As far as “first missions back in the field after four and a half weeks of medical leave” went, this one was fairly straightforward – get in, wipe any data that might have been left behind, plant the charges, get out, blow the place to the sky. The base itself was a small spy outpost, a place where some of their deep cover agents were able to coordinate, brief and debrief before and after being in the field. It was a highly temporary base, staying occupied for a very brief period of time before being vacated for fear of being discovered by the Empire – which it had been. A small team was assembled to destroy any information that might risk their agents occupying the most precarious positions.
Quick, clean, and low risk, it seemed like the perfect mission to get Luke back on his feet. Sure, the base’s proximity to the core had the potential to prove problematic, but given where the bulk of the Imperial Starfleet was reported to be operating, they would be able to get in and out before any Star Destroyers would be at risk of entering the system. Even better, every report placed Vader in the Outer Rim, squashing one uprising or another. So High Command declared him fit to return to duty, assigned him a small squad, and collectively breathed a sigh of relief that their resident Jedi and poster boy was back in action.
All, that was, except for Leia.
She’d admitted to him, before he left, that she had a bad feeling about this. He’d had to suppress a pang of guilt as he echoed High Command’s justifications for sending him on this mission in the first place, knowing full well that Leia worried about him, but he needed to go on this mission. He’d been growing increasingly restless, desperate for some form of escape from the anxieties and nightmares that had been plaguing him since Bespin, and this mission seemed like the perfect opportunity to distract his uneasy mind and return to some semblance of normalcy. Luke trusted Leia implicitly, and he knew her instincts had saved their skins on more than one occasion, but he suspected that, no matter how low-risk the assignment was, she would worry. Leia was the one person to keep him stable since that fateful day on Cloud City, the one port in the storm that his life had become, but the weight of the last few weeks also seemed to compound every one of her fears and all of her concern for his wellbeing. He’d be able to make it up to her when he returned to the fleet alive and well and ready to make the preparations for Han’s rescue.
And he would be there to help prepare to rescue Han. He owed her that much, and since this mission was near its completion, Luke was confident that he would be able to keep his word.
“Got my charge in place, Boss.”
The words crackled over his commlink and Luke allowed a sigh of relief as some of the tension that had crept into his body released from his shoulders. He hadn’t realized how stiff he’d gotten, how apprehensive he’d become since they’d landed, but with the final confirmation coming through, he shook it off and moved to finish up this mission. “That’s great, Janson, you and the rest of the team can head back to the fleet. I’ll finish things up here and then meet you at the rendezvous for debrief.”
Silence echoed for a few stiff, seemingly elongated seconds before Janson’s voice rang through again, coated heavily with reluctance. “Is that an order, sir?” It was strange, hearing any of the Rogues’ voices sound so stiff, so stilted, laced with so much hesitation. “All due respect, I think it’s probably best we leave as a unit, Commander.”
A minute scowl twitched at Luke’s brow, an edge of uncertainty and frustration creeping over him. He hadn’t missed the way everyone seemed to be treating him these days, treading on eggshells as though a singular misplaced word could shatter him into a million little pieces. That the Rogues treating him that way made him… weary, to say the least. Allowing himself a private little sigh before responding, Luke instilled as much confidence as he could manage into his voice when he spoke into the commlink once more. “I’ve got a couple things to finish up here before we can trigger the detonation, and they’re best done by one person. We’ve all been in this system long enough, and if things go sideways, I’ve got a better chance of getting outta here than any of you. Get yourselves to hyperspace and I’ll be right behind you. I promise. So just head out once the jump is calculated. Please.”
The silence was shorter, this time, though still deafening, but a weight lifted from his shoulders when the reply did come through. “Understood. We’ll see you on the other side, Boss.” A pause. “Oh, and Commander? Luke?” The use of his given name told him that, as much as Wes was joking, he was also deathly serious with whatever declaration came next. “You don’t make the rendezvous within a reasonable timeframe after we do? And I will personally knock your backside into the next galaxy after we come retrieve you. Understood?”
