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Under the Stars

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Luke woke slowly, his senses coming online one after the other. First he smelled earth, burning fuel and plastisteel. He squinted his eyes open and frowned at the bright orange that blocked his view. He realized he was staring at his flight suit’s orange colored sleeve, his arm stretched above his head. Hearing returned next, there was the sound of foreign birds and wind ruffling the leaves of nearby trees, something he hadn't gotten tired of hearing. How could there be so many trees on so many worlds when Tatooine had been such a barren wasteland?

Luke groaned at the dull ache in his body and tried to sit up, but a tugging sensation on his arms and legs prevented it. He groaned again as the movement made joints and muscles flare in pain.

Something wasn't right, but his fuzzy mind was still catching up. Slowly his memory came back.

He had been flying a mission for the Alliance when they were surprised by a squadron of TIE fighters. Some X-Wings had been destroyed but most made it to hyperspace and Luke had helped shoot down the remaining TIEs. Then a TIE Advanced had engaged him and kept him busy, herding him away from his jump point and disabling his engine. But not before Luke had managed to send that TIE, in a last frantic maneuver before he lost control over his own snub, on a collision course with the planet as well. He had been unable to regain control over his Wing. It had plummeted toward the planet. Shot down.

Shot down…

Luke started, his head whipping up, ignoring the pain the action caused in his abused back. Sure enough, he found himself face to face with the smashed landing gear of his smoldering X-Wing. In fact, he was nearly hitting his nose on the snub, the cuffs on his wrists wrapped around a solid metal bar of the landing gear.

“Gah…!” Luke started and pulled. Who could have done this? Luke tried to get up but he couldn't lift his legs, there was a tugging sensation on his ankles. Luke squinted down his body to his legs. Whoever had tied him to his X-Wing also had the nerve to tie both his legs to a tree a few meters away, with what looked suspiciously like the tow cable from his X-Wing.

Luke struggled and thrashed against his restraints, but they wouldn't give. After the crash, he must have passed out long enough for someone to pull him out and truss him up like this. But who? Maybe some native wanting to hold him for ransom or… or… It slowly dawned on Luke. The pilot of the TIE Advanced who he’d shot down in the final sluggish moments in space before his X-Wing fell prey to the planet’s gravitation. What if that guy had come around first and tied him up?

Luke twisted again to better check his surroundings. His X-Wing had torn through a tree canopy and crashed in the middle of a clearing. Tall trees stood around, some with large branches broken as testament to the force with which his ship had descended. The ground was soft. It had cushioned his crash well enough to stop his X-Wing from bursting into a fireball, letting him land in more or less one piece. 

There was neither human nor animal in sight.

Luke assessed his injuries, stretching his limbs carefully. He had several bruises, and the pain in his joints and back was a result of the less than smooth landing.

Luke struggled against his restraints again. There had to be a way out of them. But the cuffs were sturdy and the bar they were attached to, though crooked and bent, was still infuriatingly attached to the ship. Whoever had strung him up like this had known what they were doing. His tow cable – for he was sure that’s what it was – was bound tight around his ankles. All he could do was shift a few inches forward or backward and turn from his belly to his back.

He pondered for a way to get out of this situation. Maybe he could bargain his way out of this. Luke turned on his back, looking up at the blue sky with its blazing sun. He was sweating in his too warm flight suit. Fear gripped Luke. Dehydration was a serious problem. He had no idea how long he had been lying in the sun with no shade or water, and his throat was already parched and sore.

He froze when he heard footsteps. And then the sound of measured mechanical breathing chilled him to the core. He twisted around to face the man who stepped into the clearing, approaching Luke with calm strides. 

Vader. 

This couldn’t be true, how was he even here?

Luke renewed his struggles, wriggling and straining as much as he could. But it was useless. Soon his eyes focused on a large pair of black boots and the bottom of that damned cape, which were way too close for comfort. The Dark Lord crouched down beside him, gripping his chin and forcing him to look up. Luke jerked back but the grip on his chin was like a vice.

