He’s deep in meditation when he hears it. It’s so light, so quiet Vader almost doesn’t recognize the brush of warmth against his shields. But then… Father .
He almost jolts from his chair, fingers clenching on the armrests as he reaches eagerly towards his son, triumph and apprehension fighting in his mind. But already, the connection is flickering. Luke’s mental voice had been so weak, his warmth flickering like a candle buffetted by too much wind. Fear, like he has not felt in decades, blooms in Vader’s chest, icy and winding, squeezing his limbs in a vice-like grip. Thus far, his son has steadily ignored their bond, even when Vader had attempted to reach out. That Luke has called to him , now, when his presence is this weak…
What has happened? The temptation to roar, if only to escape the thin tendrils of fear twisting themselves ever deeper, is almost overwhelming. But he keeps the mental words steady, even as the metal of his chair groans beneath his grip.
There’s no response from the quivering light as it begins to drift away, unable to hold onto the connection with the distance between them. Fear is fast morphing to panic, and Vader reaches for his son, wrapping all of his considerable strength around the veritable supernova, holding him steady, refusing to let him slip through his fingers.
He can tell it’s not enough, though, even as Luke grabs weakly back, trying to hold on. But his strength is slipping, consciousness wavering as he continues to slip through Vader’s mental fingers.
And so Vader does the last thing he can before the connection breaks. He slips, as gently as possible, into Luke’s unguarded mind. Flashes of sand and twin suns burn before his eyes when he searches desperately for a location.
And then the light, the warmth that is his son, is gone, and his eyes are jerking open as he rasps for breath, his lungs burning inside his meditation pod. He’s already jamming his fist onto the controls, lowering his helmet onto his head as his mind races and a heart he’d thought incapable of such strength pounds loudly in his ears.
Darkness coils tighter around him as he storms from the pod as soon as his helmet is on, anger boiling in his chest, trying to push away the fear that has snuck roots into his heart. He doesn’t know why his son is back on Tatooine, weak and injured, but when he finds who is responsible, they will pay.
His rage is growing with every moment he goes without his son safely in his arms. But at least now that he’s on the planet, Luke’s presence is brighter, though not as bright as it should be. The boy is conscious though, he can tell, which calms a little of the panic for the time being.
But the closer he follows their connection to Jabba’s Palace, the more his hard-earned control is slipping, anger and fear battling in his mind, barely restrained darkness whipping the cursed sand into a veritable storm that swirls around him as he walks.
The shadow of the large building looms over him, but it does nothing to cool the burning rage building in him. He tears the large door apart with barely a thought, his senses already sweeping into the entry hall. Any guards are dead before he’s consciously registered them, already stalking further inside.
Jabba will die this time. That thought brings him a small amount of pleasure. He’s already been allowed to live too long, and this offense will be his last. But first, his son.
Even as he thinks it, a spike of pure terror spears across the bond with Luke. His step falters with the force of it now that they’re in close proximity, and his own fear doubles in answer. He has not felt Luke this afraid, not even on Bespin. A growl burns his throat as he turns past the throne room, heading for where he knows the cells are.
Luke’s panic and fear are palpable, and Vader tries to reach out and steady him. Still, Luke’s presence is dim and flickering, and he doesn’t even acknowledge the calming darkness trying to dampen his fear, seemingly unaware of his father’s close presence.
Vader’s pace quickens as he turns down another damp hallway, grateful his suit filters out the smell. And then, from around the next corner, where the cells are, he hears shouting and muffled thumps, followed by cursing. His fear is already ahead of him, sneaking tendrils reaching… reaching.
Then there are cells lining the walls, and one of them is open, spilling dim light into the otherwise dark hall. As Vader rushes towards it, a Gamorrean is pushed out of the open door and hits the opposite wall with a crack. It’s not fatal; Vader can feel the guard’s weak pulsing in the Force. With a flick of his wrist, he makes it fatal.
And then he’s standing in front of the doorway, a towering figure of rage and darkness, and he feels his heart shatter a bit more at the sight within.
Luke is there, and he’s alive. But one of his wrists is shackled to the wall, the skin raw and bleeding as he dodges a weequayan reaching for him. A twi’lek is also reaching for him in short bursts, Luke clearly slowing him with the Force. But the boy’s focus is wavering, his eyes blown wide in terror, as he continues to try to move away from the weequayan’s grasping hands. He only has limited room, though, with his hand chained, and his steps are slower than they should be, a limp clearly visible. Vader also spots the blood trickling down Luke’s temple from beneath his dirt-stained hair, as well as the shuddering breaths he’s struggling to take in.
It takes less than two seconds for him to assess the situation, and then both guards are dropping to the ground, necks skewed at sharp angles, as Vader walks past them.
But before he can even touch Luke, he finds himself pushed backward by the Force, almost out the door again. It only works because he isn’t expecting it, but still, he stands frozen, again in the doorway, for longer than the push necessitates. Luke’s free hand, the prosthetic, is thrown out in front of him, and Vader can still feel the Force pressing at him, but Luke is weak, and it’s easy to push past it. Frustration flares at the futile action, though; the boy had called for him and now tries to push him away.
But as he takes another heavy step forward, the fear that had dissipated at seeing his son alive returns. Luke’s whole body is shaking, and he’s muttering something under his breath, his eyes darting around the cell, clearly unaware his father is even there. His terror is still stark in the Force, almost choking the light and warmth of his presence.
