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The kidnappings of a Sith Lord

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Summary: A prison outbreak goes wrong and suddenly, there are even more people who need to be broken out.

 

 

 

Vader fumed.

There was only one person he had hoped to capture who had been part of the rebel group which had infiltrated the Imperial prison.

There was only one person which had escaped the trap carefully laid out in the prison.

Naturally, the person he was talking about was Luke Skywalker, his dear son who had yet once again avoided his near-capture. Vader grumbled under his breath. He had been so close. Less than a few rooms and corridors had separated them when the boy had pulled off another one of these crazy stunts he seemed to be so good at. Vader was rather sure that if he didn´t capture him first Lukes´ stunts would at some point cause him a heart attack.

His plan had been so well thought out. As soon as his contact at the rebels had provided him with the information that a group of rebels including Luke and the troublesome crew of the Millenium Falcon would be on a mission for a prison breakout, he had begun laying out the trap. All stormtroopers had been instructed to set their weapons for stun. The quarters had been prepared accordingly. And despite it all, it had gone miserably wrong.  

From his son and his horribly failed capture, his thoughts wandered to the rest of the rebel group he now had to deal with. That included the incredibly nerve-racking princess Leia, the loud-mouthed smuggler, a Wookie and a pathetic group of around five other rebels. His men had also retrieved the Millenium Falcon from its hiding place.

All nice and well, apart from the fact of them still being alive and his son hiding somewhere in the city. Without a proper two-way connection he couldn´t tell more than that he hadn´t left the immediate surrounding areas. Vader had made sure that it would stay that way by establishing strict controls and by stationing a small part of his fleet above the planet to intercept any ships which might lift off avoiding the controls.

Not that the boy would try to leave in any way. Vader had figured that he was definitely planning on breaking his friends out in a just as reckless move as he had shown before. Whether he was waiting for the right circumstances and preparing or waiting for the rebels to send reinforcements he didn´t know.

Not that it mattered.

Darth Vader smiled grimly behind his mask as a plan took hold in his mind.

 

 

 

Luke Skywalker was currently not in the best of moods. First of all, their mission had failed, had failed badly, and all of his friends had been captured. Second of all, he was hungry. Both of those were serious problems but at least the second one could be solved rather easily.

Of course, he was aware that the whole city had been alerted to his presence and was probably looking for him. Holograms and prints of his face could be literally found everywhere. There had even been a big announcement over loudspeakers to be aware of the dangerous rebel still hiding somewhere in the city. Patrols had started to systematically comb the city. All ships were checked expertly before leaving the planet, not only in this city but apparently on a large scale.

Luke scowled. He couldn´t believe the Empire went to such lengths to capture a single rebel. Then again, maybe capturing the rebel who destroyed the death star and recently ran around acting as a wanna-be jedi causing trouble seemed worth the effort after all. If they knew that he had been the pilot to make the decisive shot.

His scowl deepened. He had contacted the rebels right after the mission had gone wrong but apart from their assurance that they would send help as soon as possible he hadn´t heard anything else from them. No shelter to hide in, no orders except the order to hide, no nothing. His first action- after escaping that death trap of a prison- therefore was to find a way to get back in. And preferably out, too. With a whole bunch of recently freed prisoners. He had started planning, had studied the workings of the guards and the outlay of the building as well as their safety installations as good as he had been able to and had thereby gained one final conclusion: There was no freaking way to break into that prison.

Not as it was now. The intense security installments only served to show him more clearly that the whole thing had been a setup, a carefully laid-out trap. And they had walked right in.

He sighed silently and leaned his head back, letting the cool evening air flow over his face. Trying to get himself to focus on the situation again, he counted what implements he had to work with. His lightsaber. A blaster he had picked up in the middle of the fight. A large dark cloak- stolen- which he had wrapped himself into in order to hide his face and his clothes which the cameras had surely picked up. A handful of small tools in one of his pockets. A handful of coins, not enough to spend them on anything useful, especially not to bribe someone. No ship. No bombs or something similar to create a diversion elsewhere. All in all, he had nothing. Except for a still growling stomach.

With another quiet sigh he pushed himself from the wall he had been leaning against and started walking around the corner and towards the shabby inn he had been eyeing for a while now. It stood in a rather run-down part of the town and attracted all kinds of fishy low lifes. It was the kind of inn where someone like him could possibly still hope to hide and to not attract too much unwanted attention.

He entered, wrinkling his nose at the smells, keeping his head down while still trying to get a best possible impression of the location and the guests and walking towards an empty place by the bar. He made sure to have the entrance and the people directly around him in his field of vision as well as to have localized at least two alternative ways of exit.

Only then did he allow to let half of his attention wander to the bar keeper in order to order some food. He murmured a short, locally common greeting and was about to inquire what the most edible food in this godforsaken place was when a dark rumbling baritone suddenly caught his attention and nearly stopped his heart dead in his chest.

He twirled around fast on his barstool, breathing out only when he spotted the blue, flickering hologram of Darth Vader standing on a table in the corner of the room right beside him. Then he focused on the words Vader was forming and everything inside him grew cold.

“This message goes out to Luke Skywalker hiding out there. I repeat: This message goes out to Luke Skywalker.” Luke swallowed and pulled his cape deeper into his face, leaning forward unconsciously.

“As you are certainly aware, we have the rest of your rebel friends, including the former princess Leia, currently in our custody after their attack on the prison to free dangerous inmates. As these rebels hold no value to the Empire and endanger the security of all citizens, they will at short times notice be terminated. Luke Skywalker, I am giving you a choice. Hand yourself over to the authorities and I shall spare these criminals from death. If you refuse to do so, believing that help from the rebels will come in time, I will terminate the rebels one at a time each hour starting tomorrow at 12 o´clock. I repeat: This message goes out to Luke Skywalker. As you are certainly aware…”

“Are you still going to order?” the bar keeper inquired from behind him sounding exasperated. “Excuse me, m´ suddenly not hungry anymore,” Luke murmured and abruptly stood up. He rushed out of the inn, probably too quickly, probably too conspicuously, whatever.

The moment he stepped around the corner he started running. He didn´t know where to go, he didn´t even think about it, all that was in his mind was a vicious circle of Vaders´ words.

… for the security of all citizens, they will at short times notice… be terminated…

I am giving you a choice…

…Hand yourself over…

If you refuse to do so I will terminate the rebels one at a time each hour…

…starting tomorrow at 12 o´clock.

When his lungs started burning and his legs gave out under him he fell to his knees, raising his face to the sky as little drops of rain started to fall down on him- as the sky grew darker and darker- as night started to fall.

“I´m so screwed”, he panted, over and over again. “I´m so screwed.”

 

 

The next day, unsurprisingly, came rather early.

Luke had spent the last precious hours of the previous day contacting the Rebel Alliance, explaining the situation. The answers he had gotten hadn´t been very encouraging. There was a small Star fleet hovering over the planet, making it basically impossible to send in any Alliance ships. Even if they had send them in, Luke´s description of the prison layout and its security installations made it very clear that any attempt to storm the prison would be a suicide mission.

“I can´t and I won´t force you to surrender yourself”, Mon Mothma had said. “This is your decision and your decision only. We also have no proof that Vader would even keep his promise to let them live.”

Vader. And that was the other problem, wasn´t it? Why would Darth freaking Vader go as far as to offer an exchange of a whole group of rebels against him? So they had indeed finally found out that he had been the pilot who had caused the destruction of the Death Star, had connected his name to the deed?

Vader…

Luke´s stomach clenched when he remembered the duel- if you could call it that- on Cymoon One. Vader had been rather contemptuous back then, clearly not taking him seriously at all. And now he was here, probably only for him…

And not only that… the bounty on his head stated rather loudly that the Dark Lord wanted him alive. Luke had felt sick as he had finally fallen asleep, rolled together in a bad hideout in barely dry clothes, uneasy and alone and quite insecure of what the next day would hold.

 

The next day, to his surprise, had gifted him with a clear head, a new determination, and, furthermore, with a course of action. If Vader wanted him, he´d get him. But Luke was going to make him pay for it.

He made his way through the city, not really trying to behave inconspicuous anymore, his steps strong and determined. There were patrols all around the prison facilities and the cameras would pick him up the moment he left the security of the shadowed entrances in the last rows of houses. Most likely even before. He didn´t care anymore.

There was a square in front of where the walls of the prison skyrocketed. In the middle of the meters thick walls, there was a quadratic entrance and beyond lay, as he knew, the first inner courtyard which was rather huge. Beyond that in return lay the actual entrance to the prison. Everywhere, there were weaponry and cameras installed. And of course, stormtroopers everywhere.

He left the cloak somewhere on the ground of the last street, letting it flutter to the ground, revealing his face and clothing for the first time in two days.

Luke threw one last look down at his comlink checking the time- point 10 o´clock- then he stepped out onto the free space in front of the prison. He held his lightsaber loosely in his one hand, clearly visible to anyone, and kept his other hand close to his blaster.

The stormtrooper squad he encountered recognized him instantly, obviously planning on taking him in custody immediately. Luke raised his lightsaber in a warning gesture, one string of self-control away from lighting it, and said in a steady and calm voice: “You will escort me to Lord Vader.” He tried to pull on the Force while saying it, remembering the mindtrick Ben had used back then to get them out of trouble.

He didn´t know whether or not it had worked but the stormtroopers escorted him in their midst without trying to restrain him, actually keeping their distance from him. He stepped through the archway into the inner courtyard of the prison and that was when a cold that was not related to the weather started to creep down his spine.

He looked up and cold dread twisted in his stomach as he faced Darth Vader, standing ten meters away from him, unmoving, staring at him. The fear he had kept at bay for so long suddenly came rushing forward and he stumbled shortly before he regained control.

Because of course there had been never a choice, not in his eyes, not ever. If he had the chance to save his friends´ lifes, of course he´d do it, even if the cost was his own. All that and more ran through his head as he faced the murderer of his father.

He ignored the fear churning at his insides, fought the trembling in his limbs and stepped further forward, noticing only now that they were surrounded by stormtroopers, two squads lined up behind Vader and a circle spread around Luke himself but none of the troopers close enough for him to attack them with the lightsaber.

The doors of the archway closed with a loud thump and then there was silence.

Luke´s heart thumped so loudly he was sure somebody could hear. He clutched his lightsaber harder, unwilling to betray his churning emotions.

“Skywalker,” Vader said, finally breaking the silence. “So you´ve come.”

“It´s not like you gave me much of a choice,” Luke replied, anger in his voice.

He could have sworn he felt a sliver of faint amusement and dark satisfaction coming from the Dark Lord, thrumming underneath the strong, barely contained sense of triumph.

“Lay down your weapon”, the Sith Lord intoned.

Luke shook his head. „First, you release my friends. I won´t do anything before you have given them back the Falcon and let them escape through the barricade of Imperial ships up above. I want them contacting me on my comlink that they have successfully escaped, then I will put down my weapon. Oh, and don´t you think of putting a homing beacon on the Falcon.”

A strange static noise escaped the Dark Lord´s vocoder. Luke wasn´t exactly sure what it meant and whether or not there were sounds the vocoder could not reproduce.

“And why do you think I would do as you demand? As you can see you are in quite the precarious position right now”, Vader said, pointing vaguely to the stormtroopers surrounding Luke, now open amusement and mockery in his tone.

Luke pulled back his shoulders and straightened.

“Because you want me alive. Am I right?”.

And with that, he pulled his unlit lightsaber up and held it right to his temple, his thumb resting on the activation button.

Vader grew stiff and very, very quiet.

“You think I would care much about whether or not you died?” he said in a tone which probably was supposed to sound lightly. “You do that and you and your friends are both dead. You want that?”

“You wanna risk it?” Luke said, twitching his finger slightly.

Vader tensed and Luke felt, he actually FELT the Dark Side gathering around Vader. He clenched his teeth and set his jaw defiantly. “Whatever you´d try to do, you wouldn´t be quick enough. You don´t think I´d do it?”

You would and that´s the problem, a voice said inside his head.

He continued to stare at Vader, his hand unwavering, ready to react to the smallest sign of menace. Silence stretched.

“FINE”, Vader growled out in the end, a barely contained anger- such anger!- in his voice.

Luke suppressed the sliver of fear, real fear twisting his stomach and nodded once, jerkily.

“It´s a deal.”

“Now put down your weapon”, Vader said, and, was that some small relief in his voice?

“No.” Luke shook his head. “First my conditions, then yours.”

A growl, an actual growl escaped the Dark Lord but then he turned abruptly to the officer standing behind him. “Get the Falcon here. Get the prisoners here. Dismantle the Falcon´s weaponry. And bring down a goddamn escort of TIE fighters, we don´t want them to do something stupid.”

While the officer hurriedly scurried away, Vader turned back to Luke. Luke couldn´t help comparing him to a predator turning in on his prey.

“You happy now, Skywalker?!”

“Very much so”, Luke replied lightly. He kept still while things were set in motions around him, more stormtroopers arriving in place. His arm grew heavy from keeping the lightsaber´s hilt pressed to his temple but he ignored the sensation. Vader kept his eyes on him, or at least he assumed so from the positioning of the black helmet. The Falcon came into view from the sky- where had they even hidden it? Oh,Han would be terribly upset someone had dared to fly his ship- and descended upon the ground, far away from Luke, too far to ever hope to make an escape when the others came into view, not with all the stormtroopers, not with Vader around.

Leia, Han, Chewie and the other rebels Luke had gotten to know in the previous days looked unharmed when they stumbled through the doors of the prison. Far more stormtroopers than needed escorted them, even more at the sides keeping their arms on them. They were blinking at the bright light of the day, confused at what was happening, not yet grasping their situation. Then Leia spotted Luke standing in the middle of the circle of stormtroopers and Vader standing a few meters in front of him.

“Luke!” she called out. “LUKE!”

Han joined her shouting a second later. “Kid, what are you doing there? What is going on?!”

Luke´s whole body strained and he fought to keep his self-control. “I got you out of here, that´s what´s going on here,” he shouted, trying to project self-confidence and optimism through his tone.

They clearly didn´t buy it.

“You did WHAT??!”, Leia and Han exclaimed simultaneously. Luke managed a shaky smile.

“That was the deal”, he said weakly, before he regained the strength of his voice. “Free travel back for all of you. In exchange for me,” he added.

“Luke, don´t you dare even think about doing this whole sacrificial hero bullsh…” “HAN”, Luke interrupted him before the smuggler could finish his sentence. “It´s too late now, anyway.” He gestured at the stormtroopers surrounding him with his free hand.

“The weaponry of the Falcon is dismantled. The hyperdrive has not been tampered with. You will get into that ship and set for hyperspace the moment you´ve left the blockade of Imperial ships above. Your friend will stay here to keep me some company”, Vader said sharply, impatience ringing in his words.

Luke swallowed, hearing the undertones of anger, feeling them and this time, they were definitely directed at Leia and Han.

“Please, don´t let this go to waste”, he said with a helpless smile. “Go.”

And then, reluctantly, definitely only encouraged by the blasters the stormtroopers pushed at their backs, they stumbled forwards, towards the entrance of the Falcon.

“Luke…” he heard Leia call out a last time.

“Kid, we are gonna get you out of there, hang in there!” Han´s voice carried across the square.

Lukes´ lips twitched, not fully forming a smile. His arm started to tremble but he stubbornly kept it up.