“Don’t touch me.” Luke ground out, the hand on his chin making speaking difficult. Vader didn’t answer but placed his free gloved hand over his eyes, effectively blinding him. Then he removed the hand abruptly, making Luke squint at the sudden change of light. Vader's red tinted lenses peered into his pupils. Releasing his chin, Vader began patting down his body.

“I said don’t touch me,” Luke snapped.

“Yet you will learn to tolerate it, rebel.” Vader intoned in his deep rumbling voice. “You are mine now and I will do with you as I please.”

Luke’s struggling stopped when Vader squeezed a sensitive spot on his right bicep. He tried to suppress a whimper, gritting his teeth hard.

“Does that hurt?” Vader asked.

Luke didn’t answer. Like hell he was going to encourage Vader to inflict a maximum amount of pain. Vader wasn’t impressed by his silence.

“I take that as a ‘no’, then,” he said mockingly, gripping Luke’s arm tighter in the same spot. Unbidden tears shot into Luke's eyes and he couldn’t suppress a pained whimper this time. But Vader didn’t ease up. 

“Please... stop,” he gasped out.

Vader let go. “Does that hurt?” he asked again, more sternly.

“Yes...” Luke answered, blinking away tears.

“Good. From now on, you will refrain from ignoring my questions or answering with lies, or you will suffer consequences. Do you understand?" he said, voice dangerously low.

“Yes,” Luke replied softly. 

Vader resumed patting him down.

“What are you doing?” Luke twisted and turned again, but with his limited mobility he was helpless to stop the Dark Lord from doing whatever he wanted.

“I am assessing the damage you have caused to yourself by your reckless behavior,” Vader said. He hit a painful spot again and Luke tensed. “Does that hurt?” he asked him again, his hand lingering above the spot to punish him again if he didn’t answer.

“Yes,” he forced out, biting down on his anger.

“Very good, boy,” Vader said, praising him for his compliance. Luke clenched his teeth.

Vader continued to examine him then swiftly turned him on his back. Blinded by the bright sun shining in his face, Luke squirmed, feeling incredibly vulnerable and exposed. Vader finished checking him for injuries, turning him to lie on his belly again.

“You do not seem to have given yourself life threatening injuries” Vader stood and walked out of his line of sight. Luke craned his neck to find out what his father’s murderer was doing. He couldn’t see him, but by the sound of it, Vader was rummaging around his X-Wing’s wreckage. 

He returned and Luke tensed again.

But Vader simply placed some objects next to him. Four water rations, his blaster, his father’s lightsaber and his emergency homing beacon, the battery unit missing and the frayed wiring dangling out. The meaning was clear: no help would be coming. Luke’s eyes narrowed as he saw his father’s killer handling that lightsaber, anger bubbling inside of him. How he wished he could have a go at Vader, just one. Instead, he would be lucky to survive the next few hours. Or maybe ‘lucky’ wasn't the right word.

Vader sat down beside him, making Luke start. Vader’s bulk blocked the view of everything else. “Very well, boy. Now you will talk,” he announced, his deep voice sending a cold chill down Luke’s spine despite the warmth of his flight suit.

“I won’t give you anything, so you might as well just kill me,” Luke ground out. 

But inside, he was petrified with fear and self-doubt. Vader’s ruthlessness was rumored in the Alliance, though few ever survived an encounter with the Dark Lord to tell the tale. Leia had. And whenever she talked about bits and pieces of her own interrogation at the monster’s hands there was a haunted look in her eyes. Granted, Vader didn’t have interrogation equipment at hand, but who knew what he was able to do with makeshift things? He had taken the time to find out Luke’s exact weak spots. Luke eyed the objects placed next to him with apprehension.

“I have no intention of killing you anytime soon, rebel. I will take my time with you,” Vader said. Luke peeked up at him, his stomach churning at the cold threat. “For now, I offer a trade. You will answer a few questions of mine and in exchange I will give you the last water rations. You are surely thirsty.”

Luke glared daggers at Vader. “I won’t talk.”

“Have it your way, boy.” Vader sounded amused. He took the first water ration, opening it slowly. Luke stared at it. Stars, he was thirsty, but he wouldn’t let Vader have this victory. This was Vader’s plan, let him roast in the sun in his thick flight suit and deny him water if he didn’t comply.