Allowing a wry chuckle to echo in his throat, Luke shook his head. “Perfectly. See you on the other side, Wes.”
A quick succession of confirmations buzzed over the commlink, and he released just a little bit more of the tension that had built up once again. His team was safe and, very soon, he would be too.
After confirming his charge was in place, Luke moved quickly to the main computer room to check the database wipe procedure, where it proudly declared that it was nearly complete. In a matter of minutes, he’d be able to take off in his own starfighter and set the charges to blow before making the jump into hyperspace and keeping his word to each of his friends. Dim pride swelled within him. This mission would succeed, without a hitch, and he’d be able to prove to everyone – including himself – that he could still be of value to the Rebellion after Cloud City.
Still… he couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been too easy. The last thing Luke wanted to do was to dismiss their success out of hand but, in his experience, no mission went off entirely according to plan, and there was a niggling feeling prodding at the back of his skull. ‘Don’t jinx it, Skywalker,’ he thought to himself, frowning slightly. ‘You’re not off-world yet. There’s still time for something to go wrong.’
Immediately, as the hissing rasp of the respirator echoed in the small space of the control room, he suddenly realized just how wrong things could actually go.
A million questions instantly flooded Luke’s mind as panic began to overtake him. How had he not noticed him sooner? What was he doing here? How could his luck be this rotten? Was this the Force’s idea of some form of sick, cruel joke? Why did this have to happen when he wasn’t anywhere near equipped to handle this so soon after that revelation? How could he ever hope to live this down when he finally faced Leia and the Rogues again? Had this entire mission been a miscalculation – or worse, a trap – that would only prove he was better off languishing in the medbay of Home One for another few weeks? And, most importantly…
How in the Nine Corellian Hells was he going to get out of this alive?
Heart pounding in his chest and stomach performing backflips in his gut, Luke turned, slow as he could, to face the hulking behemoth who was, inexplicably, here, when he was meant to be halfway across the galaxy. His – Vader stood silhouetted in the doorway, blocking Luke’s only exit with his hands planted firmly on his hips and an impassive air radiating off him. He resisted the urge to pinch himself to confirm that this was reality and not another one of his nightmares, but even without that check, he knew this was no dream. Realistic as those could get, nothing his mind produced could ever quite match the oppressive weight of frigid darkness that his f – Darth Vader emanated.
Several moments of impassive staring passed between them, and if Luke hadn’t been too busy trying to wrangle his breathing and heart rate back to something resembling calm, he might have noted the nearly awkward air that stretched between them. He remained rooted to the spot, frozen and unable to do anything beyond desperately suppress his terror, even when the Dark Lord took his first steps forward. It wasn’t long, however, before his panic peaked and he regained the presence of mind to scramble backwards and cry out.
“No! Don’t come any closer.”
Vader hesitated for a moment, helmet tilting briefly to one side, before the vocoder’s equivalent of a scoff filled the room and he began moving forward again. “You hardly seem to be in a position to make such demands, Skywalker.”
Feeling the wall press against his back, Luke’s eyes went wild for a second before he brandished the detonator still clutched in his fist. “No? This detonator I’ve got seems to suggest otherwise.” Vader froze once again at that, which Luke took as a cue to barrel on. “This whole place is rigged to blow. I push this button, it comes down on top of us. You’ve got that armour. I’m sure you’ll walk away from this just fine. But me…”
The implication hung in the air for several cycles of the respirator before Vader rumbled out a response. “You have survived worse.” Was he imagining the hint of bitterness laced throughout those words?
“Maybe so,” Luke conceded with a shrug, doing his best to remain nonchalant. “Is that a risk you wanna take?”
He definitely didn’t imagine the wave of apprehension that rolled off of Vader as he remained rooted to the spot, eyeplates fixed unflinchingly on Luke. This entire gambit rode on the hope that Vader hadn’t decided to make good on his promise that Luke would be destroyed if he didn’t join him… Evidently, he not only wanted Luke alive, but he was also apparently reluctant to risk causing him any further harm. The implications of that were… unsettling, to say the least.