“Call me when you´re up there”, he shouted, suddenly feeling the intense desire to run after them, damning the consequences. Vader stepped into his field of vision, one step closer. “Stay back,” Luke hissed and gripped his lightsaber´s hilt stronger again. Vader hesitated, then stilled, refusing to back off. Was he afraid that Luke would actually dare to run after them? Even he knew that he would neither manage that nor would Vader let him do it. He breathed in deeply and forced himself to stay up straight.

The Falcon shuddered once and then, finally, it rose into the sky, accompanied by a group of TIE fighters. Luke followed it with his eyes, longingly, ever so conscious of Vader closely watching him.

It quickly disappeared from his field of vision. A few minutes more and then, a static crackle from his comlink… He raised his free hand to activate it.

“Luke,” Leia´s voice said, concerned and strained.

“I hear you,” he managed to say with a stable voice.

“We´re gonna enter hyperspace now,” Han´s voice joined the conversation. Relief flooded Luke and made his knees feel weak. “Trust me, kid, we´re gonna get you out of there. We´re coming back for you.”

“Thanks, guys”, Luke whispered, his voice nearly breaking at the end. “But I don´t think you will find much to return to.” There was no way that Vader was going to let him live. He wanted to parade him in front of the Emperor and then publicly execute him as the Destroyer of the Death Star. And that´s where Luke´s role in all of this would end.

His whole situation now crashed at full speed at him. He felt weak and he needed to lock his knees in order to keep standing. His breathing was a bit shallow.

“Entering hyperspace”, was the last thing he heard, then the noise coming from the comlink went static.

He raised his head, looking towards Vader who´s eyes had never left him. The gaze seemed to strip him bare and he suppressed a shudder. It was his turn now to fulfill the conditions of the deal. It was not like he had much choice in that matter.

Slowly, unwillingly, he dropped the lightsaber´s hilt from his temple.

“Stun him before he does something equally stupid,” Vader ordered the moment he did.

The lights of the stun shots were the last thing he saw before he dropped into darkness.   

 

 

Chapter Text

The pain exploded suddenly, without a preceding warning. One moment he was staring out of the viewing ports, gazing sightlessly at the stars, the next moment Vader doubled over, clutching tightly at his stomach.

For a moment his mind reeled, not understanding what was going on, where the sudden pain was coming from and then, with a jolt, he understood.

Luke!

Obviously, no answer. He followed the thread connecting him to his son, the bond which had grown so strong ever since Bespin even though his son still refused to acknowledge it. Ever new waves of pain washed against him, growing stronger the more he focused on the bond. He ignored the pain, stowed it away beyond shields grown stronger ever since Mustafar.

Luke, he urged. Please, hear me…! What has happened? Where are you? Are you fine?

A flitter of emotion over the bond, nearly buried beneath the pain. Surprise, Vader recognized. A flitter of fear. Vulnerability.

He clenched his fingers. His son was hurt, hurting somewhere in the galaxy and he didn´t know where, didn´t know how to help, didn´t know how bad it was.

Luke, let me help you, he basically begged. Please.

More surprise, then a flinch as the pain spiked once more.

Father?

Vader´s knees nearly gave out under him when he heard Luke´s voice. Weak, unsteady, strained. Luke.

Son, please let me in. What happened?, he urged to know. Where are you? Son…

No!, Luke said. And just like that, he stopped talking and visibly redrew from the bond. Vader growled out loud. He would not allow it. He drew the wavering strings of the Dark Side closer to himself, pulled in its energy and then grasped the bond tightly. The contact to his son´s mind grew stronger again immediately. He pushed away the horror and pain flooding his senses and threw himself against his sons´ weakened shields. The shields around his mind- which were already in tatters- trembled as his son tried desperately to stabilize them but Vader had already gotten too far. One more push and the shields fell apart and he was in.

For a moment, he was overwhelmed by the intense pain flooding his sons´ senses but then refused to acknowledge it and instead forced a look through his sons´ eyes. A sandy landscape, a few narrow white buildings half buried in the sand in some distance. Twin suns. With a sudden jolt, Vader realized where his son was. Tatooine. Why in all hells´ names was he on Tatooine?!

Vader was thrown back with a powerful yank which defied the impression of Luke´s current weakness.

OUT! 

Vader reeled for a moment from both the sharp command and the powerful push, then he regained his concentration behind the shields of his own mind.

Son, he started. Let me help you…

He tried to reach for his son again but this time, more powerful shields were pulled up around his mind which blocked Vader effectively. Behind them shimmered weakly pain and growing weakness and even more pain.

Vader spun around and grasped the first officer by the collar of his uniform. “Set the hyperspace course for Tatooine. Immediately.“

 

 

It seemed like a small miracle that the Executor had in fact not been far away from Tatooine, which did not leave enough time for Luke to get on a speeder and disappear before his father arrived in the system.

That much Vader knew the moment the ship left hyperspace and his son´s force presence registered in his mind, still a bright spot in a hundreds of weak ones but a lot duller than usually. In fact, it flickered weaker every second. Vader doubted very much that the boy was capable of moving around much right now either way.

The way down with the shuttle took forever, every second tormenting Vader´s mind and patience. He was able to pin down his son´s location rather easily since he had recognized the scenery seen from his son´s eyes. He navigated quickly towards the location he had spotted in his mind, ordered the troopers to surround the area so that Luke´s escape route would be cut off and set off to find his son.

The walk through the familiar streets would have been more than painful but Vader´s mind was differently occupied. His connection to Luke was flickering with every step he took just as Luke´s light got weaker and weaker. Vader deliberately kept a little distance on the bond. The boy already had to know that Vader was close but he had no reason to give him information on exactly how close. Also, the tighter he clutched the bond, the more of Luke´s pain flooded into his mind. While it did a lot to lengthen Vaders´ steps it was also hindering him from thinking clearly.

A spike of alarm from the bond. Vader abruptly steered off course, walking deeper into the poverty stricken areas of the city, full of narrow passageways and tight curves, with different species lurking in the doorways. All had the same empty eyes in common.

Vader didn´t stop to interrogate any of them and as soon as they spotted him they hurriedly scurried out of his way anyway, choosing to either hide or to run away from the dark-clothed Sith Lord.

He nearly ran past the narrow tunnel which disappeared underneath a bedraggled small complex. The moment he passed it the force flashed in an intensity which could only be a warning. Vader abruptly turned, a fleeting image in his head of his son, dragging himself along the wall of the house, one hand clutching at his bleeding stomach, his fingers covered in blood. He didn´t know whether he had imaged the picture or whether there had been an imprint in the force of it.

He stormed down the tunnel, stirring up debris and dust and ignoring blindly all kinds of dangers which could lurk in dark and deserted tunnels like these.

He had thought that he had been prepared when he reached the end of the tunnel but as it turned out, he had not been. There, broken down with his back on the wall, lay his son. He was bleeding from a deep wound in his stomach which he was holding weekly, his upper clothes soaked with his blood.

Vader was there in two big steps, crouching down in the same movement. The boy shrank back, noticing his presence alarmingly late, and then cried out in pain as the movement teared at his wound.

“Don´t move,” Vader said and nearly flinched when it sounded more like a threat than the concern it actually was. Luke´s free hand dived to the lightsaber he wore hidden underneath his tunic but before he could even grip it right Vader had already twisted it out of his hand.

“Don´t,” he said simply.

“No,” his son whispered, the first words he had spoken to him. “No, please…”

Vader ignored his desperate denial as well as the hands which pushed weakly against his chestplate. His son´s obvious weakness cut right into his heart, a heart which he had no longer considered beating.

“Who did this?” he growled, hot anger rising within him. He noticed that there was also blood coming from a second wound on one of Lukes´ legs.

“Doesn´t… matter…” Luke answered, leaning back his head to stare sightlessly at the tunnel ceiling. He had given up his futile fight, his hand dropping next to the one still clutching at the wound. It was a blaster wound and a nasty one at that.

“Got kind of… into… the crossfire of something,” he uttered, incapable of answering fluidly without heaving in deep breaths in between. “Got distracted… and then unlucky.”

Remembering the countless gangs being part of the city, Vader clenched his teeth, beating down on his anger. Taking revenge could take place at a later point, not now while his son´s life was on the line.

“I will get you to safety, Luke,” he said. The assurance sounded empty in his ears. He made a move to sweep his son up in his arms. Before he could manage Luke shuffled away, twisting to avoid the simply contact.

“Do not fight me in this,” Vader said desperately, feeling the time run through his fingers. “I am only trying to help you. Don´t fight me, just this once.”

He didn´t know whether the boy had understood his words and accepted the futileness of a fight or whether he simply had no strength left to fight but as soon as Luke stopped moving away from him, he bowed down again, stretching out his hands and lifting up his son. Luke´s body was limp and motionless.

“Hold on, Luke.”

When he started moving back up, his eyes on the entrance, a jolt made him start. He glanced down and saw that Luke´s head had rolled against his shoulder, his eyes closed but pinched together in pain.

Don´t take him from me, too, Vader prayed silently to gods which had long since abandoned him. Just leave him be…

Blood coated Vaders´ hands, his son´s blood.

… He is the last thing I have.

Luke murmured something as they started moving through the deserted streets. Vader bowed a little down to him to understand the words.

“… won´t… turn…” It felt like something inside his chest suddenly clenched at the words. Vader felt cold and for once, it was not a nice feeling.

“This is not the time to worry about that,” he stated, hiding how shaken he was feeling inside.

One of Lukes´ hands pulled at his clothes, gripping it inside his fist. Vader suddenly became aware of the heat which was radiating from the boy. The boy was getting feverish! Moving at the highest speed which he was capable of while making sure that the wound didn´t get stretched Vader cursed at the distance still between him and the shuttle where the medics waited for them.

The boy had been quiet for a while now, unmoving, and they were still a few turns away from the square where the shuttle waited when he stirred again. He weakly pulled at Vaders´ clothes, demanding his attention. His sense in the force was dull and flickered so weak it was barely recognizable.

“Father,” Luke said in a small voice. He was breathing with difficulty and it sounded like there was something wet stuck inside his throat. “If I don´t make it…”

“That will not happen,” Vader said with a certainty which he did not feel. Lukes´ wounds were serious, very much life-threatening but he would not have it. He would not let his son die, not so close after finally having found him.

“Please, for once… listen to me… you should know I...”

Luke now definitely also sounded feverishly, his voice weak and unstable. “Father, despite all, I…”

Lukes´ eyes dropped close.

Vaders´ hands around his sons´ shoulders tightened and his heart lurched, aching with an intensity he had forgotten about.

… I love you.

 

 

When the troopers saw Vader carry the motionless figure into the shuttle which would bring them both to the Executer, cradling the figure in his arms like a newborn, nobody dared to utter a comment about it. Sith Lord or not, they recognized grief when they saw it.

 

 

Author´s note: Before there are any inquiries- yes, of COURSE Luke makes it through this. Like I could ever let him die! (let´s be honest, can anyone imagine the consequences of that??)

Also the next One-Shot will be happier, I promise! ;P

Chapter Text

Today was Piett´s birthday. It had been a quiet and normal day so far, apart from the few sparse and unavoidable congratulations. He would have preferred it to stay that way. Of course, as he should have guessed, it didn´t.

At the end of the day, right before he could flee to his rooms, Captain Sullivan, who he had avoided successfully all day, stepped into his path to the doors, a wide smile spreading on his face. “Admiral”, he said amiable. “I was waiting for you. First of all- congratulations!”.

Piett managed a smile. “Thank you, Captain”, he said eloquently. He waited for the invitation he knew was coming. “Admiral”, the Captain said, fulfilling his expectations. “I have taken the liberty of inviting a small number of the higher officers to a little celebration of your birthday.” Piett fought not to pull a face. He didn´t like celebrating his birthday very much. The last years´ celebrations were still vivid in his mind. They had usually ended far too late for his taste and with far too many drunken officers. He wasn´t that close to most of the officers anyway which might be influencing his distaste, too. He had the suspicion that they didn´t celebrate because of his birthday but mostly just to celebrate at all. His birthday just happened to be a welcome opportunity.

“I am sorry”, he tried. “But I am really tired after today, I am not sure I am up to a celebration.” Sullivan grimaced. “But it´s all already set…! You NEED to come! We can, of course, cut the celebration short so you are well rested tomorrow…”

Piett sighed internally and surrendered to his fate. “Fine,” he said, because he didn´t have much of a choice anyway and it would be rude to not show up to his own birthday celebrations.

Sullivan smiled brightly. “I am so glad,” he exclaimed. Piett managed a small smile.

“So, when is the celebration going to start?”

“Right now. In the officer´s room.” Piett now really sighed, too quietly for anyone to hear and followed Sullivan out of the room.

 

 

Piett eyed the drink in his hand with a lot of suspicion. Its color was a poisonous green, and little yellow glowing droplets bubbled up to the surface

The perilous drink in question was in fact his birthday present from Captain Sullivan. He looked up at the Captain again, ignoring the festivities around him, the officers’ talking, laughing and drinking. He was more focused on the question whether or not said drink would possibly kill him. It certainly looked that way.

“And you said, this drink was made by the Nightsisters,” he said again.

“Yes!”, Sullivan said excitedly. “An extinct clan of powerful witches. They lived on Dathomir- people say they could tap into the magical forces on their planet.”

“But am I not right remembering that there were dark energies flowing from said planet?”. Piett tried to keep the skeptical tone from his voice.

Sullivan shrugged. “Who knows? The merchant promised that the drink had a magical blessing to it.”

Piett scowled slightly. He was rather certain that the merchant- however Sullivan had made contact to such a dubious person (and yes, he disapproved of such contact)- had lied. He had most likely made up this story to impress his costumers and to sell the drink to a higher price but Piett was too polite to say this out loudly. Sullivan´s last words caught up with him and despite himself, caught his interest.

“A magical blessing?”, he asked.

Sullivan nodded eagerly. “It is rumoured that if you drink it and think of a person, that person´s wish will come true.”

Piett snorted. “Right.” Just the kind of folklore a merchant would think of. Sullivan looked a little bit insulted. “You don´t believe it?”

Piett took a moment time to think of the most sensible answer. “It does sound rather unbelievable”, he avoided the question uneasily.

Sullivan grinned. “But a real clan of witches should be able to make it possible, right…?”, he said. “I paid a lot of money for this drink and believe me, it was very difficult to get.”

“Oh, I am sure of that”, Piett agreed quickly, not wishing to sound ungrateful. He hesitated. He would have to at least take a few sips of it to not insult the Captain. “Well, then, cheers!”, he exclaimed with a fake happy voice and raised his glass with the still very suspicious looking liquid.

“Cheers!!”, Sullivan replied enthusiastically and several more officers joined, their glasses all meeting in the middle before everyone took theirs back to take a sip. Piett only hesitated for a short moment before he lifted his glass to his lips, too. It surely wouldn´t taste as horrible as its appearance suggested.

The glass touched his lips. Well, better safe than sorry, he thought and decided to think of his wife and his children when drinking.

However, as the sweet liquid touched his tongue and burned down his throat, his thoughts wandered to the planning task Vader had given him today. And just like that, his last thoughts were of Darth Vader.

Then his knees suddenly became weak and he collapsed into darkness.

 

 

Luke Skywalker was in his rooms when it happened. One moment he was finishing the mission report he had to deliver till tomorrow, the next moment, black spots appeared in his sight and darkness welcomed him in a soft embrace.

When he came back to his senses, he was lying curled up on the cold floor. There were agitated voices around him. He moaned quietly, trying to regain his control over his limbs. Someone pulled him up and he looked directly into the face of an Imperial officer.

