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Saga - OT A Matter of Time (AU, ESB) H/L, Luke, Vader, Lando

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Ridley Solo, Apr 5, 2018.

  1. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Beautiful and touching. Your vulnerable Han is so in character and just adorbs!! =D= Leia's thoughts are understandable too. @};- They need to go with her intuition [face_batting]
     
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  2. Sara_Kenobi

    Sara_Kenobi Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Sep 21, 2000
    My heart broke for Han, Leia and Chewie. Hopefully they'll learn something about Luke. [face_dancing]
     
  3. JediMaster_Jen

    JediMaster_Jen Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2002
    I was crying right along with Han. :_| Hope they get some news about Luke soon. Great update!=D=
     
  4. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2010
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Yes, indeed! Listen to those feelings, Leia! You're not just imagining them! [face_shame_on_you]
    @Sara_Kenobi Patience....
    @JediMaster_Jen Aw, don't cry! [:D] Don't worry...I don't want to spoil anything, but our friends *will* find each other again.

    Back to Luke....
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Part Thirteen

    Luke was so occupied in keeping Vader out of his mind that he didn't sleep more than two hours. His battle with the Dark Side was exhausting. What little sleep he did have was filled with another nightmare.

    When the 'evening' ended promptly at 0600 Coruscant Standard Time, automated lights switched to their full power. Luke greeted the 'morning' with a soft groan and rose to stretch. Might as well get used to it, Skywalker….

    Luke frowned. Was he really going to spend the rest of his life locked in battle against the pull of the Dark Side? He grimaced as he worked a kink out of his neck. No...I'm not going to be here forever, and I’m not going to let Vader take me to the Emperor. Either I escape or I die trying. I don’t care about my promise. He shuffled for the refresher unit.

    No sooner had he emerged than the dark, cold presence returned. Luke glared and rubbed his eyes. Now what does he want? “Go away,” he grumbled as the door slid open.

    Vader entered and paused in the doorway, fists on his hips. His patience with his son was wearing thin. If he is ever going to make it in the Empire, he must learn to control himself. “Do you always greet your superiors with such disrespect?”

    Luke pursed his lips. “If you wanted me to say ‘good morning’, you should have let me sleep.”

    Vader crossed his arms, looming large. “If you refer to the exercise last evening-”

    “Exercise? I told you, I’m not going to turn.”

    “Do not interrupt! I was merely preparing your mind for the coming assault by the Emperor. If you cannot close your mind to me, you will never last against him.”

    While Luke was inclined to shiver at the idea of meeting the Emperor- one whom Leia described as positively dripping evil -the mention brought up another question. “We’re headed to Coruscant?”

    Vader nodded. “That is correct. If you think I am harsh with you, you do not stand a chance against the Emperor. That is your choice; either join him, or join me. Choosing neither would only result in your death.”

    Luke ignored the last statement. He wasn’t anxious to die before seeing his friends again, but had something else on his mind. “It’s been almost a week. It shouldn’t take this long to get to Coruscant. Bespin’s in the Outer Rim, but-”

    “As a pilot, you are well aware of the hazards of hyperspace travel,” interrupted Vader. He waved the same serving droid inside and watched as another tray of food was set down.

    He’s keeping something from me, thought Luke, standing off to one side. He’d never heard of such a trip taking this long, and wondered if the delay was on purpose. “How much longer before we get there?”

    “Approximately thirty-six hours from now. Come,” said Vader, indicating the food. “Eat.”

    So it is on purpose. He’s hoping to get me on his side before we meet the Emperor. Luke glanced back at the door. “I’d like to change first.”

    Vader nodded once. “Very well...but be quick. There is a long day ahead.”

    Luke paused, waiting for Vader to leave. The Sith stood like a stone, not moving so much as a centimeter. Vader wasn't going anywhere. The young pilot groaned and gathered a change of clothes before hustling into the refresher unit. He wished he could slam the door.

    Normally Luke wasn’t this rude or ill-tempered when he first woke. As first a farmboy, then a pilot, he was used to rising early. Most days he was ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’, as Aunt Beru used to put it.

    Of course it difficult to be cheerful when held prisoner by Darth Vader. Stress and lack of sleep didn’t help.

    Once he was clean, Luke marched back to the table and sat down, skirting Vader at a distance. He didn’t wait before finding his plate and digging in. It was a basic breakfast of eggs, toast, and caf.

    Dinner had been much better. The eggs could use some salt and pepper. The toast was dry. The caf didn’t have any sweetener and was thus strong enough to make Luke’s head spin. But then, as one who ate his meals from a straw, Vader couldn’t be expected to remember what made things taste good. At least I’m awake now, Luke reflected as he swallowed the last bite of toast.

    “I see your appetite has returned,” remarked Vader approvingly. “You have questions. Speak.”

    Luke forced his eyes to study that ominous mask. Yes, there were questions. He only wondered which ones Vader would answer and which ones he would brush off. “You keep telling me that we can destroy the Emperor. Why would you want to betray him? Isn’t he your master?”

    Vader growled and let the years of animosity, anger, and bitterness rise to fuel his connection to the Darkness. “Were I not imprisoned in this shell, I should have overthrown him years before. It was only due to a series of extreme injuries that I was forced to become more machine than man. It was he who forced this...thing on me,” he spat, glaring at his mechanical arms and legs. “Does it surprise you that I was not always as I am now?”

    Luke shook his head minutely. “No.” Somewhere, beneath that imposing armor, there was still a person. There was enough of a man left to need constant life support. And somewhere, beneath those layers of hatred and anger, Luke sensed something else... sadness... regret... pain... fear?

    It was a startling revelation. Vader’s afraid? Of what? He didn't dare ask. No doubt the Sith would vehemently deny such a thing, so Luke would have to find the answers on his own. Cautiously he reached out with the Force to touch that dark mind.

    There was pain...torment...and most of all, conflict. Vader seemed in a constant battle against something or someone, almost as if he was fighting himself....

    Luke lifted his brows, watching the man who had once been his father. Was it possible that somewhere, beneath the shell of Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker was still alive?

    Despite himself Vader fought that same battle as Luke watched him. He could sense Luke’s curiosity and rising hope. On one hand he thought how he could use the potential for compassion to his advantage.

    On the other, such feelings only fueled the rise of Anakin. He knows. He can sense it. I’m here, son...

    You shall never rise! Anakin Skywalker is dead! Vader growled. “Is there anything else?” he asked sharply.

    Luke recoiled as the chill of the Dark Side swept over him. It had been preceded by the smallest touch of warmth...warmth? The feeling brought by friends and family? He couldn’t help but wonder if that fleeting sense of paternal affection was from Anakin.

    Maybe it was just wishful thinking. The loneliness of being away from Han, Leia, and the others was at times overwhelming, and Luke had a deep need to connect to someone. Vader could exploit that all too easily. But still the young Jedi wondered how he could again bring Anakin to the surface….if it really was Anakin. “What about my mother?”

    Pain long-suppressed rose until an overwhelming sadness and regret flooded Anakin’s heart. Padme, my beautiful angel. You didn’t deserve me. “Your mother is dead,” replied Vader flatly.