Several uncomfortable moments ticked on between them, Luke resisting the urge to shift back and forth on his feet, before Vader spoke again. “Very well,” he rumbled. “I will not approach you any further.” Luke felt a wave of triumph roll off him at that declaration, pleased – if taken aback – that he’d scored this victory, but it froze in place as Vader continued. “But neither will I retreat.”
Luke blinked in shock a few times, breath hitching in his throat, but he quickly cursed himself for being stupid enough to think it would be that easy. Of course Vader wasn’t going to just walk away. He had the elusive Luke Skywalker backed into a corner; he was far too obsessive to give that up just because his quarry was holding himself hostage. The Dark Lord would find another way to get what he wanted.
Which meant Luke would have to do the same.
Expression schooled into a determined scowl, he met the emotionless mask that hadn’t twitched away from him since it had breezed into the room. He did his best to recover from the initial shock of Vader’s appearance and compose himself in a manner far more resolved and assured than he was actually feeling. After a few deep, steadying breaths, Luke jerked his head in a curt nod and tried to infuse his voice with as much nonchalance as he could muster. “Fine. Stay, then. We can stand here staring at each other for the rest of our lives.”
“If that is your wish, then so be it.” Was that amusement he heard in Vader’s words? Was the man toying with him again?
It took every ounce of his self control to wrangle the juvenile flare of anger and frustration that rose in him at being regarded as such a… fool, such a child. But even as he pushed those emotions back down, he couldn’t deny that he hadn’t thought this through in the least, and it was obvious that Vader knew that as well. He had to find some other way out of this. He just needed time to think, time to plan a distraction, to slip past and make his escape…
“Or,” the deep baritone of Vader’s vocoder drew Luke out of his speculations with a flinch he struggled to suppress, “if you prefer…” It was strange – so incredibly uncharacteristic and unexpected – to feel the hint of hesitation roll off of a being who had, certainly, made every choice in his life with brutal decisiveness, but Luke could find no other way to describe what filled the momentary silence that hovered between them. “Perhaps you and I could agree to an exchange of information.”
Vehement defiance instantly flooded Luke’s being as he attempted to turn his glare as red-hot as he could manage. “Never. I’m not going to tell you anything.”
A static crackling that might have been either a sigh or a scoff burst forth from the vocoder as Vader, finally, made his first move since Luke pulled the detonator. The helmet inclined to one side, just a touch, and the gaze behind those crimson lenses seemed to shift minutely. “And yet, you have many questions of your own. Do not deny to me your curiosity, I can sense it burning within you. I am merely offering answers to… select pieces of information you seek in exchange for the responses to my own inquiries.”
That same juvenile instinct within Luke ached at that prospect. While he still refused to think of Vader as his – as anyone other than his father’s murderer… he still could not deny there were answers he could provide that no one else could. Burning curiosity proved difficult to combat, and while he did all he could to remain defiant, his resolve cracked somewhat as the possibilities of Vader’s proposal presented themselves to him. Besides, the conversation would buy him time to think of a way out of this.
He wasn’t just about to blindly agree to it, though. Luke wasn’t that stupid. The motivations behind Vader’s suggestion were a mystery, and he found himself at somewhat of a loss for words.
From the other side of the room, Vader folded his arms across his chest and made a low humming sound. “If you are determined in your obstinacy and choose to stand by your first choice, it is of no consequence to me.” The words sounded sharper than the ones he spoke before, hinting that it was, possibly, of some consequence to him, but the Force offered nothing in the way of confirmation. “I am more than willing to simply stare at one another.”
Somehow, proposed by Darth Vader, the idea of just locking their gazes in silence for the duration of their standoff seemed more unappealing – not to mention unsettling – to Luke than filling the silence and possibly getting some answers in the process. Not that he particularly preferred either option, but he was in a tight spot and would have to choose one of them if he had any chance of formulating an escape plan. “What sort of… information did you have in mind.”