Instantly, Luke regained his focus and he did the most logical thing. He punched the officer.

The officer stumbled back with a cry of pain and surprise, letting go of his arms and clutching his face. “What was that for?!”, he shouted at him, enraged. Luke echoed him in stumbling back a few steps, his sense of balance precariously unstable. He managed to clutch some chair and to hold onto it. He then took notice of the scenery.

He was in a grey coloured room with several sofas, a long bar with a dozen of drinks standing on it, no windows, and, most importantly, a handful of Imperial officers staring at him- incredulously and mildly horrified. It absolutely, totally, didn´t make any sense to him. He had been in his room a few seconds ago! Now he was here, wherever that was…! Had he been caught? What had happened? Where was he??

“Who are you?!” he exclaimed, upset.

The officer scowled. “What the kriff do you mean ´who am I´?! You hit me!”

Luke stared. He let his eyes wander through the room again, this time more carefully taking in all the details. The officers stared at him, yes, but made no effort of restraining him or anything. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. There had obviously been some kind of celebration going on. It all didn´t add up. Did they not know who he was? He dipped his head, a thousand questions screaming in his mind. That was when he saw his grey sleeves and the uniform he was wearing. And his hands which were still clutching the chair and which were not his hands.

That was the moment Luke decided it was time to panic.

“Excuse me”, he said, pushed through two officers and stumbled through the door.

Nobody tried to stop him. Someone called after him but he didn´t really understand what was being said. Several more alarmed and outraged voices spoke up. There was an incredulous laugh.

And then Luke was down the corridor, basically running, not knowing what he was doing or where he was going and THERE was a fresher!

He stormed in and looked into the mirror. And new pools of horror formed in his stomach. Staring at him with wide opened eyes was an Imperial officer. Brown hair, tired eyes with a strange mix of brown and green, probably in his late forties, wearing a weird cap and a grey uniform. And… an admiral, if the bars on his uniform indicated anything.

Luke felt like fainting. In fact, he would have preferred to faint, as it would have let him escape this bizarre situation. He was dreaming. He had to be dreaming because there was no way this was truly happening.

He nodded once to himself. Yup, definitely dreaming. He took his left hand and, with all his strength, pushed his fingernails into it. Sharp pain but no waking up. He cried out loud, not from the pain but from being utterly overwhelmed by the situation, and sagged, ending up sitting on the floor with his face buried in his hands.

This was not happening, this was not happening, this…

The door opened.

Luke sucked in a breath and raised his head. A young Imperial wearing a plain grey uniform stuck his head in and nervously peeked at Luke.

“Admiral…?”, he asked, sounding mildly insecure of his current situation.

Luke straightened up and got to his feet. It was time to get some answers and this could turn out in his favour.

“Come in,” he invited amiably. “Who are you?” The Imperial- a blue-eyed redhead, young, hair and clothing in typical Imperial style- quickly followed his order. The door closed behind him. He saluted snappishly. “Lieutenant Frederick, at your command, Sir!”

In his mind, Luke considered several ways to approach the Lieutenant. He went with the easiest one.

“At ease, Lieutenant”, he said. The youth shifted the weight on his feet without really relaxing.

“Do you have a message for me?”, Luke asked. The boy blushed and started stuttering. “No-no, I- I…” Luke nodded at him encouragingly. “I- you did… you didn´t seem well at the celebration… and there was the… incident with Captain Sullivan…and… I thought… in case you needed help…” He trailed off, seeming a bit lost and helpless.

“So, you went after me to see if I was fine?”, he helped him out. “Yes!”, the Lieutenant said, then looked away, still quite nervous. Luke smiled at him and hoped that it conveyed the right message and didn´t look like a grimace.

“I…” he started, “…am fine. It´s just that I might have had one drink too much” He faked a silent chuckle. Frederick scowled. “You didn´t really seem drunk. In fact, you collapsed after barely one drink?” Luke cursed inwardly and searched for a logical reply. “Well, I had a long day… and I am afraid I am quite sensitive towards alcohol…” He hesitated and then decided to take a wager.

“Truth is…”, he leaned forward, “I might have already had a drink before joining the celebration…” Frederick looked just the right amount of scandalized. “…And I… might need your help, Frederick.” He left the young Imperial´s title on purpose and waited for a moment, baiting him. Frederick took the bait. “How can I help you, Admiral?”.

It didn´t matter whether Frederick really cared about ´the admiral´ or whether he hoped for a quicker promotion by keeping close to higher personnel. What mattered was that he presented the perfect source of information for Luke. But he couldn´t ask for it the most obvious way. “I… might have mild problems at concentrating right now. I want you to accompany me to my rooms.” Frederick nodded eagerly. “Of course, Admiral!”

Luke made a vague hand gesture towards the door and when Frederick turned around and strode towards it, he followed him. They stepped into the floor.

“Lieutenant…”, Luke said after walking a few steps in silence. “Where are we currently?”. The Lieutenant gazed ahead for a second and then answered “We´re momentarily passing through the Sabast system.” Luke barely took a second to digest that information. It wasn´t really helpful. The Sabast system lay close to the core and also far away from the current hide-out of the rebel fleet. He uncomfortably let his eyes wander over the plain white walls. ´I meant ´On which ship are we currently? ´’ was a rather bad question to ask. ´Who am I? ´ was just as bad. Maybe worse.

“How long until we reach our destination?”, he finally decided to ask. Frederick shot a short look at him. “Our estimated time of arrival is in four days at 0500.”

Luke allowed himself a moment of internal despair. Four days! He had to play along as an admiral of the Imperial fleet for four days until he would even have a chance at escaping the ship!

They walked in silence for a few minutes, Luke still trying to wrap his mind around the situation. He wondered whether it was a good or bad thing that he- or whoever´s body he was currently occupying- apparently held a high place in the Imperial authority chain.

“Do we have any news of when we are supposed to meet up with the Commander?”, he asked, very much intent to make sure that their ship didn´t meet up with Vader´s flagship if he had any saying in that.

The Lieutenant suddenly looked nervous, fidgeting with his hands. “Lord Vader is on the bridge, Sir. I don´t think that he expects to meet up with you today anymore.”

Luke stopped in the middle of the hallway. “EXCUSE ME??!”, he all but screeched. Panic shot through him and threatened to make his knees go weak.

Frederick openly stared at him. “Is everything alright, Admiral…?”, he asked considerately. No, it´s NOT, Luke thought, despair taking over. He was the admiral of VADER´S ship! His father was ON the ship!! He tried to open his mind to reach out to the force, to search for confirmation of what he had just heard, to stabilize himself against the sudden turn of events- but there was nothing. No force, no connection, no black sun at the edge of his conscience, no nothing. He was absolutely force-blind. Or rather, he figured, before desperation managed to take over once more- he was not force-sensitive. Being in the Admiral´s body, his normal abilities were gone.

He groaned aloud now, rubbing his fingers against his temples. This was too much and he couldn´t. “Move along, Frederick.”

“But we´re already there…!”, the boy stammered out, pointing at the door to their side.

“Huh? Ah, right…”. He forced a smile which was now definitely a grimace and ignored the obvious bewilderment and confusion radiating from the boy. Right before he entered, a sudden thought came to him and he turned around again. “I expect you tomorrow half an hour before my shift in front of my quarters, Lieutenant. I expect you to accompany me for the duration of tomorrow´s duties.”

Frederick stared at him with wide eyes. “I… yes… thank you, Admiral, I… but why… of course I´ll…”

“Good”, Luke cut him short and cut him short. “You make a good Lieutenant, be proud of yourself.” The boy blushed, saluted again and opened his mouth again to say something. Before he could, Luke quickly stepped into his quarters and heard the doors close behind him.

He breathed out heavily and all the composure he had forcibly held up since Frederick´s reveal fell apart.

“VADER`S SHIP!”, he cursed out loudly, ruffling roughly through his hair. “I AM ON KRIFFING VADER`S SHIP! WHY IN ALL HELL´S NAMES DID IT HAVE TO BE VADER´S SHIP???!!!”.

Distraught, he strode further into his rooms, collapsing onto the first sofa he found. He curled up for a few moments, refusing to think about anything at all. Then, unbidden, his thoughts rushed back to him. How was he supposed to survive four days acting as Vader´s admiral without Vader finding out? How was he supposed to face his father like this?? What was he supposed to DO??!

As more and more thoughts filtered through his brain, he realized one thing- he could get through this alive. People, even normal people without any force sensitivity, could learn how to shield their mind. It was fully well possible that the Admiral had once gotten an explanation of how to do that. Luke himself had no idea how to do it when he was not able to touch the force but he was pretty sure he could figure it out. He could do it. He could fake being an Imperial if it was just for a few days, as long as he managed to keep his involvement with Vader to the absolute minimum. Something that every Imperial would like to do, he mused, so he wouldn’t fall out of the ordinary.

Reduce your orders to the minimum, don´t interact with any officers and avoid Vader at all costs, he decided finally. It wasn´t really a plan but it was the best he was able to come up with. Then, he continued his plotting, get off the ship as quickly as possible. Everything else, figuring out how to get out of this situation or how I even GOT into this situation, comes afterwards. First, get off the ship. Vader must never learn of what happened. Get off the ship…

Right before Luke fell asleep, drained and exhausted from the events of the day, a last thought drifted through his mind. If he was in the Admiral´s body… then what was happening to his own body?

 

 

Admiral Piett was on the verge of panicking.

No, in fact, he was panicking. He had every reason to panic, after all. If you- upon one innocent morning- woke up in another person´s body, you had every reason to panic. If you woke up in your enemy’s body, you had more than every reason to panic. So here he was, panicking.

To be more precise, he was standing in the fresher belonging to the rooms he had woken up in, staring into the mirror. The face of kriffing Luke Skywalker was staring back at him. Why did it have to be Skywalker, one of the most wanted enemies of the Empire??? What had even HAPPENED????

Piett remembered his birthday celebration, remembered Captain Sullivan´s cursed present, remembered tasting the first sip of the Nightsisters’ drink… and then nothing. A thorough blackness in his memory. There was no way this… situation… had been caused by the magical drink, right? Then again, what else could have caused it?? Maybe he was dreaming! Hallucinating! There was no way he was seriously-

Piett pinched his face and pulled at the skin. Mild pain flared up. He was… he was seriously… occupying the body of Luke kriffing Skywalker. His spreading panic was slowly reaching a level where it equaled hysteria. Piett felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

Critically, he leaned forward and pulled at his long, blond hair. This was messed up in more ways than he could even count. After trying to tidy his hair and realising his fussing was doing more harm than good, he stopped pulling at it and instead shifted in his rebel fatigues. They felt weird against his skin, unfamiliar, way less constricting than his usual uniform. At least they were black and had some style. And then he was so insanely YOUNG. His whole body seemed to vibrate with energy. Had he ever been so energetic when he had been young? Piett felt like he could even feel some power thrumming around him, weaving through space.

Piett´s eyes dropped to the silver hilt hanging from his hip. Luke´s lightsaber. Piett stared for a few moments, fighting an internal battle. Then, with twitching fingers, he reached for it. The hilt felt cold and smooth under his fingers. He ran his fingers over the activation switch. Don’t, he told himself, and then, without thinking about it further, he switched it on. The blade burned in a bright shade of green, humming underneath his fingers like a living being. Reluctantly, slowly but smoothly, he moved his hand in a twirling gesture. The blade felt like a natural extension of his arm. He wondered whether that impression came from himself or from Skywalker´s body.

He spread his legs and held the blade in front of him, pointing at an imaginary enemy. Had anyone come into the fresher in that moment, walking in on Piett posing with the lightsaber in front of a mirror, Piett would have died of shame. He still couldn´t entirely squash the excitement running through his veins. He changed into another fighting stance. He looked amazing.

Encouraged, he twirled the blade quicker, trying out a new attack pattern. There was a loud hiss and he whirled around, flinching when he saw the still-glowing burn on the wall next to him. With a gulp, he extinguished the blade. Okay, back to panicking, he decided. Which he promply did.

His panicking strongly intensified by the sudden knocking noise coming from the door. “Luke?”, a male voice asked.

“Yes?”, Piett answered after only a short moment.

“You wanna join us for breakfast or not?”, the voice asked.

“Uhm, sure!”, Piett said, not knowing how else to react and figuring that this might be as good a chance as any to gain some information. He critically ran himself over in the mirror once more and then opened the door, quickly stepping through and closing it directly after himself again so that nobody could gain a look at the smoking and darkened wall.

His eyes locked to another rebel´s face. The man had dark brown hair and equally brown eyes and was currently half smiling, half frowning at him. “Luke, you´re okay?”, he asked, sounding rather worried. “You look pale.”

“Oh, I´m fine!”. The lie went smoothly over Piett´s lips. “Let´s go!”.

The rebel looked him over once more, critically- was he really behaving that different from Skywalker? - and then motioned him to move along. Piett used the time they spent walking by unobtrusively studying the rebel. He wore dark clothes and a leather jacket which looked like it had seen better years. The rebel seemed rather friendly but most likely only so, Piett mused, because he wasn´t shooting at him.

“So, uhm, any plans for today?”, he inquired innocently, faking a bright smile.

Frowning, the rebel looked at him. “Apart from the trainings simulation and the strategy meeting, no. You´re in an unsually… happy mood today…”

Piett immediately dropped his wide fake smile. It had started hurting anyway and he feared that it looked rather grotesque. “No, no, I just… uhm… look forward to the simulation!”. He guessed that was something Skywalker- who appeared to be a born pilot- would say.

“That´s weird, normally you complain about them being boring compared to real flying.”

“Well, I mean, at least it´s all safe and nice, right?”, Piett replied lightly. He felt like he was doing a horrible job at presenting Luke Skywalker.

The rebel now openly stared at him. “Who are you and what did you do to Luke Skywalker?”.

Piett gasped and took a step backwards. “I… I did not…!”, he stammered. The rebel started laughing loudly and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Should have seen your face just now.”

Piett wondered what crimes he had committed in his previous life to deserve this.

 

Not that many minutes later, Piett sat in the middle of a cheerful breakfast, several rebel pilots surrounding him, chattering loudly about all kinds of random stuff- going from the latest flight drills to discussions about ship compartments and the eating habits of one of the younger pilots. Mild and gentle mockery flew from one end of the table to the other and back again.

Piett settled for keeping still, occasionally nodding to a comment or smiling. Wedge- the pilot who had invited him to breakfast- tried to include him in the conversation several times but Piett avoided it every time masterfully.

The situation turned more complicated when several pilots, including Wedge, stood up and Piett decided to join them to escape the breakfast as quickly as possible. The complication came in the form of a girl with dark hair pulled up into two elegant braids who was currently moving far too quickly- in Piett´s humble opinion- towards him.

The girl then moved over to hugging him once and then stepping back, greeting him brightly with a smile on her lips.

Piett stared at her for a second, searching his brain for the information his subconsciousness was screaming at him. Then it came to him.

“PRINCESS LEIA OF THE REBELLION!”, he exclaimed.

“Uhm… what the hell, Luke?”, Princess Leia of the rebellion replied, puzzled, wrinkling her pretty face.

“Ah, yeah, Princess Leia- so… how is your Highness doing today?”. The princess STARED at him. Piett scowled. He idly wondered if Skywalker- IF Skywalker was currently occupying his body as he suspected- was as bad at being an Imperial as he was at being a rebel.

 

 

I have no idea how to act as an Imperial, I will be so bad at it, was the first thought Luke had as he came to.