“Last chance, boy,” Vader said, but Luke didn’t answer. Vader reached with his free hand and gripped a fistful of Luke’s hair, forcing him to look down. He then took the water ration and gradually upended it on top of his head. Luke struggled, grunting in frustration. The cold clear water was running through his hair, down his head and neck and dripping onto the ground where it was soaked up by the dry earth. Once all the water had disappeared Vader let go of his hair.

“A very unwise choice, boy,” Vader mocked him. Luke scowled at the damp spot of earth below him. He glared at Vader as he picked up the second water ration and opened it.

“Will you now answer my questions?”

“Go to hell,” Luke hissed with all the defiance he could muster, but he caught himself staring longingly at the water.

“As you wish.” This time, Vader pressed his hand firmly on Luke’s mouth, pushing his head up. He then began emptying the water on Luke’s forehead in slow maddening drops.

Luke tried to catch some drops in his mouth but the leather glove pressed down on it. There was nothing for it. As a former resident of Tatooine, he knew the effects of long-term water deprivation and he was on the fast track to a heat stroke.

Muffled though the glove he ground out, “No, please.” His words were garbled, but Vader seemed to understand him regardless.

He stopped the slow drip. “Will you now comply?” He removed his hand from Luke’s chin.

“Yes,” Luke said, looking down.

“Good.” He could hear Vader was pleased. “Here is the bargain. You answer a few questions, then receive some water. If you fail to do so or belabor under the illusion that you could lie to me, I will continue to spill the water elsewhere and you will learn just how unpleasant I can be.”

Luke looked up at the impassive black mask bearing down on him and gave a short nod.

“Good boy, let us start with something simple.” He grabbed Luke’s lightsaber and held it in front of him. “Where did you get this?”

Luke started. He thought Vader would grill him about Alliance intel and had hoped to provide useless and outdated information. He really didn’t want to tell Vader about his lightsaber. Luke had probably been pinned as a Jedi or Jedi-wannabe. But his chances of survival would vanish utterly once Vader knew who his father was.

“Well, boy. Are you violating our deal already?” Vader held the half empty water container mockingly close, but just out of reach.

“No, I… I’ll answer,” Luke said quickly, making up his mind. “A...a man gave it to me.”

“Give me a name,” Vader demanded impatiently.

Luke scowled. “Ben Kenobi.”

He stiffened at the sudden rage he felt from Vader. 

“Kenobi is dead,” Vader remarked coldly.

“I... I know. But he gave it to me.”

“And did he give you a reason for handing you this particular weapon?”

“No...” Luke tried. Instantly Vader dealt out a harsh slap. Luke flinched.

“I have warned you not to lie to me, boy,” Vader bore down on him. He proceeded to spill the water on the right sleeve of Luke’s flight suit.

“No, no, please, please don’t.” Luke strained, staring at the water uselessly wasted. Vader continued until the container was empty. He then reached for the next. Vader calmly opened the third container and began tipping it over Luke’s left sleeve.

Luke’s eyes went wide. He renewed his struggles. “Please don’t, please. I’ll answer. No… it... it was my father’s.”

“What?” Vader hissed, his hand whipping forward and gripping Luke’s chin painfully, tilting his head up. “Say that again,” he ordered menacingly.

“It was my father’s lightsaber,” Luke ground out, wondering what the monster’s reaction would be now he knew he was Anakin’s son, the Jedi Vader had betrayed and murdered. For he must have recognized the saber. Vader didn't say anything for a few dragging moments but his hand on Luke’s chin gradually tightened. “I swear, it’s the truth,” Luke gasped out, afraid the Dark Lord thought it was a lie.

“What is your name, boy?” Vader said curiously softly.

“Luke Skywalker,” Luke replied with difficulty, due to the firm grip on his chin and his neck’s unnatural position. Vader looked down on his frightened face. Was Luke imagining it or was Vader’s hand shaking slightly? Luke lowered his eyes, avoiding the intense gaze. This was it, he knew it. Vader recognized him as the son of his old friend turned enemy. Vader let his chin go and Luke quickly turned his head away.

“Your father’s name?” Vader’s demand cut through his train of thought. This was it. He was done for.