Vader’s hands fell away from his chest to rest at his sides, his stance shifting from imposing to… well, not casual, and definitely not relaxed, but certainly less austere. Luke was tempted to go so far as to call it awkward, but that was probably just how he himself was feeling.
“Nothing overtly sensitive. I will not tell you Imperial secrets, nor do I expect you to offer information on the Rebellion.” Luke frowned a bit in response. That was… unexpected. He was sure Vader would be set on interrogating him. “Beyond the current location of your base, I doubt that very little of the information you have access to would be of use to me.” Oh. That would explain it. Before Luke had the chance to bristle or protest, Vader ploughed on. “There are, however, a great many unanswered questions between us. We would reserve the right to refuse certain lines of inquiry, of course, but I believe this to be an opportunity for us to… discover some truths about one another.”
That… was even more unexpected. He’d been certain that Vader was offering some exchange of low-level Alliance information for answers to questions about the Force. But this… “You mean… you want to, what, get to know me?” This was going too far.
“If that is how you wish to put it, yes.”
Luke was amazed that his jaw hadn’t audibly hit the floor. Time seemed to stop as he stood there gaping, absolutely dumbstruck. “You… No. Forgive me if I don’t believe you, but no. This has got to be some kind of trick. There’s no way that’s really what you want. Last time we met, you didn’t seem so keen on getting to know me – or even talking all that much, for that matter. So why should I believe that’s what you want now?”
The temperature in the room plummeted, and Luke suppressed a shiver as a storm gathered between him and Vader. “I seem to recall that you drew your saber first, on Bespin, Skywalker.” His surname was hissed, the bitterness infused in that one word palpable in the air surrounding them, but a brief pause quelled the outburst and Vader continued, calm once again. “The outcome of that confrontation was… regrettable. A miscalculation. I could not predict your actions there, however, and was forced to act accordingly. But you are my s– ”
“No!” He refused to hear that word escape Vader’s mouth, refused to have that declaration flung at him again…
“You are my son,” Vader insisted, as the Force rang out in agreement, “and I have wanted to know you since I first discovered your existence.” Luke felt a wave of despair wash over him as his resolve weakened, somewhat, and a fresh, traitorous bout of longing began to rise within him. “You still deny the truth. Search your feelings. Listen to the Force. It will not lie to you. I am your father. You are my son. Your foolish protests will not change that.”
Admitting the truth – accepting it for what it was – after weeks of refusing to even think about it felt… Well. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it, actually. But the prospect of learning something about his father, of finally uncovering some truths he’d been denied for so long… It was tempting.
“We have both been robbed of over twenty years of knowing each other,” Vader continued, voice softening just a shade. “I simply think it prudent for us to take advantage of this opportunity to… make up for lost time.”
Fidgeting unconsciously with the detonator between his fingers, Luke thought about it for a few moments more. Vader stood impassively, seemingly unwilling to argue his point any further. There was a chance he was giving Luke a few charitable moments to consider, but it was far more likely that he was choosing not to waste any more words on a lost cause. If the arguments he’d already presented didn’t convince Luke, nothing would. Stilling the detonator in his hands and instead shifting back and forth on his feet, he raised his eyes to meet the crimson gaze of his father. “Okay.” He’d already given on up denying what his father had become, what more did he have to lose?
Vader nodded once, apparently appeased, and immediately cut in before Luke had the chance to even reach for one of the myriad of questions swirling in his mind. “Good,” he declared, voice dripping with satisfaction, then barrelled on. “You grew up on Tatooine,” he said, disgust promptly replacing satisfaction, “secreted away by Kenobi.” The sentiment seemed to grow beyond disgust, if that was possible, at the mention of Ben, and Luke couldn’t suppress the involuntary shudder the sheer malice in his father’s voice sent through him. He hoped, silently, that Vader would arrive at his point soon. As it was, he paused briefly to collect himself before continuing. “You are strong in the Force, yet you remain largely untrained. Given your circumstances, that seems unlikely.”