He groaned as he became aware of the pain stretching from his neck to his shoulders to his entire back. Falling asleep on a sofa- especially while being in a body which had about twice the age of his own- suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea to him anymore after all.

He then became aware of the loud ringing noise which had woken him up. Still groaning and uttering a silent string of curses, he limped towards the alarm clock blaring out an offending tone at an impossible pitch level. “Well, THANK YOU”, he bit out, hitting the thing with more force than necessary. It shut up.

He looked around, pondering whether or not it was worth the consequences to go back to sleep, then deciding that no, he was the kriffing ADMIRAL of kriffing Darth VADER´S fleet, he could not go back to sleep. With a sting in his heart, he realized how much he already missed being with the rebels.

And this was only the first day. Of four days of hell. Luke shook his head at his thoughts and tried to clear it, gauging the best kind of action for now. He settled on sprinkling his face with cold water in the fresher, then he clothed himself with a new Imperial uniform he pulled from the dresser- they all looked the same anyway, what was the point?!

Hoping he still had enough time for what he was planning he set forward towards the terminal standing on a desk in the –working room??- within the Admirals´ quarters??? He intended to read all personal files he could find about the Admiral, his current tasks and whatever other useful information he could find about the fleet´s movements right now.

He failed miserably. The moment he had powered on the terminal, a large sign flashed demanding a password. Since he was no hacker and also didn´t feel like he could guess what was running through the mind of an Imperial Admiral, he solemnly decided to give up and to pray to the Force that he would survive the day otherwise.

At the very least, he could trust in the Lieutenant, who showed up a short time after he had failed at gaining more sensitive information.

 

 

Frederick accompanied him throughout the day. Luckily for Luke, he managed to gain access to the Admiral´s datapad without having to use passwords. It held the days´ assignments and so, with a few subtle- or not so subtle- questions Luke managed. He first joined a strategy meeting which included a discussion about the best travel routes toward their destination. While he could say little to the rest he added useful suggestions about the route they should use and otherwise quickly learned the names of several high-ranking officers in the meeting.

Also luckily for Luke, nobody mentioned the incident of the previous day even though Officer Sullivan continuously sent hidden glares into his direction whenever he thought Luke wasn´t looking.

He then joined the officer´s for an early lunch. Lunch consisted of standard food and was also in every other aspect more than mind-numbingly boring. Luke used it mainly to scrutinize the other officers and the facilities- not that there was much to see.

He was informed about several applications and reports handed in in digital form which he was needed to survey. Luke instantly decided to ignore everything which didn´t involve the rebellion and those which did he would fill out- obviously to the advantage of the Alliance.

Upon returning to his place of work, he was reminded that he still didn´t know the Admiral´s password. Feeling very uncomfortable- but what else was he supposed to do?- he called for a technician to fix the problem, claiming that the computer wasn´t working properly anymore and that he needed a new password.

The problem got fixed and Luke finally gained access to most of the Admiral´s data files. He copied all which the information which seemed important to the Alliance onto his datapad- you never knew when that would come in handy…

Afterwards, he continued to read the personal file about the Admiral. He finally found out his full name- Firmus Piett-, he found out about his homeworld- Axxila-, and about his career up until now. After memorizing these facts, he searched for all information he could find about the current doings of the Imperial fleet, especially the Executor. It wasn´t as much as he had hoped to find but he hoped that it would be enough.

It was right then, before he could even touch all the assignments left to do, that he was called to the bridge.

To be honest, Luke thought about refusing to go. While working on his cover, he had nearly managed to ignore the thought that Vader was on the ship WITH him. Since he couldn´t feel the force and therefore Vader´s icy and crushing force signature, it was easy to pretend that he wasn’t.

Of course, he couldn´t refuse to go. And so, he went, moving towards his destination with a queasy feeling in his stomach. Hypothetically, his uneasiness shouldn´t make him stand out from the other officers. After all, even he had heard the rumours of how Vader treated the officers which incurred his disapproval.

Luke managed to run past the bridge and then returned to the right pathway after Frederick had, politely and very bewilderedly, pointed out his mistake.

Breathing in deeply, Luke concentrated on the walls he had built around his mind. It was harder, so much harder, without having access to the force but he was confident that he had managed it rather well. The concept, after all, stayed the same.

Then, he stepped onto the bridge. His eyes immediately scanned the area for his father. He didn´t find him. The bridge was constructed as a wide oval cut in half. The far end allowed a wide sight at the stars beyond, in the current case at the blurred lines of hyperspace. Luke ignored the Imperials occupying small board computers and other equipment at both sides of the bridge and instead started moving down the pathway leading to the huge viewports.

Staring out to the stars they passed in mere instants, mesmerized as always by the blurring lines, he failed to notice how the bridge suddenly grew quiet. There were steps behind him and a distinctive breathing noise coming from behind him and that he did notice.

“Admiral,” the dark rumbling bass of Darth Vader´s voice said.

Luke whirled around and immediately winced inwardly, cursing himself for the panicked reaction.

“Mylord,” he said. The words tasted strange in his mouth. To his relief, he didn´t stutter or anything. Something inside his stomach did lurch though as he stared into the dark lenses of Vader´s inhuman mask.

Time became seemingly endless as Vader stared at him. Luke didn´t allow himself any idle thoughts, but concentrated on keeping a cool, strong wall between his mind and the outer world. Uneasiness and nervousness kept chewing on his nerves, of course, but for now, he had it under control. Vader had no idea who he really was and he had no way of finding out- unless Luke made some grave mistake. And Luke very much planned on not doing so.

After an eternity in which Vader probably scrutinized him closely, the Dark Lord spoke up. “I have heard that we are taking an alternative route proposed by you.”

Luke cleared his throat. “Yes, Mylord”, he said. His lips were dry, so he licked them.

“If that route is quicker than the alternative ones then why has it not been taken so far?”, Vader inquired.

Luke wished deeply that he had never made that amendment to the schedule. If he had simply stayed silent during the meeting this conversation right now would probably not be happening.

“It is no common route because it is usually used by smugglers”, he explained, trying to convey a calm he was not feeling. “But considering that it is the Executor which is moving through this route no smuggler would consider attacking the ship.”

“We could have used that information differently against the smugglers, couldn´t we?”, the Dark Lord intoned.

“Not likely. It is not a very much used route, so patrolling it would be a rather waste of time”, Luke replied.

“And how come you know so much about smuggler routes?” Vader´s tone was low and menacing.

Because Han sometimes talks too much, Luke thought, feverishly searching for a good answer. It was when he remembered his previous research that he came up with a reliable explanation.

“Because even though I´ve long since left behind the hunt for pirates and the rest of the scum plaguing the galaxy I still sometimes like to keep up with their doings.” A for his research. A+ for his quick thinking. Luke was a little smug for having come up with such a good answer under such pressure in such a small amount of time.

“Indeed”, Vader intoned.

“Is there anything else you wish to know from me?”, Luke asked, hoping to end the conversation soon so he wouldn´t give away anything. At the same time though, there was a small part of him yearning to continue to talk to Vader, while not being under pressure or attack, while he was not being Luke Skywalker. He wondered what he could find out about his father this way, as an Admiral of his fleet. He suddenly wondered whether perhaps these four days wouldn´t be quite the hell he had imagined them to be. Perhaps they would also mean a chance…

“Continue with your tasks”, Vader ordered briskly and therefore abruptly stopped Luke´s musing.

“Yes, Mylord.” This time, the title fell from his lips smoothly, this time, not fighting against another title, of another life.

Luke moved with a quickly beating heart along the pathway leading away from the viewport. He didn´t notice that the viewport was so polished that you could see the image of Darth Vader mirrored in it, watching him.

 

 

Green lasers shot at him, intending to reduce him and everything around him to ashes.

Piett yanked at the console in front of him, forcing his fighter into a tight twist. He actually enjoyed how smoothly the X-Wing turned under his fingertips.

Switching from avoiding enemy fire to attacking, he pushed at his controls. The laser beams hurtled right towards the enemy TIE fighter and it went up in an explosion. Piett cut down on the triumphant cry that wanted to escape him. Instead a small grin pulled at his lips as he searched for a new enemy to destroy.

Barely a second later, his fighter convulsed, first once, then twice, and then the monitor in front of him went black.

Piett leaned backwards. He hadn´t seen the enemy TIE approach on the radar but he was fairly content that he had managed to take out two enemies in quick order beforehand. His flying lessons at the Imperial academy lay back way too many years for him to be attempting any kind of flying simulation while hoping to actually survive for more than a few moments. But instead of dying miserably at the very start he had managed!

Piett felt like there had been some kind of silent entity guiding him through the simulation. Of course, that was ridiculous. He had managed with a lot of luck and some skills which had apparently survived all the years he hadn´t flown himself.

He pushed himself out of his seat and climbed out of the simulator.

“Did you see that?”, he asked Wedge, who came climbing out of the other simulator at the same time.

“Yeah”, Wedge replied. “God, you were horrible.”

Piett blinked. “Uhm, I guess I usually fly a little bit better”, he started, slightly piqued.

Wedge laughed good-heartedly. “Well, that was most likely the worst simulation you had ever since joining us.” Now Piett did feel a bit offended. Then again, Luke Skywalker´s flying was supposed to be legendary. He shrugged.

“Are you sure you´re alright, Luke?”, Wedge asked. “You´ve been acting out of it since this morning.”

“I´m FINE”, Piett insisted. “Really.”

Wedge stared at him for a few seconds, then shrugged and smiled again. “Well, let´s end it here for today.”

Piett sighed inaudible. It was time for him to find a way to contact Vader. Vader needed to know that the man currently running around as his admiral was in fact not said admiral and he, Piett, needed the Imperial fleet to pick him up.

Obviously, Piett had already tried to figure out which ways of communication were open to him but one way or another, he didn´t think that sending out a message towards the Imperials would go unnoticed by the rebels. He needed some safe way of contacting them, some way which wouldn´t leave him stranded in a rebel cell under suspicion of being an Imperial spy. And so far, Piett had no idea.

 

 

Being an Imperial was awful. Luke somehow survived the day and the day following afterwards but it was a close call. He had named Frederick his personal assistant as soon as he had found out that he was in the position to do that. Frederick did look at him strangely sometimes when he did something tremendously wrong but then he pointed it out politely and the situation resolved itself.

He had had no more run-ins with Vader except for a very short conversation on the bridge where Vader had asked him for news. Luke had carefully taken out all sightings of rebel activities from his report.

Apart from his constant nervousness about making some major mistake and revealing something, a tiny part of Luke secretly enjoyed- even though he would loudly object had somebody pointed it out- the fact that he could secretly watch his father in action. Or rather, in action without him killing rebels, without him trying to capture or incapacitate him or otherwise chucking his lightsaber at him. If Vader noticed his staring- he really tried to stay subtle! - he ignored it.    

Being an Imperial as he was at the moment, his future plans were obviously thwarted by no one else but the rebels. Being a rebel himself he was pretty pissed about it when it happened.

It was just a small incident which caused the precarious peace of the situation to fall apart. It started with one of the crew members of the bridge running towards Luke. “Admiral!”, he cried out.

Luke motioned for him to go on. “We have received a request for assistance from one of our cruisers nearby! They are being attacked by a part of the rebel fleet! We can make it in less than a quarter hour to their destination!”

The obvious and logical and- from Imperial sight – correct answer was to change the course and to engage the rebels. The obvious and logical and- from Luke´s sight - correct answer was to save his friends from certain doom. And of course, he was in a position to do so.

“Ignore the call,” he said with a tight voice, hoping that his decision would not result in him being throttled by Vader. “We have our own mission lying ahead of us. They should be able to deal with a small bunch of pathetic rebels. Tell them to send for backup from a nearby planet.”

“But Sir-!”, the man exclaimed.

“Did I express myself unclearly?”, Luke asked in a low voice.

“No, Admiral, absolutely not.” The man saluted and hurried off again. The bridge was held in icy silence.

Luke swallowed and straightened. Considering the most likely consequences of his order right now, he decided that it would probably be wise to leave the Star Destroyer right now instead of waiting for their next stop at a system. There was no way Vader would not hear of this.

He clenched his fist and calculated his situation. Since this morning, he was carrying the Admiral´s Credit card. He was also carrying a blaster hidden beneath his uniform, just in case a situation like this arose. As it turned out his precautions had paid off.

He pushed his shoulders back and marched towards the Navigation Officer and Adjutant who would convey further orders.

“We are leaving hyperspace in a quarter of an hour in order to stop at Amonestra. Lord Vader is sending a part of our stormtrooper regiment there so prepare a shuttle for them. Also prepare Vader´s private TIE fighter.”

The officers stared at him, openly surprised at the new orders.

“For what reason does Lord Vader want a-?”, one of the men started. Luke interrupted him rudely. “That is of no concern to you. Now go, time is of matter.”

The Adjutant scurried away.

Fighting the mild anxiety churning in his stomach, Luke slowly marched off the bridge. He needed to get to Vader´s private hangar.

Stealing his TIE fighter and getting out and into hyperspace before anyone realized what was happening should be a piece of cake for the person who had basically single-handedly destroyed the Death Star.

 

 

Vader scowled at the Adjutant who had just finished telling his message. He did not like to see his recently born suspicions about Admiral Piett confirmed but the situation had reached a point where he could no longer deny that his most trusted admiral apparently had an agenda of his own.

His suspicions had started when he had met Piett on the bridge two days ago. The admiral´s shielding- taught to him by Vader himself a few months ago- had suddenly strengthened so enormously, Piett might as well could have been a different person. Were his shielding before like a thin paper shielding from the most obvious of prying eyes, it was now a thick durasteel wall, able to withstand canon shots. Vader had tried to subtly take it down but failed. The willpower needed for a not force-sensitive person to manage such a defense… Vader couldn´t help but wonder what information the Admiral so resolutely did not want him to know.

Directly after his meeting with the Admiral he had ordered the eager Lieutenant Frederick, who seemed to have become some kind of private assistant to the Admiral to report about Pietts´ activities. The Lieutenant hadn´t appeared very happy about this but he had obeyed, shaking in fear in front of him.

Vader had ignored all the little oddities the Lieutenant had told him about since then. The Admiral not finding the bridge by himself was worrying concerning his mental state but no reason to kill him. The Admiral suddenly eating for two people was also weird but none of his business. The Admiral ignoring most of his bureaucratic assignments was bad but didn´t tell Vader what he wanted to know. The Admiral complaining about Imperial clothing was weird but didn´t help either. The Admiral staring at him whenever he crossed his way was unnerving but nothing he wasn´t used to. The Admiral nearly falling asleep in strategy meetings was bad but still didn´t tell Vader what in all hell´s names was going on.

Had it been anyone else, Vader would have killed the officer concerned but over time, Piett had managed to acquire some small quantities of Vader´s trust. To violate them like this… Vader needed to know what had caused this.

But now THIS! Ignoring an attack from the rebels so close by without even consulting him! Giving out new orders in his name which didn´t even make any sense! Was he intending to escape the ship? And if so- was it because of his decision to let the rebels be?

Vader fumed. He had decided not to reverse the orders but to instead tackle Piett and to find out the truth right now. No matter the means.

He strode quickly through the corridors, his destination right in front of his eyes. Piett would not escape his grasp. And he would have his answers.

 

 

Luke was very close to the hangar. Two hundred meters, maybe three hundred and he would have arrived. Soon after his arrival the ship would come out of hyperspace. The rest… he would manage the rest.