    Luke nodded. Anger joined the storm of emotions within his father. This line of conversation was touching a raw nerve. Best to tread carefully. “I know. My aunt and uncle told me she died when I was born.”

    Anakin accepted the explanation while Vader’s anger flared. Yet another lie that monster has told me. I knew she lived, at least for a time! She must have to have given birth! He couldn’t wait to dismember the foul creature on Coruscant. “So they at least told the truth to you once. What lies did they tell you of me?”

    Luke grimaced. “They told me you were from Tatooine...a navigator on a spice freighter. But they were only trying to protect me,” he added, feeling defensive of those who had raised him.

    “One should never lie about family,” growled Vader. He crossed him arms. “I suppose they never spoke to you about who your mother was?”

    “Not really,” shrugged Luke. “Only that she was kind and loving. I guess that was enough for me.” He threw a cautious glance to Vader. “What was she like?”

    Words more befitting a devoted worshiper than a grieving husband raced through Anakin’s mind. He could think of a million words to describe Padme...more beautiful than anyone who lived, stronger than he, dedicated and graceful and-

    She was a fool for not joining me, interrupted Vader. Of course Anakin would never allow anything negative to be spoken about Padme. Much as Vader tried to discredit her or speak only of her power and influence, the words would never come. “That...is not important,” he ground out with some difficulty. “Ask one of the other questions milling about in your mind. I sense many more.”

    Luke lifted his chin. “No. I want to know about my mother.”

    “Children ask about their mothers. You are a man.”

    “Can’t you at least tell me her name?”

    “SILENCE!” roared Vader, rising to his feet and standing over Luke. He couldn’t think of his wife. It gave Anakin too much strength. “You shall not ask such questions again.”

    Luke, who had nearly fallen out of his chair to escape Vader’s rage, nodded slowly. Bringing up his mother was the easiest way to reach Anakin, but also the surest way to invoke Vader’s rage. That’s not going to work. Luke moistened his lips, swallowed, and took a deep breath to slow the hammer of his heart. His wrist ached with remembered pain. Almost without thinking he pulled it close, eyeing the saber still swinging from Vader’s belt.

    “I sense your curiosity over what I plan to do with you,” rumbled Vader, crossing his arms. “Very well. This pointless rejection of a prosthetic ends today. We are going to the Infirmary where the procedure for manufacture and installation shall begin. Then, you shall go to the quartermaster for a more appropriate uniform. And then, your training shall begin.” He turned and headed for the door.

    Luke rose to his feet. “No.”

    Vader whipped around to stare at his son. “What?” How can he continue to defy me?

    Again the young Jedi took a deep breath, gathering courage. “I’m not going to get a prosthetic. I’m not going along with the lie that I’ve joined the Empire. And, I’m not going to train with you.”

    Vader came back to Luke and pointed his finger in the boy’s face. “Yes. You. Will. I shall have you restrained if need be!”

    Luke grimaced, but stood his ground. “Do what you want. You’re never going to turn me to the Dark Side. Besides...wouldn’t that defeat your purpose? How would you convince anyone I’ve defected if I’m led around in cuffs?”

    Vader’s limbs shook with rage. For a moment he wanted to lash out and strike his son for such open defiance. I will teach him a lesson! But something kept his hand from activating his lightsaber, striking Luke across the face, or even doing anything with the Force. Intimidation wasn’t working, nor was a show of parental concern. Doubly frustrating to Vader was the fact that Anakin wasn’t letting him lay a finger on the boy.

    He has a point, Anakin reminded. No one’s going to believe he’s on your side if you treat him like a criminal. Then what will your officers do?

    With a growl of anger, Vader wheeled about and marched for the door. “Be ready in five minutes.” He waved the serving droid inside to collect the breakfast dishes. Before leaving, Anakin managed to break through with four simple words.

    “Her name was Padme.”
     
  5. JediMaster_Jen

    JediMaster_Jen Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2002
    Loving the internal struggles between Anakin and Vader. Seems little by little Anakin is breaking free. =D= So glad that now at least Luke knows his mother's name.
     
  6. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    [face_dancing] and =D= =D= The Vader feels are AMAZING! Only matched by the Luke ones. [face_love] Definitely a vivid contest of wills. @};-
     
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  7. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Looks like Luke is finding the chinks in Vader's metaphorical armor.

    Meanwhile, Vader is thoroughly irritated, like, "Arrrgghh! What was I thinking?! How am I gonna deal with this kid?!" But he can't slap him for it, because, by this time, it's pretty clear that the majority of Luke's sass and stubbornness comes from the Skywalker side of the family.
     
  8. Sara_Kenobi

    Sara_Kenobi Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Sep 21, 2000
    Oh, that surprised me. I didn't think he was going to say Padme's name. [face_dancing]
     
  9. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    He probably said it just so Luke would shut up about it already.
     
  10. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2010
    @JediMaster_Jen Even a small victory, won for the Light Side, is worth applauding. :)
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha You're welcome for the feels! [:D] Yay!
    @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Yup! That he is! Just wait...it gets better! [face_devil]
    @Sara_Kenobi Hee-hee, a pleasant surprise, hopefully. :) And @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 , Luke is certainly persistent. ;)


    I meant to post yesterday for May the Fourth, but forgot...'doh! :oops:So, to make up for that lateness, expect two chapters posted today. I'm anxious to wrap this up so I can get to another plot bunny that's been bouncing around in my head for years. :p

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Part Fourteen


    Any satisfaction Luke felt at finally having a direct answer was short-lived. Vader followed through on his promise and came by to collect Luke exactly five minutes later. Somehow Luke managed the belt but ignored the rank insignia and hat. Both were put on for him by a very irritated Vader. Luke considered taking the hat off again, just to be contrary, but had enough to do just keeping up with Vader and the two troopers who became their escort.

    Their first stop was the Infirmary. Luke submitted to the scan of his wrist and the scan of his left hand, watching as the image was flipped inside-out to mimic his right. As the medic went on about how advanced prosthetics were and how much better he would feel, Luke told himself he’d find some way to escape before the date of his surgery. The pretense of cooperation was better than being dragged around.

    Next they headed to the quartermaster, who was able to outfit Luke with a set of three black officers’ uniforms, as well as a G-suit once Vader spoke of flight training. The outfits were to be sent to Luke’s quarters as soon as possible.

    Then Vader took Luke to his personal training facility. It was nothing more than a large, empty arena with variable obstacles, outfitted in a material that was somehow resistant to lightsabers. After getting Luke into more suitable workout clothes- loose trousers and a tank top -the towering Sith left a single lightsaber in the room and flipped a switch. Suddenly everything went pitch-black.

    Luke crouched low on the floor, heart pounding in his ears. He knew Vader was testing him and tried relaxing into the Force. A low hum rose from behind and to the left. It sounded familiar, but Luke couldn’t place it...until it hovered near and fired at him. The boy yelped as a sharp bolt knocked into the back of his leg. It was far more intense than the sting bursts from the training remotes he had used, but the sound was the same. It must have been a remote on the highest setting. Luke reached for the Force to dodge the next two, but groaned as he realized he’d have to use the lightsaber. Otherwise he would end up covered in welts. He dove for the weapon and ignited a blade of bright orange. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense….