“And you’re wondering why,” Luke prompted, brows knitting slightly. Confirmation came in the form of a shallow nod, and he continued. “My training didn’t start until I left Tatooine, just before the Death Star. I never saw much of Ben growing up. He lived out by the Dune Sea, I grew up with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru near Anchorhead, and Uncle Owen really didn’t like him at all. Called him a crazy old wizard and sent him away if he ever came around. Told me not to bother with him. Ben said it was ‘cause he wanted to protect me from following him off on some foolish, idealistic adventure, like my – ” He stiffened, the word catching in his throat, and tension rose in the air. Some of that tension also spread through Vader’s shoulders, but when he made no move to lash out, Luke swallowed thickly and finished the thought. “ – like my father. They just wanted to keep me safe, my aunt and uncle. Wanted me to have as normal a life as I could. If that meant keeping Ben away from me and me away from the Force, then that’s what they did.”
“They would have been wise to allow you to learn some basic shielding techniques, at the least,” Vader said, each word slow and deliberate, “but they did well in keeping you from Kenobi. Your guardians performed… adequately, raising you in my stead.” As grudgingly as it was delivered, that was perhaps the closest thing to praise that Vader could offer. Luke was stunned. This man was proving to be an endless source of surprises. He never would’ve guessed that it was even possible for the Emperor’s Enforcer – a man known for being ruthless in his brutality, relentless in his obsession and unforgiving in his standards – to express anything even resembling what could only be called gratitude. Even if it was, he supposed, just because his aunt and uncle had kept him away from Ben, it was still unexpected.
“They were good people,” he said around the lump forming in his throat, the heavy ball of unprocessed grief that he’d been carrying nearly untouched for three years. “Taught me hard work. Integrity. They cared for me. Loved me. They were my family.” From across the room, a storm began to brew, but Vader kept it tightly leashed. Luke sucked in a slow, deep breath. “They… they told me stories about Grandmother Shmi,” he whispered, that lump in his throat migrating down to form an ache in his chest.
The brewing storm grew, writhing and pulsing around them, growing increasingly difficult to keep leashed. “I have no wish to speak of her.” Within the storm swirled a twisted blend of emotions – pain, anger, longing, hatred, resentment – that lashed out and licked at the imposing black armour covering the man standing within its eye.
Perhaps Luke wasn’t alone in carrying unprocessed grief…
“I understand.” Bowing his head slightly, he decided to redirect the conversation to something Vader would hopefully be willing to answer. “They didn’t like talking about the past much either, Uncle Owen especially. But… well, I always got the impression that, even though there was a lot that they refused to tell me, there was even more that they just… didn’t know. Did you ever meet them?”
There was a pause. “Once.” Vader uttered the word with a weight that suggested that was all he would say on the subject.
That was, of course, unacceptable to Luke. “Is that all you have to say? What’s the point of an information exchange if I’m the only one giving you any information!”
Electricity crackled through the still, icy air, silence drowning out even the measured hiss of the respirator. Luke’s own breath seem to catch in his throat, and the atmosphere was pressing against his skull. All he could do was bulge his eyes in brief panic and try to scramble back even farther, press his back into the wall even harder. This was the oppressive calm before a raging sandstorm, threatening to swallow him whole, and he sent out a silent apology to everyone he had ever loved. Whatever patience Vader’d had before, whatever mercy he’d extended to Luke for being his son, had run its course, pushed too far by blasted curiosity…
And just like that, it dissipated. Vader appeared to deflate, minutely, the barest hint of resignation mingling with the tempest that now lay dormant. “I met them once. I returned to Tatooine to look for… They helped direct my search. They were with me as I buried her.” Each word was ground out, bearing its own level of grave importance.
Feeling the weight behind what his father had said, Luke’s shoulders slumped and his heart sunk. “Oh.” While the words were not much, seemed to reveal so little, they told him far more than he ever could have hoped. It was strange… Just moments before, he’d been certain that he’d die at the hand of the man standing before him. Now, he felt a newfound level of connection, of sympathy, and deep, vast uncertainty.