He turned around the next corner, breathing quickly from the exertion of moving so fast. As soon as he raised his eyes, he froze in place.

There, blocking his way, a maximum of seven meters away from him, stood Vader.

“And where would you be going, my dear Admiral?”.

 

 

Author´s note: To be continued...- have fun seeing Luke suffer in the next chapter :D

Chapter Text

In the all of his lifetime, Luke had always prided himself of being able to keep a cool head in a bad situation. Whether that was two meter big Womprats attacking him at age fifteen or being targeted by half a dozen TIE fighters at the same time, Luke usually managed.

This time though, he knew that he was in serious trouble.

There was the small matter of him currently occupying the body of Firmus Piett, the Admiral of the Executor. There was also the small matter of him just having let go a group of rebels instead of engaging them with the Star Destroyer.

There was also the small matter of escaping said Star Destroyer before Vader understood what was going on.

And last but definitely not least, there was the big matter of Darth kriffing Vader standing in the middle of the corridor leading to his private hangar, Luke´s personal way out.

Luke did the only logical thing, being without the force and without his lightsaber.

He turned on his heels and ran. He didn´t get far. Before he could move more than a few steps he was raised into the air and then slammed into the wall next to him with full force.

Pain exploded- in his head, his back and several other parts of his body simultaneously- as he fell to the ground. For several heartbeats he just lay there, trying to fight the pain, trying to suck in the breath which had been beaten out of him, trying to regain the control over his flailing limbs.

He was too old to be doing this shit.

At least in this body.

Luke decided to give it another try- he was pretty much dead otherwise anyway- and jumped up with all the discipline he could manage and took a large step towards where he had come from.

A large, black-gloved hand grasped the back of his uniform and the next moment he only just saw the wall he was headed for before he got smashed into it. Dazed, Luke staggered backwards, black spots appearing in his view.

Before he even fully understood the situation, Vader had grasped him again, this time by his throat. The Dark Lord slammed him against the wall again and Luke´s head got whipped backwards.

He dimly tasted blood in his mouth. The back of his head hurt and felt strangely wet. Slowly the fingers around Luke´s throat rose and just as slowly, he got raised up pressed against the wall.

Gasping for air- he could barely breathe- Luke stared at Vader, terrified.

“Admiral Piett”, Vader said in a pleasant, downright velvet voice. “To what do I own the unpleasant realization that you might not be working for me after all?”

Luke gagged. Vader´s hold on him softened a little bit but was still way too strong for Luke to pry out of his hold. Not that he didn’t try. He pushed with his hands and all the strength he could manage against Vader´s chest. The moment he did, Vader´s fingers tightened again, the feeling of metallic prosthetics beneath the leather grinding into Luke´s skin.

He stopped fighting, letting his arms fall down to his sides. He would not be able to get out of this grip, he knew that for certain, and even if he did- Vader still had the force and he didn´t. Vader allowed him enough freedom that Luke could breathe- even though it was hard-, and talk- even though that was even harder.

“I suggest you don´t try to move, Admiral”, the Sith Lord suggested playfully.

“You´re not kidding”, Luke wheezed out. A small twitching of the fingers.

“I expect a full explanation for your recent behaviour, Admiral”, he continued.

“What… behaviour…?” Luke managed to get out.

The air in the room cooled down and Luke bit down on a choke. “Alright, alright!” he pressed out. “So I probably shouldn´t have given the order to let the rebels be... I figured that… only a few minutes after making… the decision.”

“Only because you have that wall in your mind doesn´t mean that I can´t tell that you´re lying”, said Vader, his voice cold as ice. “I am giving you one last chance to explain yourself. Who taught you to create such strong shielding? Why did you let the rebels go? What did you hope to achieve by making a stop in Amonestra? You planned to flee the ship there, didn´t you?”

Luke rasped a laugh. Denying that he had done the things Vader had named would be meaningless. Stalling for time was also meaningless because there was no one coming to save him and he was utterly incapable of saving himself. “I´m not telling you anything”, he ground out through gritted teeth. He couldn´t tell Vader the truth. Even if he believed him… he couldn´t.

Vader stared at him. “Who are you?”

Your son, Luke formulated in his mind. Your incredibly stupid son who got himself into the worst kind of situation- okay, that was not entirely my fault- and who you are about to kill off without ever knowing that…!

“Not… gonna…” he rasped out, “… tell you.”

Suddenly there was a pressure in his head and he felt someone pushing against the walls in his mind with so much force it felt like it was bursting his mind. Resolutely, Luke pushed back, turning the walls into an impenetrable fortress.

The pressure disappeared, both from his mind and his throat, and Luke blinked, distractedly trying to clear his field of vision.

A hiss and a bloody red blade of light sprang into life. Vader slowly raised his lightsaber, his mask firmly settled on Luke´s face.

“Whoever you are, you are not Piett.” And with that, the blade was set into motion.

“Wait!”, Luke cried out frantically. “Wait!” The blade stopped. “I… before the end… I… I need to ask you one more thing… that cape… does it have any functions or is it just for the aesthetics? Being intimidating and all?”

The blade swung down.

“IF YOU KILL ME YOUR SON WILL DIE!” The ruby-red blade stopped centimeters away from the skin of his throat, vibrating. Luke could feel the heat emanating from the saber and tried to inch further away, already pressed against the wall.

“What did you just say?” If Luke had thought that Vader had been scary before he knew better know. The question was like death clad in heavy velvet.

“I said…” Luke repeated, regaining his breath, “…if you kill me, your son will die. Luke Skywalker? Ring a bell?”

Vader was upon him in a heartbeat, his hand back at his throat and pressing him at the wall once again. “Say that again”, he said in a voice so low Luke could barely hear it.

“I think you heard me”, he replied, fighting to heave in a breath. “I know that he is your son. You don´t want your son to die, do you?”

The fingers around his throat tightened. “And where would you have gotten… such a… precarious claim?”

Luke, besides being scared out of his wits, laughed. Laughing hurt. Breathing in hurt.

“I know about Bespin”, he continued talking, his voice hoarse. “I know you told him there. You should have made sure that nobody else could hear the treason you proclaimed there. Had the Emperor known what you said there I am not sure you would still be alive today… Listen well, Vader: I know you can tell when somebody is telling the truth or when somebody is lying to you. Listen well when I tell you this: I promise you that if you kill me here, Luke will be killed, too, and there is nothing in the whole world you could do to stop it from happening.”

He stopped talking for a moment, because talking hurt and because Vader probably needed time to feel the truth in his words through the force. His own plan, made up in the span of a heartbeat between breathing and being cut to death by a lightsaber, sounded rather insane to him now.

“Are you one of the rebels?”, Vader asked. “An Imperial turned rebel? Is that it? Are… you working for my master?”. Then, after a moment of silence when Luke refused to answer. “Are there more of you? Is that why I wouldn´t be able to stop it? Because the moment I chose to act they would attack him?”

Luke shakily shrugged his shoulders. He couldn´t say more without lying- and Vader would sense every lie. So he let Vader speculate whatever Luke could mean with his words. Because the truth was definitely too abstruse for anyone to guess.

A few more moments ticked by, suspense hanging in the air.

“What do you want?” Vader asked in the end, no emotion given away in his voice. But the cold in the air said it all and more.

“I would very much like to not die”, Luke said before he could shut himself up. “Also, I would really like to leave this ship.” He hesitated. “Don´t you think that many people would be interested in the fact that the very son of Darth Vader is with the rebels? It would undermine your whole authority. Just as much as your statement in Bespin, it would convince them that you are planning treason… you´d better just let me go and I swear that firstly, nobody will ever learn the truth from me and secondly, that Luke Skywalker will in no way be harmed because of this.”

Vader tilted his head and Luke had the unpleasant feeling that he was smirking beneath his mask. Just not the nice kind of smirk.

“Oh no, I won´t let you leave just like that,” Vader said slyly. He was definitely smiling beneath that mask, Luke thought. “I will get the answers I am looking for. And you… well, you will give them to me, one way or another. I might not be allowed to kill you… but I can still torture all the answers out of you…”

Luke suddenly felt cold. “Oh no, you won´t”, he said very quickly. “Because- and listen well to the Force confirming this- whatever amount I will suffer, Luke Skywalker will also suffer. And trust me, again there is nothing that can stop that. Not even you.”

Vader stared at him, the temperature in the room dropping several degrees once again. Luke stared back, putting every bit of defiance and determination he could manage right now into the glare.

Suddenly the Dark Lord leaned back, as if having come to a decision, gripping the cloth at Luke´s shoulder in an iron fist. He then jerkily turned to the side, striding forward and dragging Luke along in the process.

“If you value your life, you´d better keep your mouth closed,” the Sith Lord intoned. Luke didn´t react to the threat. Vader kept dragging him down the corridor until they met the first pair of stormtroopers. Vader forcefully pushed him forward, causing him to stumble into them.

“Take him to my rooms and restrain him there. Search him for weapons. Position guards in front of the quarters. Don’t let anyone interact with him.”

Then, without even awaiting the stormtroopers´ acknowledgment, he turned around abruptly and strode away at aquick speed. The stormtroopers wedged Luke in between them and started leading him down the corridor.

His thoughts racing with the new turn of events, Luke recognized a chance when it presented itself. The moment he was sure that Vader was too far away to notice the noise and that there were no other stormtroopers in their direct environment, he elbowed the stormtrooper to his right with full force and then, as he doubled over, attacked the other one.

A short scuffle later Luke was walking away from an unconscious pair of stormtroopers, humming to himself as the ship slowed from hyperspeed to normal flying. If his orientation was still correct, then Vader´s private hangar was right in front of him. Luke grinned.

 

 

Darth Vader´s face was torn into a grimace which was supposed to be a smile but looked more like he was baring his teeth. Leaning over to watch over the officer´s right shoulder- and probably giving him a heart attack in the progress- he stared at the surveillance monitor.

“He has left the hangar”, the man reported nervously. “If Mylord wants me to, I can activate the tractor beam to stop him from going into hyperspace and to pull him back in.”

Vader growled quietly. “And where would be the reason for that? Not knowing about the ship´s activated homing beacon… he will lead us right to our enemies…” In front of his eyes, his private TIE fighter disappeared into hyperspace, leaving no trace behind but the blinking spot on the other monitor.

So far, everything was going according to plan.

 

 

 

Luke was only slowly relaxing. So far, everything had gone according to plan. Or rather, some small part of his mind whispered, it had gone according to plan too smoothly. The easy escape reminded him more than he wanted it to of the Falcon´s escape from the Death Star. Back then, there had been a homing beacon activated which had allowed the Imperials to find the rebel base on Yavin 4. Even though he didn´t know for sure that Vader had planted a similar trap he couldn´t risk flying directly to the Alliance.

Apart from the fact that they would try to shoot him down the moment he entered the system in Vader´s private TIE, it was simply too dangerous.

That left him with one other option. He sighed and then typed his private comlink number into the Admiral´s comlink on his wrist. For a good portion of a minute, there was no one answering him and Luke was already about to give up for now and end the call when suddenly, there was a rustling noise and someone picked up.

“Hello?” Luke Skywalker´s voice said, sounding clearly cautious and mistrustful.

Luke slowly breathed out. “Thank god, you´re answering”, he said, letting his relief flow into his voice. “This is…” He hesitated. “This is Admiral Piett. You know who I am, right…?”

There was a short silence on the line. Then the voice which belonged to Luke Skywalker came back. “I think I know exactly who you are…” he said.

“I think you agree that we need to meet. As quickly as possible. And then figure out a way out of this situation.”

“Agreed,” someone who was not Luke Skywalker retorted, biting sarcasm underlining his words.

Luke breathed out and continued his quick thinking. “Can you get out of where you are right now?” He was hesitant to name the location of the rebel base and he didn´t know whether or not the Admiral had stayed with the Alliance after the switch, anyway.

“I can,” the Admiral replied. “Where do I have to go?”

Luke gave himself some more seconds to think and then started typing a code of coordinates into the comlink. “Get to the place with the coordinates I´m sending you. Get there as quickly as you can. I´m waiting.” He hesitated shortly. “Don´t bring anybody else.”

“Wasn´t thinking of it,” the other one retorted, sounding amused.

“I´m gonna end the call now, I don´t want it to be picked up,” Luke said. “If you want to call me, you know the number.”

A short confirmation from the Admiral and Luke pushed the button to end the call. He breathed out heavily and sent a quick prayer to the Force that the Admiral would hurry.

 

 

One lighthour away, an Imperial officer hurried across a bridge and came to a stop in front of a tall, dark-clothed figure.

“Mylord, we managed to pick up a conversation from the Admiral´s comlink,” he said breathlessly.

“Talk,” the man ordered.

 

 

 

It took Luke less than half a day to reach the location he had set up for the meeting. It was an abandoned hideout of the rebels on the desert planet Jalarran, nothing more than a big shelter in the middle of nowhere.

It had once held enough equipment for a rebel on the run to arm himself, to feed him for a couple of weeks and to scan the surrounding area and the closest parts of the system for followers. Now all Luke found to be available was some dirt and sand. He hadn´t dared to use a hideout which was still in use because the probability that his call had been picked up was rather big and he didn´t want the hideout to fall into Imperial hands.

He mostly hoped that the Admiral would manage to arrive early so that they could leave Vader´s private TIE fighter behind and find another, safer location to come up with a plan. For now, he used the time he had to explore the house and the surrounding area. The tour of the house was quickly ended, revealing nothing but empty rooms and more dust. The surrounding area wasn´t much better.

The house lay in the middle of a small cluster of mountains, steep slopes and overhanging rocks surrounding it. The dull colours of ochre, grey and red reminded him a little bit of Tatooine. Luke figured that the rebels had chosen this isolated place because while the house´s equipment had once allowed the occupants to see potential enemies arriving from an early stage, the environment had also meant many possible places to hide in and to shake off possible followers. Right now, the location was actually more of a disadvantage. As it was, Luke didn´t have any ways to spot arriving ships apart from using the TIEs systems and his own eyes. Also, if he didn´t notice a ship arriving, the enemy could easily get closer without being seen. Luke pondered whether or not he should leave the house and search for a better waiting place near it but in the end decided against it.

The TIE he had set down directly next to the house on a platform made for even bigger ships. He had made sure to power down all systems still running.

He must have fallen asleep at some point while resting on the veranda because he suddenly shot up noticing that something was off. Dazed as he was, it took him a moment to realize what it was. There was a familiar noise in the air and as he raised his head, he could see the shape of an Imperial shuttle descending to the ground.

Luke panicked, jumped up and started running towards the closest rock shelter, loudly cursing at his aching limbs and the world in general.

A static crack came from his comlink and then a familiar voice said “Relax, it´s just me.”

Luke slowed down, his drowsy mind finally picking up with the situation. “Oh,” he replied sheepishly and then headed to a suitable spot to follow the landing process of the shuttle.

The Admiral managed the descent decently in spite of the now narrow landing zone. Only a couple of moments after the shuttle had set down, he emerged from it and walked towards Luke.

Luke had the most puzzling experience of meeting himself, as did the Admiral, he supposed. But he quickly pushed the strange feeling aside and met the Admiral halfway.

“Boy, I can´t believe I´m saying this but I am so glad you´re here!!” Luke exclaimed and before he knew what he was doing he found himself throwing his arms around the Admiral. Both he and the Admiral didn´t expect the hug as he found out by the immediate stiffening of the other´s body. He rapidly stepped two steps back again but continued beaming at the Admiral. His own face scowled at him.