    This training exercise went on for a very long time. As Luke sank deeper into the Force, more and more remotes came out at him, firing ever faster. Soon he lost count of how many there were. All he knew was the surge of the Force through his body, the buzz of the training remotes, and the endless firing that rang in his ears. Several more bolts hit him, and he struggled not to give in to the frustration and outright anger he felt at this unwanted exercise. That’s what Vader wants. Don’t do it! Focus!

    Just when Luke was so tired he felt he couldn’t go on, the remotes were deactivated and sank to the floor. The youth found himself standing in the middle of the arena, dripping sweat and gasping for breath. Lights blinded him for a moment. When his vision cleared he saw Vader standing near the entrance.

    “Interesting,” said Vader in a tone of approval. “Within less than a week of your injury you show no regression in skill.”

    “Glad you’re...so impressed,” Luke wheezed, wiping his face on his arm. “Don’t tell me I’m fighting you, now.”

    “You are far too fatigued for such a thing today. There is time for you to shower and rest before dinner,” Vader said.

    Luke grunted and finally deactivated the lightsaber. Dinner? We came in here mid-morning. Have I been fighting that long? Finding a chronometer on the wall, he blinked. Four hours...I’ve been fighting for four hours...suddenly he felt dizzy. Tossing the saber aside in disgust, Luke peeled off his soaked top and staggered toward the shower. On the way he inspected the wounds that the training remotes had inflected. They weren’t bad- just thumb-sized burns with a blister or two -but they hurt like anything. One had landed right on the scar on his wrist.

    You hurt him again. Why? What has he done to you since you’ve captured him? Anakin wanted to know.

    His wounds are minor and will heal quickly. And I did not deal them, argued Vader. He should have paid more attention to the remotes.

    You’re pushing him too hard. He’s exhausted, insisted Anakin. Just look at him…

    Only then did Vader lift his head and take notice of how much Luke was staggering. When he reached for the boy to help him along, Luke recoiled and ducked into the locker room. Without a word Vader leaned against the wall outside the door. He wants nothing to do with me.

    What did you expect? Let me help him, begged Anakin. At least let me try.

    Vader said nothing but found himself walking over to the opposite wall to pick up a medical kit. When Luke emerged, clean but still breathing hard, Vader motioned to a nearby bench. “Sit. I will not have you collapsing on the way back to your quarters.”

    Luke all but fell into the bench. He flinched when Vader open the medical kit and pulled out a handful of bacta patches. “What are you-”

    “Hold still and allow me to treat your wounds,” said Vader in an unusually quiet tone.

    “I can do that,” frowned Luke, reaching for a patch.

    “And how to do you propose to treat yourself when you have only one hand?” asked the Dark Lord.

    Luke pressed his lips together and had no answer. Most of his burns were out of reach. “We could go to the Infirmary...” But Vader had already begun.

    Luke’s instinct was to pull away. He didn’t want Vader anywhere near him, especially in such a state of exhaustion. But, while the application was a little rough, the bacta felt good on the burns. Still Luke refused to let his guard down. He watched with knit brows. Again he sensed conflict in his father...regret...concern? No, that was too much to hope for. “Why are you helping me?” he blurted, finally pulling away when Vader reached for his wrist.

    Vader didn’t answer as he handed the final patch to Luke. Not another word was spoken until Luke had been brought back to his quarters. “You have three hours. I suggest you use them for sleep.” Once again, he wheeled about, leaving his son alone.

    Luke was breathless from the workout and speechless with confusion as he sat on the bed. Again his eyes wandered to his wrist. Vader took my hand...but he wouldn’t let me die. He’s steeped in the chill of darkness...yet there are flashes of warmth. He pushes me, orders me around, keeps me imprisoned...but he’s given me my own quarters and something beyond just prisoners’ rations. He keeps trying to turn me to the Dark Side...but there’s so much conflict. It seems to be rising all the time.

    Luke sighed, shaking his head as his eyes flicked to the bacta patches. That was the most confusing moment yet. Never had he imagined that Vader would insist on treating such minor injuries himself.

    The galaxy seemed to have turned inside-out. Nothing made sense anymore. The only thing that Luke was sure of was the Force. At least it was still there.

    Sleep, he said. Luke glanced at the door and sensed Vader in the other room, his thoughts once again at war. No. I can’t trust him. And so Luke sank cross-legged into the bed and reached for the Force, once more willing a wall to go up around his mind.

    * * * * *

    Vader was too preoccupied in trying to rid himself of Anakin to invade his son’s thoughts. By the time he had beaten his former self back again, it was nearing dinner time. He expected to find Luke passed out from exhaustion. He was frustrated to sense that his son was still awake, still tired from the intense workout.

    He hardly slept last night. He must rest if he is to regain his strength, thought Vader with knit brows. I have put him on his guard, so he is likely to do so again tonight. Then he will grow weak. He shook his head in annoyance. There is only one more day to bring him to my side! Why does he resist? If we confront the Emperor now, he will never hold up.

    The idea of Luke going against Palpatine stirred up Anakin’s presence even stronger than before. No! That monster shall not have my son!

    There was only one thing to do, then. If he will not sleep, I shall make him sleep. He called up the galley and ordered sedatives be put into Luke’s food.

    Luke didn’t notice anything was amiss as dinner was brought to his quarters, though he ate slowly with one eye on Vader. The meal was eerily quiet. Neither made any attempt at conversation. Maybe he realized it’s pointless, thought Luke.

    Any hope that Vader’s silence was a good sign vanished when a sudden urge to sleep overtook him. He’s drugged me. I knew it! Even as he began to nod off, Luke glared at him. “You...you...why...” And the young man’s tousled blond head sank into his folded arms.

    Anakin cringed at the measures taken to get Luke the rest he needed. I’m sorry, son. You need to sleep.

    Yes. I need him strong if we are to defeat the Emperor, thought Vader. He rose from the table and turned to leave.

    Anakin- annoyingly -stopped him. He turned back to gaze at Luke, dead asleep on the table, bangs falling into his eyes. Anakin knew that if Luke slept at the table all night he’d awaken with a horribly sore neck and back. Even Vader saw the sense in this and prepared to call in a droid.

    That call never went through. Instead Vader found himself pulling Luke’s chair back from the table and carefully gathering the young man in his arms.

    Of course it wasn’t Vader doing this. It was Anakin.

    It wasn’t much of an effort. Luke was small for a man and Anakin had always been strong. Ignoring the protests from his alter ego, Anakin carried Luke to the bed. He was unusually gentle in setting his son down, removing his boots, and lifting Luke's legs onto the bed. Then, inwardly weeping at this chance to care for his son as a father should, Anakin lifted the blanket drape it over the young man. Sleep, son. Sleep.

    The tenderness passed quickly. Vader was utterly aghast at the control that Anakin had gained. He couldn’t leave Luke’s quarters fast enough. Once in the privacy of his soundproofed meditation chamber, he let out a roar of complete rage.
     