In an instant, as if snapping out of a deep dream, Vader stood straight and stiff as ever. All emotion drained from the air and, as though nothing had been said, he cut in with another question of his own. “Your piloting skills are impressive. I’ve known men who have trained longer than you have been alive who could not match you in flight. When did you learn?”
“Taught myself,” Luke said with a shrug. “Uncle Owen said no any time I asked to apply to the Academy, so I saved up, bought myself an old T-16 Skyhopper and learned on that.”
“That model is built for atmospheric flight only,” Vader observed flatly. “When did you hone your skills in spaceflight?”
Suddenly, Luke felt self-conscious. He’d explained this countless times to other rebels, to mixed results. Some would just shake their heads, dismissing it as impossible and dismissing him as glory-seeking or an idiot farmboy who had only survived this long because of dumb luck that was sure to run out. Others would believe him, to an extent, but still assume he was exaggerating. There were a few, though, who recognized his name, would examine him a little bit closer, and express no surprise whatsoever. He’d gotten used to it with the people he was comfortable with but… he definitely wasn’t prepared to find out how Darth Vader – his father – would react.
“Well, first time was at Yavin,” he admitted, feeling his cheeks heat up. “They were desperate, with the Death Star looming. Took any help they could get. I mean, they were reluctant to let me fly, tested me out in a simulator first, but the controls are similar enough to the Skyhopper. Just took a few adjustments to get used to the X-wing, and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Ran the simulator a couple times, scored high enough for them to figure, hey, worst thing that happens if I fly is I get shot down, and if they don’t send up all the pilots they got then we’re all going down anyways. So they cleared me to fly with Red Squadron and, well, you know the rest…”
Response came in the form of stunned silence, Vader actually seeming taken aback. “Most pilots would choose a more leisurely pursuit than the destruction of the Death Star for their first flight beyond the atmosphere.”
Luke wondered what it meant that he wasn’t even fazed by the amusement that coloured Vader’s voice. “Yeah, well, I’m not most pilots.”
“No, you are not,” Vader conceded. “You are a Skywalker.”
A brief thrill worked its way through him, and Luke found himself perking up enough that he could almost forget how absurd it was for him to be chatting so casually with someone he had, up until a few minutes ago, considered his mortal enemy. “You said you’ve wanted to know me since you discovered my existence… When – when did you figure out who I was?”
“After Cymoon. Fett revealed your identity to me.”
“Oh…” He couldn’t quite call it disappointment that rippled through him at that answer, but he had been hoping for something… more. “Did you – I mean was I… expected?” He’d never known. At least, not for certain. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru didn’t know his mother. They wouldn’t talk about his father. They had few answers and spoke little of the ones they did. Fixer and the others would offer up their speculations. It was Tatooine, after all, and there were worse things you could be than the unwanted bastard son of a dead spice freighter navigator. But Luke always knew, somehow – always hoped – that no matter what the others said about his parents, they would have both loved him. “Did… my mother tell you about me?” His voice grew so quiet that it threatened to crack. “Did – did you… know her? Love her?”
Yet again, the temperature in the room plunged. Vader’s hands were balled into tight, creaking fists at his sides and minute cracks began to spiderweb along the screens lining the walls of the control room. The violent swing of his father’s mood was beginning to make Luke dizzy.
“I do not wish to speak of her, either,” Vader hissed, barely audible beneath the strain in his voice that marked his struggle to maintain control.
It was most definitely disappointment squeezing at his heart, this time, mingling with that longing, lonesome ache that seemed to hold permanent residence there. “Alright.”