“Were you followed when you came here? Where did you get that shuttle? Isn´t it Imperial??” he found himself rambling.

“Well, it used to be Imperial, Skywalker,” the man answered, “until your friends stole it and then I stole it so I guess it´s Imperial once again.”

Luke grinned. “As long as it brought you here I don´t mind. We need to undo this!”- he pointed down his body- “as quickly as possible!”.

Piett nodded. “I didn´t think I would ever agree so much to something a rebel commander told me but yes we do… This situation needs to be reversed as quickly as possible!”

Nodding seriously, Luke continued. “What happened at the base, I mean, when you woke up? Did anyone notice? Did you have to do anything?”

Piett snorted unceremoniously. “I probably ruined your reputation for flying simulations. But what about you? As I can see you are still alive so I guess that´s a good sign… I hope the ship is still in one piece?”

Luke avoided his gaze for a second, sliding it to the right corner of his eyes. “Uhm… so, yes, the ship is still in one piece…” he said evasively.

“But?” To Piett´s credit the Admiral didn´t sound too worried yet.

“But” Luke continued slowly, “…I might have aroused some of Vaders´ suspicions…”

Piett groaned quietly. Luke wondered secretly whether the Admiral had copied some of his qualities over the last days or whether he was actually that amiable.

“Please tell me that he at least didn´t try to kill you. I mean me. Am I still the Admiral of the Executor?”

Luke fidgeted with his hands. It was not like he could say this gently. “He might have tried to kill me. I mean I was never really prepared by the Rebels to impersonate an Imperial Admiral! And my mind shielding might have been a bit overpowered. And there was this one rebel attack I ignored…”

Piett gestured at him to continue.. “So…” Luke dragged the word into the length, “… I guess you probably shouldn´t think about returning to the Executor that soon. I mean- if we can reverse this switch.”

Piett now stared at him with open despair in his face, also looking very unhappy. At least he wasn´t trying to throttle him. Yet.

Well, throttling himself was probably not the way to solve the situation anyway. Lukes´ musings got rapidly interrupted by another question forming in his mind. “How did this even happen? I mean do you have any idea what might have caused this?!”

Piett looked uncomfortable for a moment and opened his mouth to answer and that was the moment a roaring thunderstorm decided to join the conversation.

“ADMIRAL, STEP AWAY FROM SKYWALKER IMMEDIATELY.”

 

Chapter Text

Darth Vader did not like to hide, not even when it was the cleverest thing to do. He was no patient man even though the last twenty years had contributed greatly to his patience span. Some of his officers would have probably disagreed with this statement but he couldn´t have cared less about that- and most of those who had disagreed with him were dead anyway.

At the moment he spent his time hiding behind the ledge of a clifftop. It was undignified and severely frustrating but currently the most logical course of action as he stared down at the figure at the veranda.

Some part of him plainly refused to believe that the Admiral actually had had the audacity to fall asleep in such a situation but it was as it was. In fact, the man falling asleep had been a blessing for them as it had allowed them to land a bit further away from the house without the quiet noise of the ships being noticed. The Executor itself hid close to the system.

Since the scans he had let his men make of the house had shown that the Admiral was the only one of its occupants present right now, he had decided to wait for his accomplices to show up before he himself got into action.

Waiting was a bore but he busied himself with giving his men orders to surround the house in a wide circle and with monitoring their progress. It hadn´t been more than a few hours of no action, boredom and a motionless victim sleeping in front of them, oblivious of the trap he found himself in when all of a sudden, a familiar, blazingly bright force presence dropped into Vader´s awareness. He shot up.

There was no mistaking that force presence which felt like Padme and absolutely unique at the same time. His son. His son was here! In the system! He rapidly raised shields in his mind to prevent his own force presence from being noticed by Luke.

He raised his eyes to the sky, searching for the ship. How did this fit into the situation? Had the Admiral called Luke? Did they know each other? No, how could they possibly know each other? Maybe the Admiral had known that Luke would be here at this time? The house could very much be a rebel hideout. So it was a trap!

Or had Piett made Luke come to the planet in a different way? Were it the other conspirators Piett had hinted at when he had threatened Luke´s life which had now taken his son??

Vader clenched his teeth together when remembering how boldly the Admiral had threatened to harm his son. How much more frustrating that he hadn´t been able to tear him apart right there! But how had he even found out the truth about their relationship? And what had he planned after doing so?

Worried and very careful not to have his son notice his mental touch, he brushed Luke’s consciousness through their bond, trying to find out what emotional state the boy was in right now. To his surprise, Luke´s shields were basically nonexistent. His emotions openly blared at Vader: Anticipation, nervousness, a tiny bit of relief?

Vader withdrew before his son could notice his prying and made sure that his shields stayed strong while trying to assess the situation. He didn´t know the circumstances under which Luke had come to the system but his son didn´t seem to be under severe stress as he would have been had he been forced to.

Of course, he had let his officers tell him the exact details of the conversation the Admiral had had over his comlink before flying to this destination. The conversation hadn´t told him much but he had assumed he had been talking to the co-conspirator near Luke.

Vader´s thoughts continued spinning as he watched an Imperial shuttle- undoubtedly stolen by the Rebels- descend from the sky.

He would let his son land and would let this situation play out, he decided. Maybe this would gain him some answers before he intervened. He hoped that the boy would for once be reasonable about this, considering the danger he was in and that Vader wanted to protect him from.

The Dark Lord watched as the shuttle landed- flawless manoeuvring as expected of his talented son- and as his son emerged from the ship, alone, as Vader had known him to be from the moment he had scanned the ship for other life forms.

Piett had woken up as the shuttle had emerged from the sky and had panicked for a short while until he had obviously understood who was arriving there. He was now walking towards his son, meeting him halfway.

Vader watched incredulously as Piett pulled Luke into his arms, Luke not resisting the hug though he didn´t return it either. What in all hell´s names was going on? Why was he hugging him?? Why did Luke LET HIM??? A flare of envy accompanied the feelings of incredulity and disbelief.  

He stared unblinkingly at the scene evolving in front of him. After breaking up the hug the two of them had started a vivid discussion. What it was about Vader could not understand, he was too far away for that. He only heard the open agitation in both voices, as well as a bit of pain in his son´s voice, too.

Then, suddenly, a thought struck him- Was Piett plotting to assassinate his son now that he knew about their coup?! Was he trying to lull him into a false sense of security before attacking his unsuspecting son??

The sudden flare of protectiveness and panic blended into one simple thought: I need to protect Luke! I need to warn him!

Vader was barely aware of him sliding backwards and then running down the slope which had led him to his covert. He didn´t care about being subtle anymore but apparently Luke as well as Piett were too distracted to hear him approach.

They were standing so close to each other, if Piett decided to attack his son now he would probably get a good shot at him before the boy understood what was happ-

He burst into their conversation.

“ADMIRAL, STEP AWAY FROM SKYWALKER IMMEDIATELY.”

When neither of them reacted immediately but instead stared at him in horror- exactly the reaction he was expecting-!- he turned to Luke.

“LUKE, STEP AWAY FROM HIM. HE MEANS YOU HARM!!”.

The boy continued staring at him with wide eyes. Then, slowly, oh so very slowly, as awareness dawned on him, he stepped away from Piett… and towards him.

“Va… Lord… Vader????!” Suddenly, there was a shining in Luke´s face, a glorious happiness settling there, a sun going supernova. “Lord Vader!!”

Vader felt like somebody had pulled the ground from under his feet.

His son was… SMILING AT HIM. Openly and more joyful and delightful than Vader had ever seen him smile. Because he was here! His son was happy because he was here!

Reality settled in very quickly. Vader was either dreaming or hallucinating because there was no way his son would look at him this way, would ever smile at him that way, would ever look happy to see him…!

Dumbstruck he stared as his son approached him, Piett standing behind him totally forgotten… Luke slowed down a few steps in front of him, sputtering out words.

“I am so glad to see you, Lord Vader, you cannot believe how incredible thankful I am that you have come and…”

“LUKE?” He didn´t even realize saying it.

“No, of course not”, Luke said. “It´s me, Admiral Piett!”

For the second time of the day in quick succession, Vader felt like someone had pulled the ground from under his feet.

“What?” He was not capable of a more articulate response to the ridiculous claim as his brain tried to keep up. At the same time he was noticing the force screaming several things at him.

Firstly, Luke was not lying. Which was absolutely illogical, irrational, and impossible.

Secondly, Luke was truly feeling the happiness and relief still openly shining on his face.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, there was a strong feeling of guilt and a rising panic radiating from Admiral Piett who was still standing ramrod straight behind Luke, combined with the intense need to run.

Still without fully grasping the situation, several pieces fell into place.

“Then who is…?” Vader began, turning his head slowly, very slowly fully towards the figure of Piett who was slowly backing away, never ending his question.

Piett, noticing the shift of his attention, apparently gave up any plan he might have harboured before- whatever it had been- because he whirled around and started rushing off.

Vader gripped the force around Piett and pulled. There was a surprised squeal as Piett lost his footing and came flying towards them. Far more carefully than in his previous handling of the Admiral, Vader slowed his fall as he crashed to the ground. The Admiral struggled, trying to pull himself up quickly enough but Vader was quicker.

He grasped the Admiral´s uniform and janked him upwards. Wide eyes met his. “Luke? Is that you?”

For a few moments there was nothing but hopelessness, frustration and despair bleeding from the person in front of him, then Piett sighed quietly and ground out “If I´m gonna say no you´re gonna sense that I´m lying anyway.”

Vader relaxed his grip on Piett´s- no, his son´s! - clothes a fraction of a second. He felt like he needed to sit down for a while. That never happened.

Luke- because of course it is Luke, he should have realized long ago!- looked to the side and Vader was rather sure that his son was pondering on whether or not he should try to escape once again. Vader decided that that was definitely no option at the moment- or in general- and pulled out the binders he carried with him for days like these.

Before his son could realize what he was doing, he snapped them closed around the boys´ wrists. It was weird to think of him as his son while looking into Piett´s features but there was something in his eyes and his posture that made Vader wonder how he had ever believed that this was his Admiral.

At the sound of the binders snapping together his son rapidly raised his head again, despair washing over him, followed by resistant acceptance and both emotional and physical exhaustion.

Vader wondered for how long his son had stood under the pressure of this… situation. He figured that it had been at least two days, possibly more.

“Wait, no…” Luke croaked in a weak voice.

Vader ignored his feeble protest and his hands fighting against the binders, catching them and holding them still. All of a sudden, he remembered pieces of his previous interactions with ´Admiral Piett´ which came rushing back at him at surprising speed.

“And how come you know that much about smuggler routes?”

The surprisingly strong shields and the question what Piett was trying so hard to shield from him. Him letting go of the rebels. The planned escape in Amonestra.

The doggedly determination in the statement of “I´m not telling you anything!” The all of it made so much more sense now-

Piett taking down two stormtroopers effortlessly, even though Vader had never thought his Admiral capable of that.

“I know about Bespin. I know you told him there.” Piett, Luke had known because he had BEEN THERE. Oh, the irony.

Vader suddenly clenched his fists as the memory of nearly stabbing his son came back to him.

“If you kill me your son will die!”

His son had been shaking, had been SHAKING when he had said so, terrified for his life. He had even threatened to torture his own son! Guilt threatened to press Vader´s shoulders down and made him want to flinch but he stubbornly forced it back. This was not the time to feel guilty or to apologize for his actions- if he could ever apologize for them- it was the time to deal with the situation at hand.

Luke was still trying to fight his binders and Vader´s iron grip around the top of his, no, Piett´s uniform. This was getting confusing.

“Stop fighting, my son,” he said in the most soothing way he could manage through the vocoder.

His son- being his son- obviously didn´t stop but seemed to take it as an invitation to struggle more. Suddenly there was a loud gasp coming from another person and Vader realized belatedly that they had never been alone.

Piett- the real Piett, currently in Luke Skywalker´s body- was staring at them with huge eyes, moving backwards several steps. All colour in his face drained as he seemed to realize that Vader would certainly kill him for having heard the truth. Had the situation been any different, Vader might have, ignoring the friendly feelings he harboured for the hard-working and clever Admiral. The situation being as it was, killing Piett was absolutely out of question since it would also mean strangling his own son to death. So Piett stayed alive for now.

Vader could feel his shock, surprise and then sudden comprehension flaring up in Piett´s mind. He guessed that it would take Piett a few minutes to fully accept this new information. In the process of his attention turning from his son to the Admiral, his son had managed to pry himself loose of Vader´s grip.

He now sprung to his feet and started stumbling towards the closest rock formation. With an inaudible sigh Vader stretched out his hand again and pulled his son forcibly back again. He was about as stubborn and obstinate as Vader himself had been, long ago.

The boy kept struggling against his grip. “Give up, Luke”, he said. “You have no lightsaber, no allies on this planet, no way to get off and no force. Even if your rebel friends were here they would spend their time trying to shoot you and trying to kidnap our dear Piett right over there. As a matter of fact, your best chance of escaping this situation is to stay with us so we can collectively search for a solution of this problem.”

After a short breath of air the boy went limp, all fight gone from him. He had, most likely only grudgingly, admitted to himself that Vader was right. Which he obviously was.

Vader turned him around so the boy would have to face him. He also gestured to Piett to come closer, a silent command which the Admiral immediately if warily obeyed.

“Am I right in the assumption that you will do your best to keep this knowledge a secret?”, he addressed the Admiral.

The Admiral flinched. “Of course, Mylord”, he then said in a surprisingly steady voice. Vader decided that that would have to suffice for now. “Know that if I think that you are planning to convey this knowledge to others your life is forfeit”, he added, just to be sure.

“Yes, Mylord”, Piett answered obediently and without the hint of hesitation.

Vader took half a step back and eyed the two people standing in front of him.

His loyal Admiral, stable and calm despite the pressure he undoubtedly felt, with his son´s face. Vader was surprised how much satisfaction he felt by having his son- who was at the moment not really his son- listen to him without so much as a word of resistance.

And then of course his son, stubbornness and pride, radiating resistance and strength with every ounce of his being while being confined to his Admiral´s body. The very thought still baffled Vader.

“Remarkable”, he said after a moment of silence. “Really remarkable.”

“More like a catastrophe”, Luke replied unhappily.

“How did this happen?” he inquired to know.

His son raised his chin angrily. “Trust me, if I knew that I would have already undone it!”

Fidgeting with his hands like he didn´t know where to keep them, Piett stepped forward. “I…” he began, “…might have an idea about that.”

 

 

Vader was fuming.

“So you are telling me, all of this has been caused because you had to drink that cursed drink?! Are you not intelligent enough to know that you should probably not drink mystical magical drinks from evil witch clans?!”

Piett looked like he might get a heart attack soon listening to the Dark Lord´s ranting.

“Well, hypothetically…” Luke mused, looking like caught between laughing and fighting to keep a straight face, “… it was all Captain Sullivan´s fault. He coerced him to drink it.”

Judging from the expression on Piett´s face, he had certainly not expected help coming from the Dark Lord´s son.

Vader mumbled something under his breath nobody could understand- even though Luke could have sworn one word had been a huttese curse word- and fell silent.

After a moment of all of them just standing there, a little at loss of what to do now, Luke raised his voice again, hesitantly. “So, if you´re saying that the drink from the Nightsisters caused this… then doesn´t this mean that it can reverse it, too? You think of someone and that person´s wish comes true-“, he darted a quick look at Vader before looking at the ground, “so if Piett drinks it again and thinks about me… or himself… that we want our old bodies back… then that should work, right?”