  11. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    The Anakin side of him is rapidly getting more assertive. Before long, Anakin is gonna be like, "You know what, Vader? You're an ass. And I'm 100% done with you. Get the kriff out."
     
  12. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    HAPPY WRIGGLES! =D= [face_dancing] Luke held up well during the training exercise. And Anakin is resurgent! :) :)
     
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  13. Sara_Kenobi

    Sara_Kenobi Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Sep 21, 2000
    I love the back and forth between Vader and Anakin. It seems that Anakin is the stronger one when Luke is around.
     
  14. JediMaster_Jen

    JediMaster_Jen Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2002
    Temper, temper!![face_laugh] Glad to see Anakin asserting himself more and more, especially when Luke is around. Keep up the great work. =D= Really enjoying this.
     
  15. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2010
    @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 That's one way of putting it! [face_laugh]
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Well, one of Luke's strengths is his toughness and resilience. :) And yes...Anakin is gaining strength! [face_dancing]
    @Sara_Kenobi Indeed he is. Vader wasn't counting on this at all; he thought he could bend Luke to his will. Ha! :p
    @JediMaster_Jen So glad you're enjoying the story! [:D]
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Part Fifteen


    Beep...beep...beep…

    Han Solo stirred and groaned in his crowded cot. What in the nine Corellian hells was that?

    Beep...beep...beep…

    Han cringed as a stray hand patted the floor for his dropped comlink. Of all the bad timing in the galaxy, this has gotta be the worst. Cursing softly under his breath, he picked it up and thumbed it on. “What?” he grumbled.

    "Sorry to wake you, Captain Solo,” said General Madine. “But we've received disturbing news from Coruscant."

    Han frowned. "Yeah...no offense, General, but I'm not the one to tell. I've had enough bad news to last me a lifetime."

    "Well, we were wondering if you had seen anything of Princess Leia. We've been trying to raise her on her comlink and she's not responding. The last anyone saw, she was with you. Do you know how we might reach her?"

    Uh-oh. Already Leia was slowly rising from her place beside him on the cot, blushing like a glowrod.

    "Uh...yeah." Han cleared his throat as he rose to his feet. Don't sound guilty. "She's been pretty wiped out these last couple days. Betcha she’s just asleep. Want me to let her know when I see her?”

    "You’re probably right. Thank you, Captain Solo. Madine out." The message ended.

    Slowly Han turned to Leia, whose face had turned several shades of red. He cringed. “Talk about rotten timing.”

    Leia groaned and rolled off the cot. “You can say that again,” she mumbled, self-consciously tucking in her shirt. What was I thinking?

    Han watched her for a moment, scratching the back of his head and letting out a sigh. “All right. If you’re mad at me, just say so.”

    Leia paused to frown at him. “Han...why would I be mad at you?”

    Han shrugged and nodded toward the bed. “I dunno. But you’re upset about somethin’.”

    Leia closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. “Well, this time it’s not your fault,” she said, shrugging on her vest and looking for belt and boots.

    Han sat beside her. “Good to know. So what’s gotcha actin’ so guilty?”

    “I’m not acting guilty.”

    “Embarrassed? You’re blushin’ like crazy.”

    Leia paused for a moment. All she had come to Han for the other night was to talk. And talk they did, sitting up together until Leia ended up falling asleep on him. Han had awakened her just long enough to ask if she wanted to go back to her own quarters. She said no. You could have walked away, and just gone to your own bed, Leia reminded herself. But having Han close had soothed some of the ache in her heart. She hadn’t wanted to be alone. “All right. It’s a little embarrassing to be caught in someone elses’ bed.”

    The smuggler’s mouth twitched and he showed his palms. “I asked if you wanted to go to your room, remember?”

    “I know.” Leia planted a brief peck on his cheek. “Thank you, by the way.”

    “For what?” asked Han, his arm around her shoulders.

    “Not being a complete scoundrel.”

    Han, serious for once, met her eyes. “Hey. Whatever happens, however far this...thing goes, I’m leavin’ it completely up t’ you. Never gonna push. ‘Kay? Anytime you wanna drop me like a hot rock, just go ahead.”

    Leia smiled in return. I’d keep you forever, if I thought it would work. She kept herself from saying it out loud and wriggled out of his grip to start making some kind of order out of her flyaway locks.

    * * * * *

    General Crix Madine looked up from the communications console at a familiar sound. Sure enough, there was Leia, approaching at a brisk walk. "Princess."

    Leia had barely finished pinning her braid around her crown as she nodded to him. "Hello, General. I’m sorry it took so long to get ahold of me-"

    Madine waved it off. "It's all right, Your Highness. Everyone has been tired lately."

    "You said there was news from Coruscant?"

    "Yes...it might be nothing...but it concerns Commander Skywalker."

    Luke! Leia's heart ached with grief and rose with a half-forgotten hope all at once. All through the last week she could not shake her feeling that Luke had escaped death. "Yes?"

    Madine hesitated, moistening his lips. "Apparently, the word is that Commander Skywalker has defected and joined the Empire."

    Leia felt as if she had been punched in the chest. An intense denial battled with a sense of triumph. It would mean Luke was alive, but- no! Luke would never join the Empire! "But…General, you know as well as I do that Luke would never-" She flinched. The look on Madine's face said otherwise. "You don't believe this, do you?"

    The General gave a helpless shrug. "I don't know what to believe, Princess. I don't claim to know Skywalker all that well, but...it's happened before. Some of our best ended up being turncoats."

    Stubbornly Leia shook her head. "Not Luke. He couldn't! Not after what happened to his family on Tatooine. What motivation would he have for joining the Empire?"

    Madine shrugged. "I don't know, but I think it's a claim worth investigating. Even if he didn't join voluntarily, the possibility of a key Alliance member being in Imperial hands is still a serious matter." He lifted his head to look her in the eye. "Princess, I know this is a difficult subject for you, but...are you positive that Skywalker is dead?"

    Here Leia paused and bit her lip. Now was her chance to voice her feelings. Madine would never understand, but- "No. I think he was hurt and then captured by Darth Vader."

    Madine nodded. "Well, it might be a possibility. So assuming Skywalker is alive, where does that leave us? He has top-level security clearance and could put the entire Rebellion in jeopardy. I'm not saying he'd give up the information without a fight," he added, seeing the indignant anger in Leia’s eyes, "but as you’re well aware, Imperials have some terrible ways of extracting secrets. I'm recommending a full assembly of Alliance leaders. We need to put the safety of the Rebellion first."

    As much as it pained her, Leia had to agree. She nodded slowly. "All right. Inform Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar. I'll let the rest know." And so, with her heart being pulled in two different directions, Leia straightened her spine and marched over to the console to do her duty. All the while her thoughts kept drifting to Luke, willing him to be strong.

    Hold on, Luke. We’re going to find you. Somehow, some way, I swear we’re going to find you!
     
  16. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Sweet with Han and Leia ;) and understandable concerns from Madine. But Leia's trust in Luke isn't misplaced either. Eagerly awaiting more!
     
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  17. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Leia knows Luke, alright. Likely far better than she realizes.
     
