“Your snoring was truly impressive,” Vader remarked dryly, the moment Luke clambered from his little tent in the morning.
“Good morning,” Luke said pointedly, stretching his stiff limbs.
“I trust you can handle yourself for a while,” Vader said, ignoring Luke’s comment. “I suspect there is a spring close by, used by the pack that attacked us yesterday. I will attempt to acquire more fresh water for you to last until the shuttle arrives.”
Luke didn’t bother to ask Vader how he knew where to look, else he would get another lengthy lecture about the Force and how little he knew about it.
“What if they have stopped looking for us?” he asked instead, hoping that his voice didn’t sound too hopeful. He wouldn’t mind if it would take another few days, weeks or even longer until he had to face his potentially grim future.
“I thought you were not keen on being found?” Vader said with a little humor in his voice.
“I’m not… I just don’t want to be stuck here for the rest of my life.”
“There is no need to worry. I am sure our unwanted stay here won’t last much longer.”
Vader brusquely turned and marched off, leaving Luke to stare after him until he was out of sight between the thick undergrowth.
Luke closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the warmth of sun shining on his face and driving away the last coldness in his limbs still lingering from the night and the dismal thoughts of their impending rescue. It had admittedly been more comfortable to sleep in the little tent than to sleep out in the open.
Luke had sat in the grass and finished the last remaining ration bar and some of the grilled fish that was still left over from the evening before. The sounds of birds singing in the trees around floated over the clearing. Luke finished his meal. He had no idea how long Vader would take and he was growing bored rapidly.
Well, while he was waiting for his father he might as well practice some of the lightsaber skills Vader had taught him yesterday. Luke got up, stretching his back. He attached the blaster to his belt to have it handy in case Vader was wrong after all about the native predators only showing up around dawn. Luke picked up a long stick, wrapping his hands around it like he would hold a lightsaber. He could only hope that Vader would be true to his word and hand him his lightsaber back when he deemed him ready to handle the blade again. He slipped into the ready stance, bringing up his prop blade. He went through the simple form which Vader had showed him yesterday with more and more enthusiasm.
“You are progressing fast, son,” Vader said behind him, making Luke freeze up. Once more he hadn’t heard Vader approach him. “You have already greatly improved.”
Luke couldn’t help but grin at praise and he turned around to face Vader who stood a few meters away where he had apparently watched him going through the forms he had shown him.
“Thanks,” he said shyly.
“Now you merely need to shake yourself free of the imposed boundaries of the Jedi to unlock your full potential.”
“Ben said you used to be a Jedi…” Luke said, ignoring the jab and instead deciding to voice what had been on his mind for a while now.
“Kenobi always liked his little point of views,” Vader said.
“But he was right. I used to be a Jedi before I saw the errors of their ways.”
The sharp whine of an engine broke the surrounding noises of nature. Soon a shuttle became visible that approached from over the hills. Luke’s smile froze. It was a Lambda shuttle, gleaming in the sun. This was it, their time together was over.
The dread that had left Luke over the course of the past day was instantly back in full swing. Just how fast would Vader drop his friendly and understanding act or could he really be genuine in his concern for him? Luke wouldn’t be surprised if rescue would mean that he left this planet a prisoner of the Empire now Vader no longer needed even a semblance of Luke’s cooperation.
“Please, can’t I just stay here?” he ventured.
Vader approached him so rapidly it made Luke flinch.
“Do you have another sun-stroke?” he demanded, his hand snatching out to take hold of Luke’s chin and tilt his head up before Luke could sidestep him.
“You will not stay here. Much less on your own,” Vader said, firmly. “Nor will I allow you to regroup with that little insurgency of yours.”
Luke grimaced dismayed, but he had expected as much. He shook his head. “No, it’s not that.”
“Do you not wish to leave this place?” Vader asked, letting go of Luke’s chin, his masked gaze studying Luke’s unhappy face. “There is no reason to be nervous, son,” he said eventually, breaking Luke from his worrying. “I will pass you off as an Imperial pilot. If you keep quiet on the shuttle ride, nobody will question this version of the story.”
Luke huffed at that. “Not like I look the part, do I?” he said, gesturing down himself, his orange flight suit might be torn and dirty by now, but there was no way any Imperial would ever mistake him as one of theirs. As practical as the color of their jumpsuits was to locate downed pilots in almost every terrain, it was simple for even the most shoddily trained stormtrooper to peg the wearer for a member of the Rebel Alliance.
“That is easily rectified.” Vader turned and stalked towards the wreckage of his TIE fighter. When he returned he held a bundle of black clothes in his hand. He held it out to Luke who accepted it with a frown. Luke unfolded it, realizing when he had that he held an Imperial made pilots suit in his hand.
“Put it on, young one,” Vader said.
“Wh… you mean to tell me you had this the whole time and still let me run around in this? Why didn’t you give it to me earlier?”