His son´s argumentation made sense, of course.

“Do you think that is correct?” he addressed Piett who had become the unofficial expert on the magic of the Nightsisters. Looking at the chaos they had caused by one simple drink he figured that it was probably good that the Empire had extinguished their clan long ago.

“I… suppose so…”, Piett said hesitantly. “It certainly makes sense. And I very much hope that it is true, too”, he added as an after-thought.

“So that means you´re gonna go back to the Executor and get that drink, right?” Luke wanted to know.

Vader fixed his eyes on him. “You will be accompanying us of course, Young One.”

Luke groaned, probably sensing that resistance was futile at this point. “Figured,” he said. “But you have absolutely no right to call me ´Young One´ right now. I bet I´m just as old as you are right now.”

Vader smiled beneath his mask. “I have the right to call you ´Young One´ no matter how old you are,” he retorted.

Luke responded by burying his face in his hands and sitting down on the veranda they had just reached in their stroll. The events of the last days were visibly catching up to him because he looked drained and weary.

Piett himself looked rather happy, visibly energized by the idea that they might have found a way to reverse the body switch and by the thought that possibly Vader did not intent to kill him afterwards or for whatever Luke had done as Admiral when he had been in charge of the Executor. A rebel taking over the command over the Executor- looking back, the thought made Piett want to shudder.

Vader now made quick work of contacting the Executor and the stormtroopers still lying around them in wait. He also kept an eye on his son… just in case.

 

 

They reached the Executor without any contretemps. Vader had gotten rid of Luke´s binders in order to avoid future questions concerning Piett´s authority and instead contented himself with watching his son´s every movement closely. Looking at the fact that should Luke choose to run away he would still find himself back at Vader´s side after Piett had successfully switched them back anyway might have been a factor in Luke´s compliance.

Piett himself held himself very upright, feeling younger than in years which was as a matter of fact the case.

Instead of having only Piett consume the drink- of which they luckily found a rest still in the room in which the celebration had taken place- they decided that it was the best option if both Piett and Luke drunk it.

So here they were, holding the glasses in which the green and yellow liquid bubbled.

Luke eyed his drink with suspicion. Well, apparently drinking it hadn´t killed Piett but considering the situation which had instead resulted from it he was far from enthusiastic at the idea of drinking it.

Piett looked about as uncomfortable about it as he did but there was a defiant smile playing around his lips as he raised his glass to cheer at Luke.

Vader stared at them expectantly. “And remember, no wandering thoughts,” he warned them again.

“Tell him that,” Luke murmured into his drink. He really, really didn´t want to drink it. On the other hand, he really wanted his real body back so there was that.

“Mocking doesn´t suit you,” his father chastised him.

He pulled a grimace in response. It probably looked strange on the Admiral´s face. “Well, let´s get it over with,” he said, sounding more cheerful than he felt.

Piett darted a glance at him which conveyed openly how little Luke´s charade had convinced him. To his surprise, Luke felt that he actually did like the Admiral. Of all the Imperials he had met Piett seemed like the most decent one. It was a pity they were on different sides of the war.

He threw a cautious look over to Vader who was staring at him as if he had heard his thoughts. Luke quickly looked down on his drink. “Well, cheers!” he said to no one in particular and, without thinking about it further, gulped down his drink.

The liquid burned at the back of his throat and he nearly instantly felt light-headed and weak at the knees. Vader made two steps towards him, stretching out his hands as if in order to catch him should he fall.

Think of what you want, Skywalker, he chided himself.

Then the darkness dragged him under.

 

 

Of all ways to wake up, the worst was to open your eyes and stare right into the dark lenses of Darth Vader´s mask.

Luke knew. He had once woken up and been faced with the situation of hanging up-side down in the cavern of a hungry wampa. He had once gone to sleep as a rebel commander and woken up as the Admiral of the flag ship of the Imperial fleet under Vader´s command. Luke had had lots of bad ways of waking up. Luke knew.

Back behind Vader, there was Piett, looking relieved and a little bit triumphant and definitely alive which was good, Luke supposed. Piett also looked exactly as worn out, exhausted and shaky as Luke felt, a result of the switch, he guessed.

“Welcome back, Luke”, Vader said with a smile in his voice.

Luke did the only logical thing upon being confronted by the situation as it was. He passed out again.

 

 

Author´s notes: No more rebels stealing Piett´s beloved Executor in the future, I swear. Also, I have a sad announcement to make: My exam phase this semester is starting so I will make a writing pause for the coming month to study for them (and survive them). Sorry for the wait and thank you for understanding! I´ll be back at writing in early June!

 

Chapter Text

“Hurry up, Luke, we don’t have all night!” Han called from where he had planted himself, hands flying over the technical marvel in his lap which he had built himself and which he was now using to keep his control over the local security system.

“If you do your job alright, we do have all night. And stop hurrying me, this sweetheart is tricky.”

The instant reply came from a slim young man with bright blond hair and piercing blue eyes who kneeled hunched over in front of a small, box-shaped safe which was set upon a transparisteel table. He passed his hand over his forehead, wiping back his long hair and licking his lips quickly, then bowing forward again, clutching in his hands long, lathy lock picks. The two lock picks he had in his hands weren’t the only tools he carried. Slung around his hips were several belts with all kinds of peculiar tools, completed by a standard blaster on his right side.

“You keep saying this since a quarter hour,” Han pointed out.

“Because it’s still true! Now let me work! You’re not the only one feeling like we’re sitting ducks! ‘s not my fault you agreed to steal from the rotten royal family from Thylist! I told you it was risky to choose such a famous target in the middle of the capital!”

“It was a one-time opportunity! If we can do this, we won’t have to worry about our financials for quite a while and you can finally get those upgrades you wanted for the ship!”

The blond boy grumbled something under his breath and it was probably better that his friend and partner in crime Han Solo did not hear him. He then concentrated again on the small box in front of him, sliding the lock picks back into the lock with easy practice and the confidence from having done so dozens of times.

He closed his eyes, imagining the inner workings of the safe before his inner eye, dozens and hundreds of intricate durasteel linkings, all connected in one big system. The image felt real to him, looking so vivid it seemed that he could touch it if he wished to. He could feel the tiny notches under his fingers, could feel every little dent and every curve. He couldn’t really distinguish between the durasteel in front of him, the durasteel between his fingers and his fingers anymore. They all fitted together perfectly and he saw exactly what needed to be done in order to make this beautiful construct move according to his will.

The outer world had ceased to exist in his mind and he was one with his calm breathing, one with the cage of durasteel in front of him which was keeping him from what he desired. His fingers moved deftly and swiftly and time passed but he didn’t realize it. His eyes flickered open when he heard a soft click.

The door had sprung open. There, right in front of him, glittered the crown jewels of Thylist’s royal family.

Luke Skywalker, self-appointed master thief, grinned broadly.

“No kriffing way,” a voice breathed from over his shoulders. “Look at these beauties.”

“I told ya, I´d manage. There is no safe that is safe from me.” The self-satisfaction and smugness were fairly evident in his voice but for once, Han didn’t mock him for it.

“That’s one in a million, kid,” he said and failed at entirely keeping the awe from his voice. “Can you imagine what we can do with this?”

“Nothing if we don’t get out of here,” was the dry answer and Luke heaved himself up slowly.

“Killjoy,” the older man replied, the light tone in his voice fading away. Then, suddenly, there was mischief sparkling in his eyes. He grabbed the heavy necklace enclosing a row of thick, dark rubies and held it around his neck.

“How do I look? Very royal, right?”

Luke snorted. “You couldn’t even look royal if you had ten of those.”

“Well, thank you.” Han sounded more than slightly insulted. Then he grinned, his excitement washing away his hurt pride in a matter of seconds. He grasped for the slim sapphire necklace and wrapped it around Luke’s neck.

“It suits ya, your royal highness.”

Luke made a face of royal distaste. “I am sorry but I do have subtler preferences.” He playfully held up a delicate silver diadem in his left and several ruby rings in his right hand. Then his smile died out as he grew serious again and he started to carefully move the jewelry into his backpack which lay next to him. Han joined him seconds later.

“But seriously, we should probably lay low for a while after this,” he said thoughtfully.

“Kid, you’re already infamous but this will raise your rep to legendary.”

Luke grinned but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. The thought left him uneasy, even though he didn’t want to show it.

“Let’s get out of here, Han.”

 

 

 

 

“The whole court was enraged. The royal family has mobilized their entire intelligence force, ordering the retrieval of their crown jewels. They made a request for assistance when the thieves managed to leave the system undetected.” His pale lips turned into a disparaging smile as he focused his eyes on the black-clothed person kneeling in front of him.

After a short pause in which both parties considered the words that had been said, the second person spoke. “I don’t see why we should bother to expend resources and time into this affair. If the royal family is not capable of protecting their possessions then perhaps they are not worthy of them. The Imperial forces are not common thief hunters.”

“Thylist is an important system, the trade lanes going through it grant them wide political influence.”

“I don’t believe that you would be bothered by a few indignant politicians, no matter how influential. My Master,” the second person added when the hooded figure scowled at him.

“There is more,” the Emperor said slowly, as if he tasted the words on his tongue before speaking. “I had people look into the affair when I first heard about it.”

The kneeling figure waited patiently for him to continue.

“Judging from their reports and the situation at hand, I have come to the conclusion that nobody should have been capable of breaking into the sanctuary where they had kept the jewels. The security installations were impeccable. What do you conclude from this?”

The answer came after a short silence. “That we deal with a highly talented and dangerous criminal? That he might have had people on the inside?”

“Undoubtedly we do. The number of high security places he has already broken into though proves that people on the inside are not the secret to his success.”

“So we already know the perpetrator?”

“We don’t know his name, no. But in criminal circles, they call him The Safe-Breaker. He has broken through the most secure systems ever built like it was child’s play. What we are dealing with, Lord Vader”, he bowed forward slowly, “is most likely a force-user.”

“No Jedi or Padawan would ever stoop to a mere criminal’s level,” Vader replied.

Palpatine gave a small nod. “Yes, which means he is either poorly trained or not trained at all. But what is certain is that he is talented and strong in the force. It would be a shame if he someday discovered the true extends of his potential. Do take care of him, will you?”

 

 

 

 

“Kid, we are on every holo channel in the net!” Han burst out as he jauntily entered the room.

“Is that so?” Luke grumbled from where he crouched on the sitting area of the Falcon. Han sounded way too cheerful about this.

“Yeah. They haven’t even made that much ruckus when we robbed the bank of Kuat.”

That did cause raised eyebrows. “They were fairly unhappy about that. Do they know it was us?”

Han shrugged. “They are calling us names but nobody ever mentioned The Safe-Breaker. We’re safe, kid.” He hesitated. “Our closer circles and some others know, though. There are not many people who could pull this off.”

The room resounded with the words unsaid. There are none.

Luke grinned, feeling his confidence rise through Han’s words. “So, what are we doing once we…?”

A high-pitched beeping sound interrupted his words. “We’ve got an incoming holo message,” Han said, already on the move. Luke struggled to get up from the sitting area and followed him to the receiver. The moment he stood next to Han, Han accepted the call, pressing a small red button before doing so. The button started a special program Han had written himself which showed a spinning, three-dimensional jewel- their choice for a trademark seemed quite ironic now- instead of revealing their figures to the caller.  

They themselves saw the clear blue image of Jacen McClith. McClith was one of their information brokers. He was the best. At least that’s what he said about himself and so far, Luke and Han hadn’t been able to prove him wrong.

“Congratulations, guys,” he said in his rumbling voice. “You’re not only in the news, you’re THE news.” The Kupohan shook his head as he laughed quietly, his basal ear rings causing an accompanying clicking sound.

Luke chuckled. “We know. What do you have for us?”

McClith folded his arms and leaned back. “You hurt me, Mr. Safe-Breaker. You think I would never call for some small talk among friends?”

“No,” Han joined the conversation. “You’re only interested if there’s business to be made. So what is it?” Not for the first time, Luke wondered what kind of altered voices Han had chosen for both of them. The few people they had ever met in person had been surprised at their ages and appearances, so he guessed that Han had changed them quite a bit. It would do them no good if people realized that The Safe-Breaker was nothing more but a boy, barely reaching adulthood. In fact, Luke’s age had been quite useful in some undercover operations since nobody expected any trouble from the young boy who stared at his surroundings with huge blue eyes- which turned narrow and calculating the moment people turned away.

“Well, you are not entirely wrong,” McClith said, smirking. “As a matter of fact, I do have business I wish to talk to you about. There is this client…”

“No,” Luke interrupted him. “We are not accepting any more jobs before the dust settles a bit. We don’t want the entire Empire hunting us.”

The Kupohan discreetly scratched the seam of his shirt. For the split of a second, Luke caught a glimpse of a violet bruise on his neck but just as quickly, it disappeared again, leaving him to wonder whether or not he had imagined it.

“Well, my friends, you will want to hear about this. This offer is one of a kind.”

He was baiting them, Luke knew that he was baiting them but as he shared a short glance- they usually didn’t need words to communicate in situations like these- with Han, he also knew that they would at least have to listen to this.

“Okay,” they yielded tersely. “Tell us.”

“A few days ago, an interested party made contact with me. To be more precise, interested in you or rather, your services.”

Han made a grim face, wordlessly telling McClith to just hurry up and tell them. The information broker picked up speed, probably noticing the lack of enthusiasm.

“He’s a baron, a baron from Corulag. He doesn’t wish to reveal his true name to you.”

Luke scoffed. “You know that we don’t accept jobs without knowing who gave the assignment. It’s our form of security, in case somebody decides not to play according to the rules.”

The Kupohan scratches his primary ears, ignoring his words and continuing his speech. “He’s a collector, a collector of old artefacts and books and all other kinds of rarities. There, I said it. Don’t pretend whoever of you does the hacking cannot find out which baron I am talking about. But I’m not saying his name, that would be against our bargain.”

Luke shot a short look at Han who was already busying himself with his favourite electronic hacking device, giving him a reassuring gesture without even looking up. Piece of cake, the gesture said. Done.

Pacified, Luke raised his head back up to look at the Kupohan. “Okay, give us more details,” he said.

McClith coughed. “I think it would be easiest if he told you himself. I can establish a link between you two, and don’t worry, you know the connection is safe. I tried to trace you a hundred times and I’m still failing.”

Searching for technical advice, Luke turned to Han. He was still bowed over his devices, having put up two of them now in front of him. When he noticed Luke’s attention, he gave him the thumbs up.

“Why don’t you just give us the details, as usual?” Luke asked, stalling while not even knowing exactly why he did.

“He was very clear on this. He’s talking to you about this, otherwise there’s no deal.”

Luke shrugged, ignoring the fact that the Kupohan couldn’t see him. “Okay, anything else you can tell us about him?”

“No, but I assure you it’s worth it. He is… very intent on laying his hands on what he wants. And he has a lot of credits.”

“Figured,” Luke murmured, too quietly for it to be picked up. The price they charged for their services wasn’t little- just as the risk they were taking each time. But so far, it seemed as if the god of good luck had been with them.

“I’m putting him through now,” McClith said when the silence stretched.

“Please do,” Luke murmured and added a short farewell. The line went silent and the figure of the Kupohan got replaced by a rotating shard.

Luke whipped his head around when he heard Han cursing silently. “The bastard is using encryptions- encryptions similar to ours.”

Luke kneeled down swiftly next to Han, keeping his voice low so that it couldn’t be picked up by the com either. “Can you break them?” he asked.