  18. Sara_Kenobi

    Sara_Kenobi Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Sep 21, 2000
    I loved the little moment with Han and Leia. I'm happy they're investigating what became of Luke. Great update!
     
  19. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    I had to catch up a lot tonight, but after some urgent news from the hospital (concerning my husband) I was too excited to go straight to bed anyway.

    Your story immediately took me into a galaxy far away and I was able to forget myself for a while.

    I like your Jekyll and Hyde approach on Vader´s persona. If Luke was under-age, I would use all of my kindergarten connections to get him out of there.

    The Leia/ Han relationship slowly opens like a Naboo flower. It is cute to witness.

    All in all: thank you.
     
  20. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2010
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Don't worry. More is coming! :cool:
    @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Yes, she does...
    @Sara_Kenobi Hey, with as close as those three are, is it any surprise?
    @AzureAngel2 You're very welcome! It's one of the great things about Star Wars that, for however long it takes to watch a movie or read a chapter of Fan Fiction, it can take us to a galaxy far, far away where our problems don't exist. Hugs to you, and take care! The story will be here whenever you need it. [:D]

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Part Sixteen

    Luke slept fitfully, tossing and turning in the throes of a dream. He saw the Emperor, cackling at him as he refused to join the Dark Side.

    And now, young Jedi, you will die.

    "NO!" Luke's eyes flew open and he lurched upright. Sweat ran in drops down his forehead and made the armpits, back, chest, and waistband of his jumpsuit damp and smelly. The young man looked about the room. He trembled and panted, lying on his elbows as he searched every dark corner for that frightening apparition.

    Nothing. It was just another nightmare. Luke let out a shuddering breath and lay back on the bed. He had to take deep, even breaths and call on the Force for peace.

    Wait a minute. Luke frowned, thinking of last night. Vader drugged me. I fell asleep at the table. How did I get here? This minor mystery could be solved later, after he had slowed his pounding heart.

    He recoiled when he sensed Vader meditating in the next room. Not long afterward there was the characteristic muffled sound of the opening meditation chamber.

    Luke cringed. Great. He knows I'm awake. It wouldn’t be long, then, before another grueling day of battling the Dark Side began. Luke rose from the bed with a stretch and hurried over to the closet. He was surprised to find the Imperial officers' uniforms already hanging up. Each consisted of a pair of breeches, a jacket, thin black gloves, belt, and a billed cap.

    Luke raised his eyebrows. The tailor didn’t waste any time. He cringed as he inspected them. Already rumors were flying about his appearance on Vader’s flagship as well as his ‘defection’ to the Empire. It was probably common knowledge among the Imperials- or at least on the Executor -that Luke was supposedly a turncoat. It wouldn't be long before the Alliance got word of it.

    Luke groaned as he pulled one of the uniforms out of the closet and laid it on the bed. So much for laying low. Hope the Alliance believes me when I tell them what happened...if I ever get back.

    The young man threw one last glance at the door before heading for the shower. As he bathed he was relieved to see his minor burns already healing up. He hoped Vader wouldn’t throw him into the same situation today. The ship should arrive in the Capital by late evening, and then it would be too late to do anything but face the Emperor.

    Luke had no more than dried off and struggled with the snaps of his uniform than there was a shudder throughout the ship. He looked around, startled. "What the...?”

    The ship shuddered again, rocking about. Luke stumbled out of the refresher and was about to turn toward the window when a final jolt threw him off his feet. Luke barely avoided bumping his head on the doorjamb and landed hard on the floor. What's going on? Hopeful thoughts of rescue were fleeting. No one in the Rebellion knew where he was. Luke lifted his head to look out the viewport.

    They had come out of hyperspace hours early. But why, and why so suddenly? What about the inertial dampeners? Had they failed?

    The entry door unlocked with a muffled click. Predictably it was Vader who walked in. "Luke, were you injured?”

    "No." It was so strange to hear Darth Vader express concern for him. Luke shoved one of his stocking feet into a boot and hopped on one foot to try and put on the other. "What happened?" he couldn't help asking.

    "The hyperdrive has undergone some sort of malfunction," answered Vader as he stopped beside Luke. "You will accompany me to the bridge to find the cause."

    Luke's brow crinkled. “Can I finish dressing first?”

    The Dark Lord took a moment to inspect his son. While the uniform fit, Luke's appearance was rather sloppy; hair damp and uncombed, top two snaps of the jacket undone, one boot off, his belt and rank insignia still sitting on the bed...the gloves would have to wait, since they required two hands to put on. "You have ten minutes." With that, he turned about and left the room.

    Luke's eyebrows lifted in surprise as he hopped into his second boot. Ten minutes? He didn't think he needed that long to finish dressing. Is he giving me more time because of my hand?

    The young man glanced at the thickening scar on the end of his wrist. He had been taking a little longer to get dressed. The worst of the pain had left and he was learning to adapt, but it still wasn't very nice to look at. The stiff sleeves of the uniform made it even more obvious.

    Luke shook his head. The strange need to exceed Vader’s expectations pervaded his thoughts. He picked up the pace and managed to look somewhat presentable in five minutes flat. There was a sense of satisfaction when Vader rounded the corner and then stopped in his tracks. Good. I surprised him.

    Vader was indeed surprised upon seeing Luke neat and clean. Even his hair had been combed. "You are still not wearing your rank insignia," he observed, calling the piece into his palm.

    Luke played with the hat in his hand. "I don't see any point in lying."

    "The point is, unless you are one of them, the other officers will see you as nothing more than a prisoner and a traitor." Quickly he pinned the rank in place. Then he snatched the cap out of Luke’s hands and parked it on his head.

    Luke felt awkward with such personal attention. "Isn't that what I am to them?"

    Vader huffed. "You still wish to return to the Alliance?"

    "They're my friends. I can't just abandon them and everything I believe in."

    "And what if they should abandon you? No doubt word has by now reached them that Luke Skywalker has joined the Empire."

    Luke's eyes stung. He's right, you know. If they think you've betrayed them...but no! They'd never believe that...at least Leia and Chewie wouldn't. "Maybe. That doesn't change my mind."

    "You have a persistent, stubborn idealism," grumbled Vader. "Come, then. We will discover the reason behind this delay." He waited until Luke stood beside him before setting off.

    Luke adjusted the cap to sit a little lower over his eyes before falling into step behind Vader. Despite his open, quiet defiance, Luke was anything but comfortable in this position. There was still some fear. While Luke fairly certain by then that Vader wasn't going to kill him, injuries were something else.

    No matter how concerned Vader seemed to be about his son's health- insisting that he eat and sleep and going to extraordinary lengths to be certain of it -he was still a Sith. Yoda had said that the Dark Side was quicker, easier, and more seductive. It was the more selfish of the two sides. Vader certainly seemed to be acting more out of selfishness than anything else. He wanted his way, whether it was having Luke by his side or his officers heeding his every command. If he didn't get his way, he gave in to anger.