Vader’s fists unclenched, and though there was still a distinct iciness in the air, it felt softer, somehow. “You were… wanted, though. Learning of your m –” The word was cut short so abruptly that, if not for Vader’s minute flinch backwards, it might have been passed off as a vocoder malfunction. The error was brief, however, and he quickly regained composure, correcting himself. “Discovering that I was to be a father… was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Warmth welled in his chest, hope and relief combining to wrap themselves around that ever-present ache, causing it to grow but also become more bearable. For all his dreaming, he’d never imagined he would actually get confirmation that his parents had been happy to accept him, that they loved him before he was even him, had, it seemed, loved each other. He felt light-headed with dizzying elation, and he could feel the thoughts tumbling in his head. A floodgate threatened to burst. Every question about his mother pressed against it, every detail he never thought to seek, because nobody could ever tell him anything. But now –
“The past holds nothing but pain, Luke.” All the enthusiasm that had been building within him ebbed at the odd tone that had worked its way into Vader’s words. It was not vulnerable, leaving no opening for either tenderness or attack, but it felt imploring, somehow. It promised consequences it could not predict that would benefit neither of them. “You would be better served asking about the present. Or the future.”
That sobered Luke up. The future… The words thrown at him on Cloud City suddenly echoed in his mind. Promises of joint conquest, a future that lay in their hands, ready to be moulded however they saw fit, if only Luke would turn, would sell his soul and sacrifice everything he was… Did his father realize what he was asking of him? Did he know what the Dark Side would do to him? Or, maybe, that’s what this had been all about. Maybe, after learning more about him, his father would understand why he’d let himself fall from the gantry, why he’d made the choices he had, why he could never turn. If Vader wanted him to ask about the present – about the future – then he would.
“Do you still want me to join you?” he whispered. “Do you still expect me to fall to the Dark Side? Or…” Or will you turn me over to the Emperor? He could hardly bring himself to think the words, didn’t want to ask them, for fear of what the answer might be, but he had to ask. He needed to know.
Before he had the chance to finish his question, though, an unfamiliar voice crackled through a commlink on the other side of the room. “All charges have been successfully deactivated, Lord Vader,” it declared, proudly, cutting the pleasantries between father and son woefully short.
Luke’s initial panic made a swift return as it dawned on him just what those words meant – he’d lost his bargaining chip. A panicked click of the detonator confirmed as much. Even worse, he’d been so caught up in the information exchange that he hadn’t even used the time to think of a way out of here. Blast!
“Good work, Commander,” Vader said to whatever trooper or officer was on the other end of his commlink. He was distracted… If Luke was going to escape, it was now or never.
“You and your squad may return to the ship. Your duty has been fulfilled.”
Frantically, he threw his gaze around the room as Vader spoke. He was still planted firmly in the doorway, which ruled out that method of escape.
“I will return on my personal shuttle when my business here is concluded.”
There was a vent on the wall to his right, fairly narrow and sealed shut, but Luke was small, and he could easily blast it open.
“Inform Admiral Piett that I am not to be met with a greeting party on my return.”
It was also pretty high up, but that was nothing a Force-assisted jump couldn’t handle.
“I expect every member of my crew to be in their assigned positions when I arrive, is that clear?”
He would have to time it just right…
“Yes, My Lord!”
Several things happened in quick succession. First, as Vader barked a confirmation into his commlink, Luke’s hand flew to his holster and whipped out his blaster quicker than he’d ever done before. Vader must have been expecting it to be aimed at him, which meant the shot exploded across the vent’s cover unimpeded. By the time Vader realized he didn’t have to deflect a blaster bolt, Luke was already halfway across the room, the vent nearly within reach. Just a few more steps, then he could jump –
The moment his feet left the ground, he found himself frozen in place, suspended above the floor with the vent just beyond his grasp. He couldn’t move, but he struggled against the invisible hold on him anyways. If he could, he’d be thrashing in mid-air.
“Be still, my son.” Luke did freeze, at that, but it was not because Vader had asked him to. “I will not harm you.” It was because, if it was even possible, his voice sounded, almost… gentle.
That thought caused Luke to struggle again, this time successfully thrashing in the air a few times before the grip tightened, forcing him immobile again, and set him down directly in front of Vader. “No! Stop, please, just stay away!” He was struggling again, desperate to scramble backwards and put some distance between them. “You – we were talking! You said – to think I believed you actually wanted to know me…” Panic and desperation gave way to despair, and he squeezed his eyes shut to stopper the tears that threatened to spring forth. “You weren’t even supposed to be here…” I wasn’t ready for this.