Vader turned to stare at him, giving him a once over taking in the ripped and dirty suit. “It was not necessary,” he began slowly. “Besides it would have been easier to locate you in that infernal orange, should you have decided to attempt another escape.”
Luke’s mouth hung open incensed.
“Get changed,” Vader interrupted him, before Luke could voice his indignation at the casual remark. “The shuttle will land very shortly and if you do not wish to leave this planet as a prisoner you need to put these on.”
Luke bit his lip, but still didn’t budge. There was still so much he wanted to ask Vader, about his past and what would come now after the Imperials had found them. Over the past day Luke had actually become more and more comfortable around Vader, even if he would have never thought it to be possible. What if all of this would change and be undone once Vader had him back with the fleet.
“Do not worry. I will watch out for you, son,” Vader said, as if he had sensed Luke’s fears.
Luke gave a small nod, some of his worries reassured by the honesty he could feel from Vader over their bond. The engine noise became louder again as the shuttle came closer in a wide arch, homing in on their position. Luke unbolted his feet and made his way to the edge of the clearing. Just as he slipped behind the wreck of the TIE fighter that would hide him from view, the grey painted Lambda class shuttle passed over his head. Luke stared at it for a moment, his nerves fluttering, but then he shook himself from his musings. He really better got out of his rebel fatigues before anyone saw him.
He hastily unzipped his own flight suit and peeled it off. Luke stuffed it under some twigs. He merely took his Alliance dog tag, sown into a pocket of the suit, a token of his true affiliation. It felt weird to just leave his suit behind, but in the sorry state it was he couldn’t keep using it anyway. Still, putting on an Imperial uniform felt wrong. The noise of the shuttle’s engines got a little quieter as it sat down in the clearing.
There was nothing for it, he would have to do it, at least for now. Luke unfolded the black jumpsuit and slipped into it. It was way too large for him and with a grimace Luke rolled up the sleeves and trousers of the suit, hoping the ill fit wouldn’t be too obvious. He pocketed the metal dog tag deep into one of the many pockets of the black suit.
Luke stepped out from the shadow of the TIE fighter, feeling incredibly foreign and awkward in the black suit. He was sure the Imperials would realize there was something amiss about him the second they spotted him, but no one batted so much as an eye when he slowly approached the shuttles open boarding hatch.
Vader still stood a few steps from the ramp away receiving a detailed report from the very nervous looking officer in front of him on what he had missed out on in the past three days.
“Sir,” someone called out into his direction when Luke came closer, hesitant if he should join Vader. Luke looked in the direction of the junior officer approaching him quickly. “Are you alright, Sir? Do you require any assistance?” he asked, holding out a water bottle to Luke.
Luke took it and shook his head. “No,” he mumbled, his eyes darting again to Vader, standing a few steps from them who didn’t bother to turn and acknowledge Luke. The officer’s eyes had followed Luke’s gaze. When he turned back to Luke he looked at him almost pityingly. Luke took a big gulp of water, to save himself from having to answer to any awkward question.
“If you wish you can already board, Sir,” the officer said, nodding over to the shuttle. “The medic will want to check you over.”
Luke nodded and thanked him he trotted over to the open boarding ramp closely followed by the officer. He passed his father and the officer at the foot of the ramp, the man still giving a detailed report to Vader.
“… gathering near Kuat…”
Luke threw another brief glance at Vader, but he didn’t dare to stall. The junior officer was still right behind him and he was sure it would raise questions if Luke tried to listen in to the conversation. So far no one seemed to have realized that Luke wasn’t who he pretended to be and he was thankful for that.
The interior of the shuttle was only dimly lit in comparison to the bright sunlight outside. It took a moment until Luke’s eyes had adjusted to it and he could orientate himself. By the time he had spotted the medic the man was already onto him. Luke let the man steer him to one of the seats lining the passenger compartment of the shuttle and let himself be pushed into it. Before he knew it he had a medical sensor stabbed into his face. For some reason, the robust attitude of the man helped soothing Luke’s nerves. Nothing as reassuring as a bossy medic. In this regard, there seemed to be no difference between the Alliance and the Empire.
Vader boarded the shuttle shortly after him, he gave Luke a once over and Luke felt Vader’s Force presence brush against his own for a moment, assessing his mood. An unexpected explosion from outside made Luke flinch. Luke looked around, seeing through the closing boarding ramp the smoldering remains of the now fully destroyed TIE Advanced. His moment of shock passed. It made sense for the Imperials not to leave intact equipment behind that could fall into the wrong hands.
“My Lord, what about the other TIE?” The senior officer that was following Vader nodded to where Luke was sitting.
“No further action is necessary, his ship was sufficiently destroyed by the landing,” Vader replied dismissively, barely stopping in his determined stride toward the cockpit to throw a side glance at Luke himself. He glared in annoyance. Vader made it sound like he had wrecked his ship so thoroughly when in fact it had been Vader who had damaged his poor X-Wing beyond recognition. Luke chewed on his lip. It would raise uncomfortable questions if he’d tell Vader what he thought of this remark so he chose to stay quiet and swallow this one.