    There were signs of selflessness still there...little things that couldn't be explained away by the selfish need to keep Luke alive. Luke had already resisted the Dark Side. Why keep him around if he was going to constantly throw cold water on Vader's plans? Why choke a medic to death that had hurt Luke? It was almost as if Vader thought he was protecting his son. Was that really Vader, or was it Anakin?

    Lost in his thoughts, Luke fell a half step behind without realizing it and skipped to catch up.

    Father and son had nearly reached the bridge when a breathless man in olive green skidded to a stop upon seeing them. He brought his heels together and gave a stiff bow. "Lord Vader."

    "What is it, Captain Kolman?" Vader asked. "We have dropped out of hyperspace nine hours early."

    "We're not sure yet, milord. Admiral Piett has an entire detachment of mechanics working on the problem," said Captain Kolman hastily.

    "Very well, Captain. Go about your business."

    Kolman let out a short breath of relief and nodded. At least he had his neck. "Yes, Lord." He scurried away.

    Luke was startled when, instead of tramping forward to breathe down the necks of his officers, Vader took Luke straight back to the nearest turbolift. He sensed an odd combination of emotion dancing about the edges of Vader’s mind. Desperation was the most prevalent, but also satisfaction. “Aren’t you going to find out what’s going on?” he wondered.

    Vader stared straight ahead. “You have not yet eaten, and you must regain your strength. Once you have gained sustenance, you will accompany me to discover the reason behind this delay.”

    Luke blinked. “I could head back myself, then. I’m sure you don’t want me following you around all day.” It might just fuel Vader’s ego to have a shadow, but for Luke’s part, he wasn’t especially eager to see his father strangle someone else.

    “On the contrary. I wish you to watch me, and learn the lessons of command.”

    “Which is what...killing someone when they make a mistake?”

    “Once you have command, you may deal with your underlings however you wish. Until then, do not presume to dictate to me.”

    “But-”

    “Do not argue. Follow.”

    Luke pursed his lips. He sensed something deeper behind Vader’s pale reasoning. Raising further protest at this point would be useless, so for the time being, he shut his mouth.
     
  21. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    You're on the right track, Luke. You're on the right track.
     
  22. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Ooh, intriguing the drop out of hyperspace early. How that will play to Luke's advantage I am eager to find out.
     
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  23. Sara_Kenobi

    Sara_Kenobi Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Sep 21, 2000
    I like that Luke isn't afraid to stand up to Vader about his techniques for commanding.
     
  24. JediMaster_Jen

    JediMaster_Jen Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2002
    Awe. [face_love] It'll work, Leia.

    You've got it, Luke!! Anakin is in there. Just keep prodding away at Vader's armor and you'll find your father. =D=

    Great work!^:)^
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
  25. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2010
    @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 and @JediMaster_Jen I ain't sayin' nothin'....:p;)[face_devil]
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha You'll see....;)
    @Sara_Kenobi Well, after hanging out with Vader for a few days without anything bad happening to him, I guess Luke is getting bolder.

    Hold on you your hats, everyone. This chapter is long...and a turning point in the story.

    Deep breath...OK...look out....
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Part Seventeen

    What is going on? Wondered Luke as he stumbled back to his quarters and sat down hard on his bed. It had been another long day.

    The problem with the hyperdrive turned out to be some sort of freak occurrence. Somehow the entire drive had become crippled. Every wire was disconnected, every fuse blown. Repairs required a fully-equipped port and days to complete. The higher-ups suspected sabotage, but they could find nothing in the security recordings to point out a culprit.

    Vader was suitably furious...at least in the presence of his officers. He raged, snarled, and threatened until the entire repair crew was buzzing around like stinger-flies. But there was no help for it. Even with sublights at full power, it would take three days to reach the nearest Imperial world; a volatile, relatively young planet called Sheol. Time for repairs could not yet be estimated.

    Emperor Palpatine seethed when he was contacted about the delay. Vader promised to make his way to Coruscant as soon as possible. Luke overheard part of the conversation through his door and shuddered. His need to avoid the evil man was magnified...as was the confusion directed at his father.

    Despite his promise to his master, Vader’s routine with Luke changed little. Every morning and evening, he came in to ask questions and see that Luke ate. After making a tour to be sure his underlings were tripping over each other in their haste to obey, he took Luke to the training room and continued with various tests. By the second day of training Luke had graduated from remotes to a series of blaster cannons firing at random. Somehow he avoided serious injury and Vader was favorably impressed. He informed his son they would train together the following day.

    That session had been the most intense, both physically and mentally. By then Luke had learned to switch off his ears when Vader spoke of the Dark Side. He resisted every attempt at invoking fear, anger, or aggression. His faith in his friends kept him from lashing out when Vader threatened them, and his trust in the Force kept him from losing any more limbs.

    When Luke finally spoke of the conflict within Vader, of knowing that Anakin was still around, the Dark Lord responded with anger. He pushed Luke back into a corner, knocked away his lightsaber, and prepared to strike. At the last minute he let the saber fall, roaring in frustration. A long silence passed before he spoke again. He told Luke to get cleaned up before they headed back to his quarters.

    Luke’s thoughts whirled about as he lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He had been on the Executor for a full ten days now. Since his capture Vader had refused to directly hurt him. Every time he shuffled away from the training sessions with fresh bruises and burns, his father insisted on treating the injuries himself...and then felt aggravated for doing so. Every day the conflict within grew. Now Luke could identify a clear presence set apart from Vader.

    This presence was quiet, concerned, and filled with remorse. It was he who treated Luke’s injuries, he who had spoken of Luke’s mother, and he who kept Vader from so much as giving a hard shove to his son. It was he that could drive back the darkness and bring just a touch of the Light. Luke knew it was Anakin. In the last day his fear had been driven away by hope and determination. As long as Anakin was still there, perhaps there was a chance at saving him.

    Luke had tried that afternoon. Every taunt by Vader was countered by an attempt at finding Anakin, calling him back, asking why else there would be such concern for his well-being. Failure was frustrating.

    The young Jedi fought discouragement as he reached out in the Force. He could almost imagine that there was a reason for all this. Rather than choose to fall into the Dark Side as his father had, maybe he was there to help his father turn back. Maybe Anakin could help Luke escape...or come with his son. Maybe this was Luke’s chance to finally know his father.

    It’ll never work, his common sense told him. You’d never be able to convince anyone that he was safe. The Alliance would rather kill Vader than welcome him as a long-lost prodigal son. He wouldn’t have to come with me, Luke thought. He could just leave, and...and then what?

    Luke tapped his foot in frustration. All this was nothing more than a pipe dream if he couldn’t get through to Anakin in time. Who knew how much longer the Emperor was willing to wait before he just came to them? Would Anakin vanish when confronted by the shriveled Sith?

    Dinner that evening was spent alone. Luke had grown used to his father’s presence in the last several days and found himself peering out the door before it closed in his face. Mentally reaching for Vader revealed an even more furious conflict. It was almost as if there was a loud argument going on in his father’s mind, each side trying to shout the other down.

    It would have been tempting for Luke to turn the tables and try and plant suggestions in his father’s mind. But he didn’t want to stoop that low. Better to just wait, and then speak to him later.

    Luke’s dinner was cold by the time he got to it.