Vader steps forward, raising a placating hand, “Luke, I mean you no harm.”
But the boy’s head shakes sharply, and there’s a flare of pain in the Force at the movement, but Luke squeezes his eyes shut, hand still thrown out. But now the weight of the Force isn’t behind it, is no longer pressing Vader back. Now it is just a plea for Vader not to come any closer.
Vader does no such thing, stepping forward. He doesn’t yet know what is wrong with Luke, but the only place his son will be safe is in his arms. And he desperately needs medical attention.
Luke presses back against the stone wall behind him, as far back as he can get, but as Vader again steps closer, his mask finally picks up what Luke is muttering, “doesn’t- doesn’t count. No transmitter… doesn’t count.”
Vader’s gaze immediately shoots to the fallen guards he’d stepped over. And there--in the weequayan’s glove--a transmitter, waiting to be implanted.
Vader’s anger surges, stronger than anything he’s felt in years, a storm of pain and guilt and rage --rage that anyone would dare try to enslave his son. His son. The walls, the foundation beneath his feet, shakes, promises to come down around them.
Memories rise unbidden to his mind. A healer proclaiming that it would be more trouble than it was worth to remove the disabled hunk of metal from his neck. Obi-wan finding him holding a bloody knife and a mutilated hunk of metal, the red sticky liquid coating him as he panted because he’d needed it out.
But then he’s pulled from the tidal wave of emotions crashing through him by a pained whimper. Luke.
The boy’s leg gives out on him at the same moment Vader releases his anger, choosing instead to lunge towards Luke, catching him in his arms with ease as he snaps the chain around Luke’s wrist. Luke pushes frantically at his arms, eyes still shut, as he desperately tries to escape. Without thinking, Vader tilts his head down, dark helm resting gently against Luke’s blood-and-dirt-caked forehead, and closes his eyes, flooding their bond with his clear intentions of protection and safety, cradling Luke in his arms. His son. His battered and too-light, freeborn son who still burns brighter than any other being even in his confusion and injuries. The son he would give anything for. All of it flows freely across their bond.
He’s not sure how long they stay there before Luke’s breathing evens out, his presence dim but shining and clinging to Vader in the Force as a child clings to a parent’s clothing for reassurance. Still so young. He’s missed so much. Vader opens his eyes, tracing Luke’s features with his gaze; beneath the grime and blood of captivity, he has her nose.
And then Luke’s blinking up at him, and even though the hated mask distorts the color, Vader knows his eyes are blue.
It’s barely a whisper, hoarse and quiet, but warmth blooms in Vader’s chest, and he tightens his grip on Luke, pulling him even closer, “My son.” His voice is equally as quiet, a low rumble in the silence, and the words are filled with the grief and knowledge he carries every day: that he is nothing his son deserves, can never hope to be enough.
But Luke leans into his chest anyway, wincing when it pulls at the ribs Vader can tell are broken. He immediately reaches through the Force, surrounding Luke with the cold flames of his presence, and dampening the pain as much as he can. Luke sighs in relief, and his presence brightens infinitesimally. But then fear flashes through his eyes once more. Vader’s darkness spears outward, searching for whatever had caused it before the boy speaks, “Am I… Did they-” He can’t finish, almost choking on the last word, trying to pull himself even closer against Vader in the dim light of the cell.
Vader finally remembers where they are, what’s happened, and he responds quicker than he’d thought possible, “No, you are free. And free, you will remain.” It’s a promise, one he will not break, and he knows Luke senses the truth in it because he slumps against Vader’s chest, all adrenaline gone with the knowledge that he’d avoided the fate so dreaded by all those raised on Tatooine, especially by the freeborn son of a slave.
Finally, the world around them begins to filter back into Vader’s conscious awareness, and he straightens to his full height, pivots, and ducks out of the cell, back into the darkness of the hall. He deliberates for a moment, anger flaring at the monster seated a floor above, but his rage can never hope to outweigh his desire to keep his son safe. So he turns away from the throne room, intent on calling a shuttle so his son can receive medical treatment. He will deal with Jabba later.
But then there’s a tug on the mental bond, and he tilts his head down to look at Luke, still so light in his arms. There’s a frown tugging at his son’s cheeks, and he can tell the boy is staving off exhaustion by pure force of will. He starts to push the suggestion of sleep on his son, but Luke is quicker. The others. He coughs weakly, and Vader quickens his pace.
Luke gestures weakly behind them with a blood-stained hand. Han- my friends… and the other… slaves. Need… to help.
Vader hesitates, steps faltering, a memory of a promise he’d made long ago, in a different lifetime flashing in his mind. But he is not willing to risk Luke’s health.
Luke seems to sense this because he says, out loud this time, “I’ll be fine, Father. A day in bacta will fix everything.” He gazes pleadingly up at Vader, “They need us.”
And Vader is helpless against him. He probes Luke’s injuries in the Force: broken ribs, a concussion, a large gash hastily bandaged on his leg, and traces of a sedative. Each one fuels his anger, but he knows Luke is right; he will survive. It is only this knowledge that makes him turn on his heel--Luke clasped tightly against his chest--back toward the throne room. Luke’s small smile directed up at him is indeed worth it.