His father had told him to stay hidden from anyone on the Executor that wasn’t him or Admiral Piett, which meant Luke had rarely been able to leave his quarters the past two weeks. And he understands why it’s necessary--the emperor can’t know about his training with his father if they’re to kill him-- but he’s never been good at staying in one place. The Alliance medics had undoubtedly learned that whenever they tried to keep him in the medbay after an injury.
So that’s how he finds himself pacing the polished grey floor of his room. His quarters aren’t small by any means: a bedroom, ‘fresher, and three connecting rooms. When he’d negotiated himself in exchange for Leia and Chewie, he hadn’t exactly known what his father planned, and now that he knows, he’s certainly grateful it’s not a cell. But there’s not much to see in the uniform, sparsely decorated rooms. Although, after learning of his skill with mechanics, his father had provided him with droid and ship parts, which Luke had greatly appreciated, sending a flash of gratefulness down their bond when his father had told him. But there are only so many rooms to explore or things to tinker with before it becomes monotonous. He hasn’t been able to fly in weeks, and his hands itch for the controls of his x-wing.
At least the training has been going well; he’s even been allowed his lightsaber back, and he’s learned more than he ever imagined. Some part of him is still shocked that it’s his father that’s teaching him--his father -- who he’d thought dead for 22 years until he’d cut off his hand. Luke flexes the prosthetic. Vader had checked it extensively before declaring it adequate in a tone that only seemed to convey displeasure. But Luke had sensed his regret and sorrow through their newly strengthened Force bond, and that had been enough for the part of him that had desperately longed for a father all his life and finally had the chance to know him.
There have still been many arguments, but their shaky truce is holding for now. Luke will stay on the Executor with his father, and Vader will train him so they can kill the emperor. They’ve both carefully avoided the topic of what happens after that, at least for now.
But there are so many other questions Luke has, specifically about his father’s past. But he’s barely asked any of them. His father has an infamously short temper, and Luke doesn’t want to risk his father’s wrath so early in their precarious partnership. However, his curiosity is just as intense as his lack of patience. His father had instructed him to meditate, but he’s as good as that as he was at it when he trained with Yoda, that is to say, not good.
He eyes the door that connects to Vader’s chambers, adjacent to his own. His father can’t be around all the time; he’s the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces, after all. He’s only ever been in the antechamber of his father’s rooms. He stops pacing, a small smile growing on his face. His father had never forbidden him from entering the other rooms, just told him to stay out of sight. And maybe there are clues to his past or… his mother in Vader’s rooms. He’ll just slip in and out.
He adjusts the imperial black uniform, one of many he’d found in his closet, and crosses the expansive, empty room, the door to his bedroom behind him. The durasteel door is firmly locked, but it takes no more than a thought from Luke before it’s sliding open with a hiss.
He’s halfway into the bare, grey antechamber before he realizes his father isn’t away working. His presence is emanating from behind one of the three doors on the opposite wall. Luke immediately freezes, fearful his father will come roaring out any moment and he'll end up in shackles. But nothing happens. He slowly releases the breath he’d been holding and releases the tension in his shoulders. Vader’s presence gives no sign he’s noticed Luke… which is odd.
Luke reaches out again, lightly testing his father’s lack of reaction. The familiar cold flame is wrapped tightly around Vader, closing him off like a shroud. It’s so condensed that it’s most likely why Luke hadn’t sensed him before he entered his chambers. Still, Vader doesn’t react. His presence is almost suspended, as if he’s somewhere else. Probably meditating, Luke settles on.
He avoids the door he knows leads to his father and carefully explores the other rooms. To his dismay, they’re almost as bare as his own, even though Vader’s been here much longer than he has. There’s a bed in one room, but it looks completely unused. Luke doesn’t know enough about his father’s suit to know if perhaps it makes it so he doesn’t need sleep. The other room is an office. There are some reports on an otherwise bare desk that Luke skims, but it’s nothing about the rebellion that he could try to smuggle to Leia or anything that seems too vital, so he dismisses them.
Every room is the same grey, polished, formal space with the same harsh, white lights. Even the air is the same filtered, crisp, pumped-in oxygen. Which makes sense, he guesses, but it’s still so different than the Millennium Falcon with its constant smell of smoke and sparks and signs of wear and personal touches that are so clearly Han. Han. His chest contracts painfully. Another thing he needs to discuss with his father. He is not leaving Han to Jabba no matter what his father says. Still, it would certainly be safer to ask before attempting a rescue because he doesn’t want to have to try to avoid imperial forces while simultaneously rescuing his friend.
But after thoroughly examining each room, he can find nothing--no holos, no relics, no memory of his mother or his father’s past--nothing. He sighs in defeat, running a hand through his hair. The disturbance sends his blond bangs into his eyes, and he shakes his head a bit in frustration.