    * * * * *

    The next morning Vader seemed to be dragging himself around. They had arrived at Sheol, he said, and repairs could finally begin.

    Sheol seemed a fitting analogy to the conflict between Anakin and Darth Vader. It had few indigenous life forms other than some large invertebrates and bacteria. Volcanic activity had more or less ceased over most of the planet, however there were still plenty of plate tectonics at work. Groundquakes were an almost daily occurrence. It seemed unlikely anyone would want to have a base built there. But for some reason, Palpatine had insisted.

    Some suspected the base was a form of punishment. Officers and troopers there saw others perhaps once every eight months, when the supply shuttles arrived. Assignment to Sheol was tantamount to an exile even worse than Tatooine. Problem officers were often sent there in lieu of prison to shape up. Imperial geologists were the only ones eager to go.

    Building anything on such a volatile world was next to impossible. But thanks to a flexible, shock-absorbing foundation, all but the most severe quakes were hardly given a second thought.

    Shore leave for a number of officers was customary during stoppages, but no one took it this time...no one except Vader and Luke.

    Vader was tired and frustrated. His trick of sabotaging the hyperdrive to give them a few extra days hadn’t worked; if anything, Luke’s resolve not to join the Dark Side was stronger. Even worse, Luke’s very presence had strengthened Anakin until the voice of his former self was a constant nag in his mind. Vader worried about his ability to continue fighting the Jedi off. If Luke will not join me now, I will have to kill him, thought Vader. Else he will destroy me. And you will not interfere, he added to a loudly-protesting Anakin.

    Luke didn’t suspect much when his father took him down to the planet’s surface after breakfast. He was all too eager to get off the ship and have a moment away from prying eyes. Perhaps now would be his chance to escape...but what about my father? Is this my last chance to bring him back?

    Upon landing Vader directed his son to a steep rock face with the pretense of talking Luke into a prosthetic hand. “Surely you cannot climb such a thing with only one,” he’d challenged. Perhaps tapping into the boy’s pride would give him a window to the Dark.

    Luke responded as expected and gamely tackled the hill. Climbing with one hand was difficult. He made it about halfway up the twenty-foot slope before losing his grip and skidding backwards. He was surprised when Vader slowed his descent with the Force.

    “You see? So injured you cannot even perform a simple task,” taunted Vader, thumbs in his belts.

    “Let me try again,” frowned Luke. “I can make it.”

    “Were you to use the power at your disposal...to tap into the vastness of the Dark Side...you could, even with one hand. But you cannot. You are weak.” He waved the notion away and strode away along the metal catwalk. It led into a kilometer-deep canyon. Struts, guy wires, and shock absorbers had thus far kept it standing despite the unstable ground.

    Luke scowled, but took in a deep, calming breath. Easy...he wants you to get angry. He wants you to turn. Fight it! When his emotions had settled, he broke into a jog to catch up with Vader. “If I’m so weak, then why do you keep me around? You know I’m never going to join you. I’m not useful anymore. Why haven't you kill me?”

    Vader stopped midstride. “Do not tempt me,” he rumbled. “You have been uncooperative and disrespectful. I cannot tolerate weakness.”

    Luke surged ahead to stop in front of his father. “But you won’t. You can’t bring yourself to kill me. And I know why.”

    Vader clenched his hands into fists. “You know nothing,” he snarled, as much at Anakin as at Luke.

    They had stopped along a bridge, supported above by a network of long metal struts in triangles like an old-fashioned arch. Unconsciously Luke edged toward the wall. It would not do to take a fall here.

    “Your compassion makes you weak...weak, as all Jedi were.” Vader stared at Luke, letting his anger mount. “You wish to know how and why I became confined to this suit? It was your precious master, that old fool Obi-Wan!”

    Luke winced. He’d suspected there had been some sort of confrontation between them years ago, but...”What...what happened?” he faltered, unsure of whether he wanted to know.

    “When I realized the power that the Dark Side offered- power I needed to save your mother -Obi-Wan attacked me. We fought on the planet of Mustafar, made up of volcanoes. As I leapt over his head to avoid the lava, Obi-Wan removed all but one of my limbs. He took my lightsaber and left me on the rim of the volcano. You hear? He left me to burn alive!"

    Luke felt the blood drain from his face. Ben? He couldn't...he wouldn't...His head whirled about, making him dizzy and sick to his stomach. No. Ben only fought in self-defense. Luke took a deep breath to steady himself, staring at Vader's armor.

    "The burns and volcanic gases would have killed a normal man. But I used the Dark Side...called upon it to sustain my life. My hatred kept me alive." Vader shook his head, hands balling into fists. "I would have given up if I had known then your mother was already dead. And Palpatine...it was he who encased me in this shell...kept me alive to do his bidding."

    Luke shuddered even as understanding began to dawn on him. Vader had thought the quick flow of power would be enough to keep his loved ones safe. That’s why he can’t bring himself to hurt me anymore. He’s afraid of losing me, too. "If turning to the Dark Side brought only suffering, then why do you want me to do it? I feel your conflict...I feel that Anakin is still there. Why do think you’ve destroyed him?”

    Vader trembled with barely contained rage even as he felt Anakin gain strength. “Do not… mention...that name!”

    Luke felt the struggle. Hope rose within him. “Anakin Skywalker is who you truly are. You’ve only forgotten." He offered Vader his hand, trying to keep it from shaking. "It's not too late. Come back with me."

    “ENOUGH!” roared Vader. He shoved Luke backward and ignited his saber. “This ends now. Either you join me, or die.”

    Luke stumbled but managed to absorb the blow with a roll. He rose cautiously, half wishing he had a way to defend himself. "I don't want to fight you, Father,” he said quietly, edging slowly away. His wrist throbbed and his survival instinct was begging him to run. No. I will not run. "And you’re not going to kill me." He hoped his voice projected more confidence than he felt.

    "Indeed not?" Vader advanced on Luke. The catwalk began to shake and rattle. With a single leap, he raised his lightsaber over his head and prepared to strike Luke down.

    Something strong and unseen seized Vader’s arms. A half-heard shout from the past echoed in his mind. A thousand memories from his past flew by at an unending pace, each one full of hope, joy, and pain. At last the image of Padme came and lingered. She was smiling at him as they held hands over her swollen belly, speaking eagerly of the life within. It was a child whose death he had mourned with Padme’s...the same child that now stood before him as a man, fearless and resolute.

    No...NO, YOU WILL NOT KILL MY SON! Anakin made Darth Vader step back. He made the Dark Lord lower his trembling arms, and with it, the lightsaber. He made a shaking hand deactivate the lightsaber and let it slide from his fingers. The hilt fell to the catwalk with a noisy clank.

    Vader found himself paralyzed. Though he raged, he couldn’t move. His knees buckled, sending him to the catwalk, which continued to rattle. All he could manage was a loud slam on the grate with his gloved fist.

    Luke’s mouth fell open in astonishment. For one terrible second, he thought he was going to die. But his words had been true. Vader- no, Anakin -couldn’t kill his son. Hope was fueled, though the catwalk was still shaking. Was that some sort of storm of the Force due to the conflict between Anakin and Vader?