“Understood, my Lord.”
Vader marched through the compartment and disappeared into the cockpit as the ramp fully closed. Luke turned his head quickly to catch a last glimpse of the greenery of the planet. His nerves fluttered again when the ramp sealed and the engines of the shuttle fired up. Within moments the ship took off and blasted away from the planet’s surface, off to an unknown fate. He could only hope for the best. Luke swallowed and tried to rip his attention away from his uncertainty to the present.
He took a look around in the passenger compartment. Once more he had the feeling like everyone else in the shuttle was regarding him with sympathetic looks. Luke suppressed a small sigh at the notion that the Imperials might think that his silent manner was because he was shell shocked after having been forced to spend several days with Vader. Luke looked down, avoiding the collective stares of the shuttle crew. This was promising to by an awkward trip.
Luke picked absentmindedly at the stiff collar of the TIE pilot’s of duty jumpsuit that Vader had procured for him. It was a slightly better fit than the bulky flight suit he had disguised himself in, but it still felt foreign for him to wear. He had rarely had the opportunity to wear black so far. On Tatooine dark clothing was very inadvisable and in the short months with the Alliance he had mostly borrowed Han’s stuff when he wasn’t wearing the brighter colored fatigues the Alliance had provided for him.
The moment they had landed aboard on whatever star destroyer had been tasked with picking the Supreme Commander up, Vader having led him away from the shuttle crew. On their way through the grey, uniform hallways of the huge ship, Luke lost his orientation after a few turns, despite his best efforts. Vader had organized food and water and clothing and then left Luke to his own devices for a while when he had announced he had to catch up on the paperwork that had been piling up in the past days. Running the Imperial fleet seemed to be a lot more boring and tedious than Luke had imagined.
So Luke was on his own in a room, Spartan, but furnished with a seat and a cot. Luke had ignored the bunk and instead taking up position in front of the floor length viewport offering a stunning view onto the ship stretching out in front of him and into space beyond.
He gazed into the ever-changing constellations as the vessel made its steady way through the system they were in. In his thoughts, Luke was still on the lush, hot planet where he had . This was how Vader found him. Absorbed in his thoughts, Luke didn’t notice him until Vader stood right next to him. Luke looked up, seeing Vader’s mask reflected in the viewport.
“I sort of miss that place,” Luke said, a twinge of sadness in his voice. “It was so green and peaceful. Well maybe apart from those dog things.”
“We should do that sometime again,” Luke said, staring back out into the stars beyond the viewport. At least on the planet he had other things to think and worry about than the greater good of the whole galaxy and his destiny and place in it.
“Crash landing?” Vader enquired with a thick layer of sarcasm in his voice.
“No,” Luke rolled his eyes. “I mean a holiday.”
“I would hardly call this a holiday.”
Luke grinned. “Well, we didgo camping. I mean technically.”
“I have no inclination to repeat this,” Vader said firmly. “It was dangerous and a pointless waste of time.”
“Oh, come on. It was fun…” Luke broke off at the funny noise that escaped Vader’s vocoder that sounded very much like a derisive snort. “Well, not all of it and you could have told me earlier you are my father, but it was fun in the end.”
Vader took a stepped behind him, placing both his hands on Luke’s shoulders. Luke looked up into his father’s reflection in the transparisteel and he was sure Vader was watching him too for a long moment. “It… was at times enjoyable,” he finally replied, some fondness in his mechanical voice that Luke was sure he hadn’t just imagined.
Luke smiled and as if in response Vader gave his shoulders a small squeeze. Staring at their reflection, Vader towering behind him and easily a head taller Luke thought briefly back to how much terror he had felt when he had first spotted the black form between the trees, still tied up in the wreckage of his X-Wing awaiting his interrogation.
As if in response to his thoughts Vader pulled him a little closer to his chest. “I will watch out for you,” Vader said, a fierce conviction in his voice. He brushed a hand over Luke’s blonde mop of unruly hair, ruffling it. The bond somehow seemed to exist between them felt a little stronger to Luke.
And Luke knew, that despite his way wouldn’t be easy, he wasn’t lost. The common ground they had found on the green little planet was still there. There wasstill good in his father and he would bring him back to the light.
Vader gave him a small pat on the back and turned to leave. Luke turned his head, following him with his eyes. In the door Vader stopped for a brief moment and Luke caught some of Vader’s feelings through the Force.
“You were about to lock me in,” Luke said, exasperated.
Vader straightened, his helmet tilting a little to the side. “I was not,” he replied.
“Yes, you were,” Luke said with certainty, unable to stop himself from grinning. “I said, I’ll stay with you, father. And I mean it.”
Vader was silent for a long moment before he replied.
“I know, son.”