“Anakin Skywalker,” he whispered, staring into the distant foliage before closing his eyes and resigning himself to his fate. He wished to avenge his father but now he’d fall to the same man who had killed him. For a moment, only Vader’s breathing could be heard. Then the Dark Lord suddenly rose, towering above him. Luke flinched when he heard a lightsaber igniting. He braced himself for the blade to burn right through him. 

But the sound became distant as Vader stalked away. Then he heard Vader tearing through the undergrowth with his lightsaber. Luke tensed up. Vader’s rage was palpable even to Luke’s nearly untrained Force senses. Luke looked up in time to see a palm tree fall behind his X-Wing. He knew what had felled it. Long minutes passed before the sound of the lightsaber quieted and even more until Vader approach him again, the sound of mechanical breathing making his hair stand on end.

Luke turned his head away again, trying to calm himself and prepare himself for death. He expected to hear the lightsaber’s hum again and feel its deadly energy pierce through him, but there was only Vader’s measured breaths. Luke’s fear grew as he felt the Dark Lord’s eyes on him. 

An odd slumping sound made him jerk. He turned his head to find Vader kneeling beside him. The Dark Lord took hold of his chin again, surprisingly gentle this time. Luke fought the grip but was as unsuccessful as before. With his other hand Vader reached for the water ration and held it to Luke’s parched lips.

Luke frowned, but Vader coaxed him to drink. The cold clear water felt good as Vader poured it in small sips into his mouth. Once he had drunk the ration’s remains Vader let go of Luke, placing his head down carefully.

Vader stayed kneeling at his side, so close that some of his cape pooled over Luke. He didn’t speak or ask him any questions, merely staring at him. Luke was confused at this weird behavior. It unsettled him more than a continuation of the interrogation could.

“Are you gonna finish the job, or what?” Luke said quietly.

“What job?” Vader asked after a beat of silence.

“Kill me, like you killed my father.”

Luke wasn’t sure if he imagined the hitch in Vader’s breathing.

“Did Kenobi tell you that?” Vader said tightly.

Luke gave a short nod, not daring to look up at the man. From the corner of his eye he saw Vader balling up his fist. The sound of screeching metal made him freeze. First his blaster and then parts of his X-Wing began to crumble. He was scared out of his wits watching it. The X-Wing shifted further away from him, pushed by the unseen force crumbling it. Luke was pulled with it by his binders and it startled a terrified yell from him.

He thought he’d be pulled apart, but the screeching stopped and Vader grasped his wrists. The binders around his left wrist opened and the pressure in his shoulders, knees and hips eased immediately. Luke turned to break free, but Vader continued to hold his wrists in an iron grip, putting his arms behind his back and shackling them together. Luke tried to move away from him but a firm hand between his shoulder blades pushed him down.

“Calm down, young one,” Vader said. Luke heaved in a few breaths. Once he had stopped struggling, Vader stood and pulled him up with him, grasping Luke’s arms tightly. Legs still tied together, Luke swayed at the sudden change of position after lying down so long in the hot sun. Vader held him, not allowing him to fall.

Vader made a sudden movement, and Luke found himself on the Dark Lord’s shoulder, staring down at the long black cape. Breathless, Luke was momentarily too stunned to resist. Vader carried him to the tree that Luke’s cable was wrapped around and set him down so his back rested against the trunk. Vader unzipped his flight suit to his belly, revealing the white undershirt underneath. It cooled him down a little and now he was also in the shade. Vader turned and stalked back to where Luke had been tied down. He fetched the remaining water ration and returned to Luke, who watched him warily.

For reasons he didn't understand, the Dark Lord was upset by his confession of being the son of the Jedi Knight Vader had betrayed and killed. Why he didn’t go straight to executing him or at least resuming his interrogation, he didn’t understand either. But he was sure he wouldn’t like the reason. 

Vader returned to him, crouching down to where Luke leaned against the tree trunk. He opened the final water ration. Luke expected Vader to demand more answers in exchange for it or continue his cruel game of snatching it away. But Vader simply reached for him with one hand, pushing his head back against the trunk to hold him still. He placed the water container to Luke’s lips again and poured it into his mouth in small sips. After he was done Vader rose to his feet.