    A faint alarm rang in the background as the rumbling continued. The volume increased, and a voice of warning echoed across the canyon.

    It wasn’t the Force, then. It was a groundquake.

    Luke dropped into a crouch and gripped the railing, eyes still on the broken man in front of him. “Father…?”

    The helmeted head snapped up. “Run.”

    Luke shook his head. “No. I won't run away from you.” The sense of danger rose with every second, but he would not flee.

    “Luke! RUN!” Urgency filled the deep voice.

    The quake grew incredibly strong and violent. Stones and pebbles rolled off the side of the canyon. The catwalk began to creak and groan as it swung back and forth. Both Luke and Vader were thrown off their feet on opposite sides of the bridge.

    The sickening shriek of twisting, wrenching metal filled the air. Several rivets popped. Welds failed. All at once a two-meter section of bridge completely gave way in front of Vader.

    Luke hardly had time to grip the edge before he and the bridge were falling into the canyon. A pair of cables arrested the fall, but only just. Man and bridge swung free nearly two meters below.

    “NO!” Vader had already risen and began a stumbling walk over to the edge. He reached for Luke, then froze when a large boulder came down on him from above. He was too slow to avoid it. It rolled across his outstretched arm, crushing it at the union between flesh and machine. He yelled in agony as he felt his left humerus shatter. The prosthetic arm, meanwhile, was rendered useless.

    “Father!” cried Luke even as the shaking began to subside. His heart sank as Vader rolled over to his back, chest heaving. He can’t save me now. I have to save myself. Luke swung a leg to try and get some sort of footing on the grate. Suddenly a small stone struck him at the temple and made stars dance before his eyes. Luke’s head ached and spun and a black haze filled his vision. His fingers went slack, and he could feel himself falling. Now he knew he was going to die. Leia...I’m sorry. I love you-

    Something unseen abruptly gripped Luke’s arms and lifted him up. The boy, startled out of near unconsciousness, opened his eyes to see Vader leaning over the edge, left arm hooked painfully around the railing at the elbow, right arm reaching for him.

    “Son...come.” The voice belonged to Darth Vader, but there was something different about it. There was no chill. “Take my hand.”

    Luke didn’t argue and gripped the gloved wrist. His feet did what they could as his father pulled him up to safety with a loud grunt. He was left breathless and trembling once on firm footing. Wide blue eyes turned to his father. Now he knew.

    The darkness was gone. Vader was no more.

    Gratitude spread across Luke’s face. Again he took his father’s hand. “Father...you did it.”

    Anakin’s chest was heaving from pain and exhaustion. “I could not…let my son fall.” He gave Luke’s hand a brief squeeze before releasing it and focusing on catching his breath. “Now….go...leave me.”

    Luke, still fighting off dizziness from his knock on the head, shook the feeling off and crawled closer. “What? No. You’re injured. I’m not leaving you here.” He winced upon finding blood flowing his father’s arm. It was crushed. Bone had punctured both skin and the thick sleeve.

    Anakin lifted his head to meet his son’s eyes. The relief at finally being free from his dark shackles was tempered with concern and urgency. “You must go, Luke. The Emperor is coming for you. I will not let him have my son.”

    Luke paled. Time’s up, then. He looked about for something to stop the bleeding. Finding nothing else, he used the cape, ripping off a wide strip and wrapping it around the top of his father’s arm. “Then you’re coming with me.”

    Bless him for his hope. Anakin winced and shook his head. “I’ll only slow you down. Go! Now!”

    Again Luke shook his head. “I’m not leaving without you, Father.” He tore off another wide strip to use as a sling, tying knots with his teeth. Then he tugged at Anakin’s good arm. “Can you walk?”

    I’m not going to change his mind now…and I shouldn’t let him go alone. His head may be worse that it appears. Anakin nodded, sighed at his son’s persistence, and made himself get up. Painfully he hurried along as quickly as he could. “Take the shuttle. It’s fully-equipped and we should be able to fly it between the two of us.”

    “I want you to see a medic first.”

    “As should you, but there’s no time. The Emperor will be here within the hour.”

    “You’re bleeding....”

    “There’s a medpac aboard ship. Full repairs would take too long.” Anakin turned to face his son, wishing the boy could see his desperation. “Luke, I’ll not risk you falling into the Emperor’s hands, especially injured as you are. Don’t worry yourself for me,” he added. “I’ve had worse.”

    Luke glanced at the makeshift bandage. It was already bleeding through. “We’ll see. Let’s just get back first.”

    * * * * *

    The image of 'Darth Vader' badly injured and being helped along by the newcomer Skywalker was enough to send Sheol Base into a flurry. The base medic was sent for despite Anakin’s protests and performed very rudimentary first aid, warning that he needed more thorough medical care. Luke was all but ignored and had only a bacta patch slapped on the cut on his head.

    “We shall return to the Executor,” said Anakin with Darth Vader’s voice. He waved away the medic’s request to come along and monitor his condition and brought Luke with him. Luke, recently issued a blaster, stunned the crew of two before hopping into the pilot’s seat and powering up the shuttle.

    “Looks easy enough,” he said half under his breath as Anakin came up from behind. The shuttle whirred to life at his touch, and without much trouble he was able to begin the liftoff sequence. Once they were out of the atmosphere, a light began blinking. Luke grimaced. “Uh-oh. I think we’re being contacted.”

    “Disable the long-range transmitter,” cringed Anakin. “We don’t want Palpatine tracking us.”

    Luke nodded and flipped a switch. “Done.”

    Anakin looked over the panel. “Now, let me take over. You should not fly with a head injury.”

    Luke, though his head was throbbing, shook it. “No. I’m...fine. You’re worse than I am, so you should be the one resting. Now where are we going?”

    "The Alliance. I want to see if I can defect. They may not believe me, but...I’ll not spend another minute with the Empire," said Anakin firmly. He settled into the copilot’s seat.

    Luke frowned. “They might not give you a chance. If they know you’re aboard, they may just fire first and ask questions later. And even if they don’t just shoot us outright, they’ll never let you roam around on one of their ships. You’ll be sent straight to the brig.”

    “Whatever they do to me does not matter. You must return to them. They need you.”

    Luke chewed his lip. I may be taking him to his death. The idea of losing his father so soon after finding him was difficult to think about. Finally he nodded with stinging eyes. “All right. With our long range transmitter gone, they won’t have much warning. We might be in for a bumpy ride.”

    Anakin nodded once, squeezed Luke’s shoulder in encouragement, and looked over the panel. “Can you program the jump?”

    Luke nodded, still fighting dizziness as he tapped the coordinates into the navicomputer. When they beeped in acknowledgment, his hand went to the hyperdrive levers. For a moment his eyes crossed, then went hazy. Luke blinked hard and shook his head. He was startled when a gloved hand settled on his, and turned to see Vader- no, Anakin -helping him with the throttle. He tried smiling, failed, and pulled the levers back.

    Stars stretched into starlines, and the shuttle leapt to hyperspace. The Skywalkers, father and son, were on their way to the Alliance.