And then another idea enters his head; a horrible idea, to be sure, but he’s Luke Skywalker, when are they not? His father seems to still be deep in meditation, so maybe he can pop in and out of the last room without Vader ever knowing he’s there. It’s worth a try, at least. It seems the most likely place to find something useful. He doesn’t know if he’s ever going to get answers otherwise.
Cautiously, making his footsteps as quiet as possible with the loud echoing that follows each step, he creeps towards the last door, and with a flick of his wrist, it’s sliding open. He winces at the hiss it makes and stays frozen for a minute. After it’s apparent his father isn’t going to fling him across the room, Luke steps inside, drawing the Force around him to quiet his presence as much as possible.
To his dismay, there seems to only be one thing in the high-ceilinged room: a large polished black pod. He can sense dark tendrils of his father’s presence spilling from the cracks in its design. He carefully avoids them as he circles the only feature of the room, almost in awe. His eyes are wide as they flick over the pod, trying to make out its function. His father still seems to be meditating, so, obviously, it’s some sort of meditation pod, but why? He’d instructed Luke to meditate in his room, no equipment necessary, and Yoda had never spoken of anything mechanical that could enhance their connection to the Force.
He dares to take a step closer, his hand reaching for the metal surrounding his father. His fingers brush the surface. It’s smooth and cold under his hand; a shiver travels up his spine, and he shudders. He has to wonder at his father’s lack of awareness when he’s inside it. What if Luke had been an assassin; Vader has yet to even take notice of him. He finds himself hoping it’s just because he’s Vader’s son that he was able to slip under the Sith lord’s radar.
He knows he should leave--there’s nothing here for him except his father’s wrath--and yet… The Force is whispering to him. Stay. It sounds different--female and comforting--quietly urging him forward. He tentatively reaches out through the Force, his hand freezing against the cold of the metal that is the only thing separating him from his father. Vader’s presence in the Force is equally cold, but it’s familiar. He brushes against one of the creeping tendrils of darkness, unsure what he’s supposed to be searching for.
And then one of the tendrils reaches back, wrapping around him, freezing his limbs. A mental image of Vader’s eyes snapping open, yellow surrounded by white, flashes through his mind, and he flinches--or would have if he could move his limbs. Vader’s presence is a swirling storm as the pod hisses, starting to open. Luke desperately tries to pull his hand from the metal, to back away from his father, but to no avail. It’s as if Vader’s caught him in a vice; even his breathing is shallow as his chest tries to expand in his father’s grip.
And then any breath he had been able to suck in leaves his lungs in a whoosh of air. The top of the pod rises, and Luke sees his father’s face for the first time as the dark mask is once again lowered onto the dark lord’s head amidst the bright white light of the pod. If he wasn’t already frozen to the floor, he’s sure he would be now. What had happened to his father? Scars cover the pale skin of Vader’s face. The only color left is his eyes: not quite blue, not quite yellow. There’s rage swirling around the man, but also… shame? Grief? It’s all moving too fast for Luke to process, but there’s something more than anger there.
Suddenly, the grip holding him in place is gone, and he stumbles backward, unsteady, until his back slams against the grey walls. He sucks in a shaky breath, his lungs finally working again. “I- I didn’t mean-”
Vader cuts him off, his voice deadly quiet, “Leave.” The Force swirls, whispering through his father’s growing anger. Luke can’t tell what it’s saying, doesn’t know what it wants, but he is relatively sure his father’s rage doesn’t stem from Luke’s trespass into his quarters, but rather that Luke had seen him without his helmet. And that’s enough reason for Luke to have even more questions. He isn’t going to leave and risk his only chance of learning about his father. He just hopes his relation to Vader will help cushion his father’s tendency to dispose of anything that angers him.
A newfound determination fills his veins, and he moves away from the wall, planting his feet firmly against the smooth steel, meeting his father’s gaze through the red-tinted lenses, and asks, “How did you get those scars?” He knows he’s potentially signing his death warrant, but he’s a Skywalker, and he wants to finally understand what that means.
“Get out,” comes the booming bass through Vader’s vocoder, and Luke can’t help the shiver that runs through his whole body.
He knows if he was anybody else, he’d already have been on the floor grasping for this throat, would probably have been dead years ago, and he’s definitely pushing even his luck here, but, “No, I want to know you.” He’s nothing if not determined.
Vader’s rage pulls back for a single moment, and Luke feels the darkness gathering like a spear aimed straight at him. His hands shoot up to protect his face on instinct, eyes squeezed shut. He finally crossed the line, apparently. He’d just wanted to know his father.
