, Vader suspected—had sensed the flood of darkness then blinding light that had heralded Palpatine's demise, and now it was over.

Well.

Not the war. Not the Empire. Palpatine had had plenty of disciples all hungry to seize his place, destroy his destroyers, but Vader was finally free of that despicable old man. Their bond no longer tethered his mind like a chain. Or a transmitter.

Not for the first time, Vader wished he could see colour, so that he could fully take in the red banners unfurling over the battlefield, the black and white and grey ones stomped underfoot, the planet's riotous flora an almost painfully bright backdrop to it, like they were spots of blood on a tapestry.

But that blood was spilled and dried. They'd won.

They'd won.

Luke took a shuddering breathe. "We... did it," he said, awed. His voice was weak. "I thought..."

"You were always the one goading me into continuing the fight, weren't you?" Vader chided. "Do not tell me you ever doubted."

Luke shrugged. "Yeah, well, I lied. I figured I ought to oppose you and your pessimism just on principle."

"Luke."

"What? It's the truth!"

Vader started chuckling. Then he laughed. The nearest soldiers—some members of the 501st, who'd defected with him—glanced at him in shock.

Not many people had heard the dark lord guffaw the way he did now.

Luke was laughing to.

"I feel—" He hiccupped. "I feel like I can't breathe."

Vader's hand came to settle on his shoulder. "That must be the shock."

Luke twisted, so that Vader's hand fell and Vader found himself looking at a long—and slightly greenish—scratch down his back. "Might've also been the poisonous plant one Inquisitor whacked me with."

Vader saw red.

Well, more red than he usually saw.

"Luke!"

"What?"

"You need medical attention!"

"I'm fine! We," he looked him straight in the eye and enunciated, "won."

"You are injured."

"I'm fine! I'm still standing!"

He fell over.

Vader caught him before he hit the ground. "Foolish boy."

"Foolish man," Luke shot back.

Vader just sighed and picked him up, despite Luke's kicking and punching and whining.

"Hey!"

He rolled his eyes. "Get medical attention, Luke, and I have no doubt you will have the strength this evening to sneak out and join the celebratory Rebel celebrations."

"Sneak out? You're not gonna let me go? I'm an adult!"

"Not if you don't get medical help, I won't." He started walking forward. He was aware of people staring at Luke, and he was considering putting him down to spare him the embarrassment when Luke said—

"Fine. You've made your point. I'll get medical help. Can you put me down, now?"

The smile behind Vader's mask could be called a grin.

"No."

Chapter Text

Luke grunted, grimaced and groaned.

At least, that was what he thought the sound that came out of his throat was like. In truth, he wasn't really sure what it was, or how he'd made it; all he knew was that it didn't sound pleasant, and didn't feel that great, either.

Absolutely nothing about this situation felt great, in fact.

And half of that had absolutely nothing to do with the sharp ache in his muscles and bones and everything to do with the sharp coldness nipping at the back of his skull—no, his mind. He instinctively shied away from it, even before he opened his eyes.

"He is awake," observed a low, rasping voice. Luke, for all that he'd never heard it before, knew that that voice meant trouble. The very burr of it sent the Force whispering menace.

He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut.

"So it would seem, master," observed another. That voice he knew.

His eyes flew open.

When he was sure enough greeted with the sight of Vader's infamous death mask looming just across the small table from him, he screamed.

No.

No, no, no

He jerked his feet and hands in an attempt to shove away from the table, only for the sudden movement to unbalance him. He stared in horror at the hand shackled to one of the armrests, the chair tilting back—

Another cold touch of the Force and he rocked forward again for the chair to crash back onto all four legs. He stared at the two Sith Lords sitting opposite it, eyes wide, heart still racing.

He knew Vader far, far too well. He knew the dark lord from years of hunting him and Obi-Wan, years of too-narrow escapes, years of hateful vengeance and admonishments that if you confront him with anger, he will die, but you will lose yourself and become just as bad as him...

And now he was... captured?

And now he was captured by the man.

And— and someone he called master, so—

Captured by Vader, and the Emperor.

Blood drained from his face.

He tugged at the binders. Metal. Metal, and unyielding, and he could break them with the Force but that still left him in the company of (at the mercy of) two Sith Lords and...

He turned his head to the side. His heart simultaneously froze and restarted.

Ben sat in a chair next to him. Not next to him, actually, but the table was square and Ben was on his right. Palpatine—the Emperor himself; his skin crawled just thinking about it—was on his left, intent gaze fixed on Luke. It did not feel benevolent.

"Ah, look at him," he mused. He sounded somewhere between reverent and delighted as he sipped at a goblet in his hand—wine, Luke guessed. "He's utterly terrified."

One long, crooked finger reached out to run along his cheek, catching on his lip. Luke jerked away, eyes widening further.