“Stay put, boy,” he ordered. “Do not attempt to get up.”

“Why not kill me right now?”

“I have no intentions to kill you.”

“No, you want to play with me first, don’t you?” Luke glared at the towering giant, and strained against the cuffs. Vader looked at him then turned and stalked back to his X-Wing, more ruined now than it had been from the crash. Vader began to scavenge the downed snub for anything he seemed to find worthy of retrieving. The thought angered Luke, he was rather attached to his snub. He had been flying it from the day he’d entered the rebellion and destroyed the Death Star. 

But maybe this would provide him with a chance to get away. While Vader was distracted, Luke bent forward to examine the tow cable wrapped around his ankles. If he got it off, he’d run and lose Vader in the maze of trees.

Luke wiggled a bit to loosen the cable but it was wrapped too tightly. Maybe he could open the knot. He glanced over to Vader, who still seemed distracted. Luke slowly scooted away from the tree trunk and shifted into more of a kneeling position to reach the knot. He picked at it, which wasn’t easy with his hands bound behind his back, but it seemed to loosen.

Luke was so wrapped up in his task that he flinched when two black boots appeared right in front of him. Luke gasped and stiffened, expecting swift retribution. But Vader grasped his shoulders and pulled him forward. With a metallic click his shackles opened and fell away. Before Luke could think of what to make of this, Vader began pulling his flight suit over his shoulders and down to his waist. Luke didn’t fight this. It would be good to get out of his flight suit.

Soon he was sitting in his undershirt, his legs still covered but his jumpsuit’s sleeves tied around his waist.

Vader grasped his wrists again to shackle them together, and this time Luke fought in earnest but he felt as if the air around him was freezing up and he couldn't twitch a muscle. Vader calmly proceeded to fasten the binders around his wrists in front of him. Then he checked the cable around Luke’s legs, tightening it again. He hauled Luke back to the tree, propping him up against the trunk again. All the while, Luke was held ramrod stiff by the Force.

When Luke found that he could move again, he growled in frustration. Vader crouched down beside him and reached for a small box that he had placed next to Luke. Luke recognized it as the first aid kit from his X-Wing and scowled. Vader started rummaging through it, taking out its content and placing it on the grass.

“I have always wondered what is in the rebels’ emergency kits,” Vader remarked mockingly. “One outdated medical scanner, bandages, a stim shot and a ration bar,” he said disparagingly. “Abysmal.”

“There was water in there, too,” Luke hissed, glaring at Vader.

“I know, young one,” Vader sounded wary, lifting the medical scanner to Luke’s face and running it down his body. “You will receive proper medical attention once the shuttle is here.”

Luke gritted his teeth. That was hardly a solace. Once the Empire sent a shuttle to rescue Vader he’d end up in a cell on his way to interrogation and eventual execution. With his own homing beacon destroyed his friends would have a hard time locating him.

“You have several bruises and a mild concussion. You are also dehydrated and your temperature is elevated,” Vader stated once he had finished his scan.

“And whose fault is that?” Luke bit out. “First you tie me up in the sun, then you spill my water everywhere. This is exactly what you wanted.” He didn't care he was practically yelling at Lord kriffing Vader.

Vader chose not to answer to that, but reached for Luke’s forehead. Luke cringed away. “Sit still, young one.”

Luke scowled at the belittling term, wiggling in his restraints, longing to lunge at his father’s murderer. “I’m an adult, Vader. You release me and I’ll show you. I swear, I’ll kill you for what you did to my father.”

Vader held his forehead for a moment stroking through Luke’s hair, damp from sweat and the water he had poured on his head. “Sit still,” he repeated again firmly and got up again.

Luke glowered at the patronizing tone, but decided it wasn’t worth it to test Vader’s infamously limited patience just now. He glared after Vader as he busied himself with Luke’s X-Wing again. His eyes fell on the scorched socket his astromech droid had been in. He had lost it near the end of the dog fight, a direct hit all but catapulting the badly damaged droid into space. He should be grateful it hadn't been Artoo, but Luke couldn't shake the feeling that if Artoo, who was currently undergoing repairs, had been flying with him the battle’s outcome would’ve been different.