And then he feels the rage almost dissipate, evaporating back into the Force, leaving a strange emptiness. He cracks open an eye, slowly lowering his hands, surprised to find himself still alive after his inquiries. Vader’s back is to him now, the black of his cape and helmet only made darker by the bright white lights of the inside of the meditation chamber. And then, softer than he’d expected, “I do not wish to speak of it, my son.” Luke sees the dark helmet tilt down infinitesimally.
He dares a step forward, “Please, father.” Vader doesn’t move. Luke tries one last time, opening himself to their bond, allowing his sincere curiosity to flow between them, trying to express his desire to understand. Still, Vader gives no sign acknowledging Luke’s last-ditch attempt to finally piece together some of the clues of his heritage, of his parents’ lives. Luke sighs in defeat, pivoting on his foot, and starts towards the door, the steady and echoing sound of Vader’s respirator filling his ears.
But then, “They are burns.”
Luke startles, turning quickly to face his father. Vader has turned back towards Luke, but his gaze seems fixed on the wall to the left of his son. But that doesn’t deter Luke. He isn’t about to waste his father’s apparent willingness to speak to him, “How- How did you get them?”
Vader’s anger reignites, swirling, and for a moment, Luke thinks he’s said something wrong and should attempt a quick exit, but it quickly becomes clear the resentment isn’t directed at him when the vocoder hisses, “Kenobi. He left me to the flames of Mustafar.”
Luke is struck for a moment, unable to speak at the veritable well of information his father has suddenly decided to give him. Once he regains his senses, his first instinct is to jump to his old master’s defense, but the Force whispers that is the quickest way to ensure his father never deigns to speak of such things again. There’s also the tiniest flame of anger at what had been done to his father that ignites in his chest. So instead, he pushes it aside and asks, “Is that why you have to wear-” he gestures at the suit, and Vader’s helmet tilts toward him, “that?” he finishes lamely.
“Indeed,” his father responds. The creak of leather from Vader’s clenched fist is the only sign of his emotion towards that fact; the Force remains calm.
A lasting suspicion of his appears suddenly at the forefront of Luke’s mind, and he speaks before he even processes the question, “Does it hurt?” He almost winces at the bluntness but instead only flexes his prosthetic, a whisper of his own phantom pain traveling through his arm.
Vader waves a gloved hand in dismissal, stepping down from the raised chamber; his heavy footsteps reverberate throughout the empty room. “It is of no consequence.”
Luke knows what that means. How many times has he left the Alliance medbay early because they were short on pilots to questions of ‘Does it hurt?’ only to respond, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ And it hadn’t; he’d been needed, so he’d gone, no matter the pain. But his suffering had only been temporary, small enough to bear. He’d known that his father wore the suit for medical reasons but hadn’t known the extent of the injuries. Now, learning about the burns and the constant pain, he shudders to think of what his father endures daily while still functioning.
His eyes narrow as he stares resolutely back at Vader, determined to make his father understand, “It’s of consequence to me.”
Vader seems almost taken aback by this answer; he pauses on his way around the pod towards Luke. They stand across the room from each other, staring through the open chamber. “Why?” comes Vader’s normally thundering voice, but this time it somehow only registers as a whisper.
Luke shrugs; there’s only one answer to that question: “You’re my father.”
For a moment, nothing happens, but for some reason, Luke isn’t worried. And then the Force bond between them ignites as a wave of Vader’s emotions crash into him: sorrow, guilt, pain, but there’s something lighter there too, something that feels like protectiveness and caring, unfamiliar from Vader.
Luke’s thoughts swirl, and he almost stumbles from the onslaught of emotion, but a soft grip on his arm steadies him, and he looks up into the lenses of his father, who had somehow moved closer in Luke’s dazed confusion. Even after Luke finds his feet, his father’s hand doesn’t fall from his arm. He finds he doesn’t mind.
Softer than he had thought the vocoder would allow, Vader speaks; it’s rough, and Luke can sense the layers of pain, but still he says, “I have kept your past… and my own from you long enough. You deserve to know.”
Luke’s heart soars, and he doesn’t bother to hide his joy from his father, letting it pass through their bond. The Force whispers to him to let go of his hesitations, and so he does, throwing his arms around his father’s waist and closing his eyes against his father’s chest. The suit almost seems to bleed heat as his cheek rests against the dark material.
There’s a moment of pure shock that resonates through the Force, and Luke can’t help his smile. And then his father’s arms come up and wrap around his shoulders, squeezing lightly, and those light emotions he’d recognized through their bond earlier return in full force. He’s content not to try to label them, content in his knowledge that the father he’d always wished for, had waited for, had maybe wished for him too.
When he pulls back to look up at Vader--smiling wide, his arms still loosely wrapped around the towering figure--the mask tilts down to regard him, and he almost thinks he can make out his father’s eyes--a blue that’s eerily similar to his own.