His gaze flicked to Vader, opposite him at the table. The dark lord's mask was riveted on him; he stiffened as much as Luke did when Palpatine reached out, but did not relax when he retracted his hand again.

Luke's gaze slid inexorably back to Ben.

Ben, he begged silently. He was too young for this, he was sixteen, he didn't want to be dealing with two Sith Lords on his own and he was so selfishly (so selfishly) glad that his master was here to share the burden with him, to guide him— Ben, please wake up.

"Oh, have no worry, Luke," Palpatine said, his voice poisonous, "your precious master can't hear you. Not for now, at least. Lord Vader and I just wanted to have a civil conversation with you before he wakes up and tries to cloud you mind with more lies."

"Don't call me Luke," he snarled. No. No, he didn't want to face them alone—

Palpatine feigned surprise. "Well, why ever not? Is it our respective positions? I assure you: in a properly ordered universe you would have been raised here on Coruscant, with every luxury afforded to you, and we would certainly be on such terms by now."

Luke snorted, and felt along the binders with the Force for the latch. "I wouldn't call that proper," he bit back, "as I would never—"

"Well, why not?" Palpatine countered before he could finish. Luke grunted in frustration. "It would be the most proper—not to mention natural—thing in the world, for you to support Lord Vader and myself."

"Natural?" Luke was spitting.

"Of course. Is it not right for a boy to stand with his father?"

Silence.

Luke blinked.

He looked at Ben for clarification, as he always did, but Ben was unconscious. There was nowhere for him to turn to.

Except the Sith.

He shook his head vehemently. "What are you talking about?" he hissed. "You"—he jabbed a free finger at Vader—"killed my father."

Vader's fists tightened on the table, but he growled out, "I did not."

Luke flinched, as always, to hear that booming voice.

"Your father still lives, child." Palpatine smiled sweetly, reaching out to pat Luke's shoulder. Luke jerked back and jabbed a finger at him instead. "He is right here, in fact. And you should have been with him from the moment you were born."

Luke stared.

Laughter, high-pitched and hysterical, bubbled up in his throat.

"You," he said heatedly, "are not my—"

"Not I, child," Palpatine took Luke's accusatory finger in hand, almost gently, and altered who it was pointing at, ever so slightly. "Him."

Luke was pointing—and staring—at Darth Vader.

He snatched his hand back.

"You—" he gasped out, scrambling to his feet and backing away. "No, I— I don't believe it." The binder rounds his left wrist clanged against the chair but he paid it no heed; dragged it with him, in his mad rush to escape. "I don't believe it."

Vader stood as well, and suddenly the height advantage Luke had so desperately sought was lost to him. Vader towered.

Darkness wrapped around him, froze him solid. He gasped again as the binders grew so cold the cuff bit into his skin.

Vader tilted his head in observance of it.

There was the creak and cry of metal as it tore itself to shreds.

"There is no need for restraints," he said. His monotone voice had never sounded so unnerving. "You are my son. I have no intentions of harming you."

"I'm not your son," Luke shot back. He rubbed his wrist—pried the remnants of the metal from his skin, and glanced around. Now that he actually bothered to take it all in, they were seated in a lavish lounge, with windows (stained transparisteel, a stunned part of his brain murmured, oh Force) large and fancy; sofas and furniture ornate and expensive; guards, he sensed, at every door, alert and aware.

The room was massive. Beautiful. And these monsters were telling him that this was where he belonged.

He couldn't breathe.

He shook his head. Vehemently. "No."

Vader took a step around the table—a heavy table, a fine table, laden with food and drink Luke could barely stand to look at—and stepped towards him.

"You are," he said. His voice boomed—it always had, and it'd always terrified Luke, even before he knew enough about this death-cloaked shadow to be afraid of him, but now it was doubly so. Because now all he wanted to do was curl up in a ball with his hands over his ears and chant denials until these monsters—and, more importantly, the Force—stopped screaming impossible truths at him.

Vader took several inexorable steps forward and Luke took several steps back, until his head bumped into a piece of artwork on the wall. He could feel the deep, thick ridges of the paint against his scalp.

He closed his eyes before Vader could fill his entire vision. A leather-clad finger tilted his chin up and Luke felt air—just air, not warm or cold in the way ordinary breath might feel—rush over his face with every rasp of the respirator.

"You are my son," Vader repeated, his voice almost gentle this time but still so, so demanding. His hand slid from his chin to cup his face.

Luke wanted to sob. He could feel Palpatine's yellow gaze burning a hole into him even through Vader's massive bulk.

"You belong with me."

Luke wondered how he managed to make that sound like you belong to me.

Cold fingers against his mind and suddenly a bond snapped into place, like a cancerous growth, a bond he didn't want

Darkness rushed down it and he squeezed his eyes shut tighter and slammed down his shields before it