A heavy, gloved hand rested on his shoulder, and Luke swallowed the whimper that almost escaped. “Luke…” The hand on his shoulder shifted to rest momentarily on his cheek before it withdrew sharply. “The proximity of this base to the core demanded my personal attention. That is why I am here. Your presence here was merely a fortunate coincidence.”
Luke’s eyes flew open, levelling a glare at Vader’s mask, and he was about to make a retort, but instead all he managed was a sharp inhale as a pinprick bit into his neck. The world around him grew hazy, and he wobbled backwards on his feet only to be steadied by a sturdy grip on his back. Through bleary eyes, he blinked up at the mask that had inexplicably appeared just inches from his face. “Wh –” All he could manage was confused mumbling; it felt like speaking around a mouth full of govath-wool. He still did all he could to protest and wriggle away, but whatever had been in that hypospray was working its way through his system far too quickly for him to manage much more than weak, half-hearted struggles. Eventually, he gave up and allowed himself to slump into the solid hold that had settled along his back.
“This was always going to end this way, Luke.” The words echoed distantly, rattling in his brain, resonating in his soul. “If your charges remained active, you would have grown weary and our standoff would have come to a close regardless.” Somehow, he knew that. He’d always known that. Right now, in his delirium, he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “I did want to know you, though.” A pause, only seconds in length, but seemingly infinite in its weight. “I still do.” Something in the Force had shifted, he just couldn’t quite tell what. “Now rest, son. The time for answers will come later.”
Blackness washed over his vision and Luke felt himself slipping into a peaceful oblivion. As he slid into unconsciousness, his last thoughts were to curse himself for allowing himself to be distracted and fooled by Vader’s proposition, and to hope that, maybe, this wouldn’t be the death sentence he’d originally expected.
Vader could scarcely believe it. The boy was cradled in his arms with a delicacy and care he had not thought his prosthetics – or himself – capable of. It had been a very long time since he’d had the need or desire to be careful or tender with something – or someone. Looking over the sleeping face of his son, however, and feeling his negligible weight in his arms… Some deep, long-buried piece of him twitched. It was traitorous, something he’d thought long since extinguished, but it longed to reawaken upon examining the lithe figure clutched against his chest.
This boy… this impossible, infuriating boy… was his son. Hints of them both could be traced in his features, his parentage undeniable. Even in the way he spoke, the way he held himself, it was remarkable how much of a resemblance he bore. Though his frame was slight and his stature short, he held himself with such assured confidence that one would never expect his height to be the disadvantage it truly was. His eyes were light – blue, if he wasn’t mistaken – but held the flame of righteous passion that was so familiar it ached. He spoke his mind and leapt into action with reckless abandon, held his own life with little regard but found value in all who surrounded him. There was anger in him, and pain, and fear, but how hot it burned and for how long remained unclear. There was still so much to learn of his son, still so many discoveries to make, but already, one thing had been made abundantly clear.
This would not be easy.
Their exchange had been far too brief. His troopers were efficient, and while he was satisfied with their competence, he could not help but feel a twinge of disappointment that he could not discover more about his child before their time was up. Clearly his approach at Bespin had been the wrong choice to sway his son to his side, but choosing the correct strategy and working out how to truly appeal to the boy would take careful planning and preparation. Without a clearer picture, he could not devise anything effective just yet.
And Luke… He had gotten even less than Vader had. He had been foolish to think that the boy would not ask about Skywalker, he should have known his son would ask the exact questions that would dredge up the most pain from his past. Luke would get his answers though. Not all at once, not in every detail, but he had been lied to long enough, so he would get the truths he deserved.
In time, they both would.
Because now, at last, the child was his. After nearly two decades of being lied to by his master, after three years of relentless pursuit, after the stinging pain of rejection, he finally had what he’d always ever wanted – family. And, perhaps, with time and patience, he could begin to make things right. Luke would come to see his point of view, and together they would fulfill the destiny they’d been chosen for, as father and son.