Luke shook his head. Dwelling on this wouldn't help him with his more pressing problem of getting away from Vader. He looked around to orientate himself.

There was no sign of life around, only trees as far as he could see through the undergrowth. When his squadron had been attacked, the system they were in was uninhabited as far as he knew. But with any luck, there could be dwellings from smugglers or unchartered settlements, other people to help him out, help him get away from… A loud ripping noise from his X-Wing drew his attention back to Vader.

Vader turned to stare at him and Luke froze. The Dark Lord stalked purposefully toward him, holding in his hands a large canister he had ripped out of the snub. Luke stared, confused, until he realized with shock that it was the cooling cell. He shrank back, dreading what would follow. “Ah, no…don’t you…” he gasped.

“Sit still and keep your mouth closed,” Vader intoned, clearly unimpressed by his demands. Before Luke could do more than shift away, the Dark Lord reached him and upended the cooling cell over him.

“Hey, no… stop it, no,” Luke yelped as the liquid hit him. He quickly pressed his lips together to avoid swallowing any. It wasn't exactly cold, but it startled him anyway. Luke ducked his head. With Vader’s terrifyingly good aim, most of the cooling liquid hit its intended target and Luke had no choice but to endure. Once the cell was empty he rubbed his face with his bound hands to clear his eyes and give Vader a proper glare.

“It will help you cool down,” Vader remarked, sounding nearly amused and looking Luke up and down. He supposed he looked rather ridiculous, dripping blonde locks plastered to his head and his clothing saturated. His indignation was cut short when Vader reignited his lightsaber. Luke tensed as Vader swung the blade in his direction.

“No, please…” he gasped, but a second later the blade burned straight through the tow cable tying him to the tree. The knot loosened and Luke struggled to untangle his legs from the cable.

“Can you walk, young one?” Vader asked, offering a hand which Luke ignored. He scooted back and stood up carefully. The numbness in his legs and the fact his hands were still clasped in binders didn’t help, but Luke managed to find his balance. “Good,” Vader remarked, when Luke had stretched his legs cautiously. “You will come with me.”

Luke scowled. Like hell he would. He threw a look around. Not the best moment with Vader standing so close, but he had to try. It couldn’t be long before Vader went back to torturing and interrogating him. Maybe this was his only chance. Luke made a dash to the side when Vader looked briefly away. Elated, for a few steps he thought he had done it and caught Vader off guard, but then something heavy collided with his back. He fell onto the grassy ground, barely managing to bring his hands up in time to avoid landing face first.

“I do not recall giving you a choice, boy,” Vader said, once more sounding more amused than angry. He stalked closer while Luke tried to regain his senses. Luke rolled to delay Vader but the Dark Lord approached him with measured steps and grasped his forearm. He pulled him up again effortlessly.

“Don’t touch me,” Luke snapped, trying to shake Vader off, his calm demeanor infuriating him.

Vader seemed unaffected by Luke’s fury. He kept a large gloved hand wrapped around Luke’s arm. “Will you keep insisting on making useless escape attempts or will you comply from now on?”

“Like kriff I’ll -” Luke began.

“Very well,” Vader cut across him, and pulled Luke closer. Luke gasped when his back was pressed into the Dark Lord’s chest armor. Vader released his forearm only to wrap his arm around Luke’s body, pinning him against the giant of a man. With his bound hands Luke clawed at the unyielding arm. Vader placed his other hand on Luke’s forehead.

“Ah, let me go,” Luke shouted, but then he felt that something was terribly wrong. Blackness seeped into his vision and his legs and arms becoming heavy as lead. His hands fell uselessly from where they had grappled against the Dark Lord’s hold. Eyes ripped wide open in horror, Luke felt consciousness fast slipping away due to whatever Vader was doing to him. He tried to speak, to make Vader stop, but no words came out. The heavy hand on his head stroked through his damp hair in a manner almost soothing. A deep voice, rich and faintly reminiscent of Vader’s mechanical tones but softer and somehow familiar, spoke in his mind before Luke lost the battle against the overwhelming darkness swallowing him.

Calm down, young one. All will be well.

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