“I should be able to but...” Han lapsed into silence. “He must have one hell of a technician. I can’t get into it. Give me some more time…”

“It’s okay, Han,” Luke said. “Try to trace it during the call. I’m doing the talking.”

“Bigmouth,” Han murmured, already focused again on his screens, his hands moving and typing rapidly.

Luke got back up and turned to the symbol. He had a bad feeling about this. People weren’t better than Han at encryptions, just as they weren’t better than him at unlocking safes. He gave himself some instant scolding. Of course some people had to be. Right?

There was a rustling noise and the shard stopped spinning. “Hello?” a deep voice said. Luke knew enough about voice altering to know that the person used one of the standard versions.

“Hello, Baron Padre,” Luke replied lightly, bowed forward slightly to read the name on the data pad Han had handed him. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. “

There was a short silence on the line. Then, “I thought I had told him not to mention my name.”

Luke unsuccessfully tried to hide his complacency. “He didn’t. He only mentioned the planet and your interests.”

Again a short silence. “You are good, I will admit that.”

Luke let his smugness fade away and focused. “Of course we are, that’s why you want to hire us.”

“You are correct, young one. I am counting on your abilities,” the voice said.

Startled by the form of address- he couldn’t possibly know anything about him, could he?-, Luke kept quiet for a moment before speaking up again. “So what are we facing? What do you want us to get?”

The baron gave a little cough. Then the shard over the receiver changed shape and turned into a revolving cube of some kind. Luke could recognize that there were more structures inside of it but the resolution wasn’t good enough to reveal details.

“This, my young friend, is a Holocron. Do you know what that is?”

Luke shook his head, a stupid habit during a holo call which he had never been able to break. “No, what does it do?”

“It is an old Jedi artefact. Once, it was used by them for sealing information inside of it. It has become very rare over time, as all things connected to the Jedi. The people who do possess the ones left aren’t talking and they are certainly not offering them up for trade.”

“But you found one, I mean the hiding place for one of them?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. This is where it gets problematic and why I am hiring you. Tell me, young Mr. Safe-Breaker, are you afraid of Darth Vader?”

Luke stared. “I am afraid of nobody,” he then replied, bold and with a firm voice.

“You should be,” the voice said. “You should be.”

He ignored the ominousness of the statement and pushed forward. “Why are you asking?”

The baron stayed silent for a moment, probably surprised by Luke’s audacity or amused. “I am asking because the Holocron is in his possession, young one. It’s in one of his warehouses, set on Dowut. There is little risk of him being anywhere close to it but I do assume that his security installations are a challenge to overcome. I already turned to some other… people in your profession but they refused to take the assignment due to the owner of the warehouse. They are afraid of him. That’s why I asked whether you were afraid of him.”

Luke had a seriously bad feeling at the thought of stealing from Lord Darth Vader, Second in Command of the Empire, himself but then again, if he got caught at any stealing act and they connected his abilities to his name, he would be in for it. Luke had no illusions. He knew that if he ever got caught, he would die. And there was a challenge in the baron’s words, an appeal at the prospect at doing something so daring, especially after the theft of the crown jewels of Thylist such a short time ago.

“I’ll do it,” Luke said. “Stealing from Darth Vader is a piece of cake for someone like me.”

“Wait,” Han interrupted, the first thing he had said ever since the conversation had begun. “We are not doing this.”

Luke turned his head, surprised. It was probably the first time Han had ever interrupted him like this, with a nervous head shake and his hands fidgeting.

“Would you give us a few moments to sort this out?” Luke asked the baron.

“That will be no problem,” he replied, his voice void of any emotions.

Luke nodded at Han who scrambled to adjust the program. When they were capable to talk without being overheard, Han rounded on Luke. “Are you out of your mind?” he snarled. “We can’t just break into some warehouse of Darth kriffing Vader, that’s insane.”

Shrugging, Luke replied “Can’t be much more difficult than stealing the crown jewels of Thylist.”

“Luke, you don’t understand. That’s Darth Vader, the Second in Command of the whole empire. If he finds out who did this he will never let us get away.”

“Well, then he should better never find out. We can replace the Holocron with something similar looking. We get in and out before anyone even notices we were there. You heard the guy, how likely do you think it is that Vader will be close by?”

“What if it’s a trap?”

Luke hesitated. “Why would Darth Vader himself take care of thieves like us? Crown jewels or not, we are not that important. I don’t see the leader of all Imperial forces coming after us.”

Snorting, Han looked at him. “But why take that risk? Once we’ve given the crown jewels to our client, we will have enough credits to get by for a while.”

The Holocron picture flickered and the baron’s voice piped up again. “If you are willing to accept the assignment, this is the amount of credits I will offer.”

Han and Luke stared at the digits that had shown up instead of the Holocron. Han cursed silently and extensively and undid his previous program edit.

“We’re in,” he said.

 

 

 

The information about the layout of the warehouse and its security installations proved to be correct. Neither Luke nor Han had asked where the baron had gotten his information, it only mattered that he had.

Then again, Han had extended some time and effort into trying to find out more about their client. As it turned out, the baron was quite infamous in his own right and seemed overly ambitious at collecting rare items, just like McClith had said. He also seemed to employ some very skilled people to keep his activities mostly secret as Han’s ill success at tracing the call had proved. His failure must have bugged Han because he spend nearly every free second after the call with making preparations, spying on people’s activities and collecting information. The fact that he hadn’t been found any leads that there was more to this job than met the eye calmed Luke, quenching the bad feeling he had about this. There was also the fact that Han had effortlessly overcome Imperial security programs before and if they had upgraded those, they would have learned about it before.    

What had followed were several days of further preparation and observance on location until they had felt that the right time had come. They had broken into the warehouse. Calling it a warehouse was in fact a rather meager description. Han had started calling it fortress after they had overcome the third reinforced durasteel door. Luke soon found himself just as busy as Han who worked on the alarm and surveillance system.

But even though getting inside had taken more time than it should be expected of a depository- even one belonging to someone as important as Vader- they ended up where they wanted to in the end.

Luke pushed open the last durasteel door which had blocked them from the room- this one the trickiest so far- where the Holocron was being kept and walked through. He exhaled shakily as he inspected the room. He couldn’t help thinking that the outer layers of the building had been like a protective shell, keeping the core inside safe, the core a treasure room.

First of all, the room was huge. It was flowing over with all kinds of items and even though there was a clear system behind their arrangement, it was far from being tidied up. There were robots, standard versions and some which Luke had never seen before and who’s purpose he could only guess, standing next to engines and parts of speeders and ships and there even was a complete hovercraft in one corner which looked like a DC0052 speeder- which was obviously impossible considering these speeders’ origin.

Luke could also see shelves upon shelves which contained heavy datapads and holorecords, as well as durasteel crates in all forms and sizes. And in the middle of all was the Holocron.

It was set in a huge transparisteel box. Mesmerized, Luke moved closer while Han stayed behind to check on his surveillance control. To his surprise the artefact shone in a bright blue, just as the holo receiver had depicted it. All of a sudden, he understood why the baron had been willing to offer so many credits for this relic of the past. His nerves fluttering with excitement, he pulled out his lock picks and several others of his tools.

The opening mechanism proved to be one of the hardest he had ever encountered. He slipped into a trance of full concentration, eyes closed and using his tools like they were extensions of his body, feeling them like they were. At times, he felt like there was a weight on his shoulders, hindering him, but the feeling went away with time.

He felt a dark sense of triumph when the durasteel system gave way under his fingers and the box clicked open.

“I’ve got it!” he shouted at Han who sat hunched over a few meters away from him, working.

He stretched his hand into the transparisteel box and pulled out the Holocron, the durasteel casing cold under his fingers. He turned around, jubilantly, intending to show it with a wave of his hand. He never finished his movement.

The moment the Holocron left the box the ground suddenly gave way underneath Luke’s feet. He fell. The last thing he saw from the room was the horror in Han’s face and the door bursting wide open, revealing Imperial stormtroopers.

 

 

He landed hard. If you could call it a landing. The duracrete bottom tore open the skin on his hands and knees. The trap door had already closed over his head before Luke could even look up. Shouting came from above, then shooting, a scream, then silence.

“HAN!” Luke screamed. No answer. “Han!”  

He got up, staggering, ignoring his body’s screams of pain. Turning around in a full circle, he quickly inspected his unexpected prison. Narrow walls of black duracrete loomed up around him. The room was small, one could walk through it in four large steps.

Luke did, running for the door which was barely visible in the dim illumination. He searched for the locking mechanism, for a plating hiding it but there was nothing. It seemed like the door had been stomped out of the wall itself. Without the right tools- the tools he had left lying next to Han- he couldn’t get out. He was trapped.

For a moment fright and despair overwhelmed him and he hammered with his balled fists against the door. It didn’t budge the slightest. “Let me out!” he cried out, continuing his hammering until his hands hurt and he staggered back, slumping against the wall opposite to the door.

This was it. This was the end. They had been caught- caught!- it had been a trap- and…

Luke fought to control his shaking, his thoughts spiraling out of control. They would kill him, they probably already had killed Han, and he would be next.

He found himself thinking of old gods before he remembered that he had stopped believing in them a long time ago. He thought of Han who probably lay somewhere above him, bleeding, a hole in his chest. Han who had been there and who had taken him in when he had just been a kid who had lost everything- his home, the people raising him, his future- to a raid nobody had seen coming.

-he’s most likely dead-

-get yourself together-

And what now? In a moment of total mental clarity, Luke surveyed his situation. He was trapped, yes, and they were going to come to finish him off, too. There was no doubt that they were intending to kill him off, either directly or after a short court in which they hold him accountable for his crimes. If that was the case, he might as well go down fighting.

Thanking all the gods that he had not lost his blaster, he pulled it out. The weapon felt unfamiliar in his hands since he had never had much reason to use it. Well, today was the day, he told himself, his teeth gritted together.

He thought about the most strategic position in the room for when the door opened. He figured that the corner which couldn’t be seen from the door because the frame would block it would make the most suitable stand. When the stormtroopers came in, he would shoot the first ones and attack the others from up close. The more there were the more they would hinder each other. So much the theory, at least. He got a chance. He probably wouldn’t get out unharmed but he could get out. They expected a surprised thief, not an attacker.

Luke braced himself and waited, his whole body tense and his blaster clutched so tightly that his knuckles looked white.

Time ticked by and nothing happened. And then the door opened.

Luke could at first not see who stood in the door but he heard the breathing. A distinct, regular breathing which chilled him to the bone. The figure in black rounded the corner, a red lightsaber in his hand and Luke fired.

He didn’t manage to fire more often than twice. The black-clothed figure twirled his lightsaber, parrying the first one shot and then moving out of the way of the second one- which nearly missed him anyway due to Luke’s shaking hand.

Then Luke’s hand got painfully pulled forward by an unseen force and he lost his grip on his blaster as it went tumbling through the air and smacked into Vader’s hand who threw it over his shoulder through the doorframe.

Disarmed for now, Luke threw caution to the wind, blindly pulled out two of his sharpest tools and charged. He forcefully threw the first one at Vader’s mask and a second later the second one.

He had hoped to land at least one good hit on him and to distract him for the time it took for him to wiggle around the Dark Lord and to escape down the corridor, using the element of surprise.

He most likely got the element of surprise all right but every other part of the plan failed. The throwing objects halted in the air before Vader’s face. Luke was already in his movement forward, grasping with fleeing fingers for his next weapons. Before he could manage, Vader grabbed his arm and pulled him close, thereby disrupting his sense of balance.

As Luke stumbled forward, his arm caught in the durasteel grip of the Sith Lord, he became aware of the lightsaber he was moving towards way too quickly. He started back but didn’t get far, instead hitting the side wall with his back.

Vader was right in front of him, blocking any escape route. Luke could only watch as the rest of his tools got scattered across the floor, like an invisible giant’s hand was playing with them. Then, the door closed, also on its own, with an ominous screech. Luke blinked as the red lightsaber flickered out of existence. But while his worst fear resided a tiny bit, his sense of terrible danger did not.

In the seconds in which Vader only held him pressed against the wall, his unlit lightsaber still firm in his hand, undoubtedly staring at him from behind that mask- measuring him up!- Luke piped up. “I want a lawyer! You have no right to kill me off like this! It’s against the law!”

He cursed the words the moment they left his mouth. Vader tilted his head slightly and Luke could have sworn that he felt dark amusement radiating from the Dark Lord.    

“Hello, Mr. Safe-Breaker. It’s nice to finally meet you face-to-face.”

“I wished I could say the same,” Luke grumbled, incapable of filtering his answer before it spilled over his lips. Then, because there was a good possibility that Vader decided that he should kill him right now instead of dragging him out, he asked rashly “Is Han alright? The one who was with me? Did you..?”

“Your criminal friend has been confined by my men. You would do better worrying about your own fate.”

Luke blatantly ignored the threat in the last words. “Did you hurt him?! I heard shots!”

There was a short pause in which he felt like he could sense the Sith’s eyes on his face. Which was obviously impossible, he couldn’t. It was unnerving to stare into the blank mask though. It seemed that Vader was ready to grant him small mercies before his death because he answered. "He is mostly unharmed. However, both of you are charged with heavy crimes.”

Even though the ´mostly´ made him uneasy, Luke stopped asking for Han’s condition. He felt like Vader’s patience had its limits and they were reaching them quickly. “What are you going to do with us?” he heard himself ask nonetheless. “And why would someone like you be after us anyway? Is the Imperial security so bad they have to resort to sending their Second in Command to catch some thieves?”

Luke’s breath nearly caught when he felt Vader’s grip tighten around his arm. He guessed that today was not only the day on which he got caught but also the day on which his big mouth got him killed quicker than his crimes did.

“You are asking many questions, young thief. But for once, I am willing to indulge you. There is a reason why I myself have set this up…”

“You did set us up! I knew it! I swear if I get McClith into my hands I…”

“And that reason is you.”

Luke stopped his silent rumbling of curses. He blinked. “What? Me?”

Vader didn’t answer but instead raised his free hand into the air. A moment later, the Holocron- which Luke had dropped when he had first fallen through the trap door- sailed into it. He held it out to Luke. “Open it.”

“What?” Feeling his speaking abilities reduced to this one question, Luke looked up at Vader quizzically.

“Open it,” Vader repeated. “It’s a Jedi artefact, just like I told you, used for information storage. But in order to use it, people need to be capable of opening it.”

Luke squinted at Vader with narrow eyes. “And you think because of my unlocking abilities I can do it? That’s it?”

Vader didn’t give an answer to his question but instead chose to remain silent.

“Great,” Luke muttered and tried to bow forward to pick his tools back up. Vader’s grip on his arm stayed relentless, hindering him from doing so. “Let me go!” he muttered. “How am I supposed to get it open without my tools?”

Vader stared at him or at least Luke assumed that he did from the tilt of his helmet. “You won’t need your tools this time, young one,” he said firmly.

Resisting the urge to pull a face at the Sith Lord, Luke hesitantly accepted the Holocron from him. He inspected it closely, turning it around, and, for the first time since he had obtained it, taking a thorough look at it.

It still shone in a bright, disturbing blue colour, even more pronounced now that they were in the rather badly illuminated room. The durasteel casing had a golden touch to it even though its shine had dulled over time. There were ornaments crafted artfully into the durasteel. On the center of every side there was a square made of transparisteel with a thin ring of durasteel embodied within. Through the transparisteel Luke could see that there was more hidden inside but he couldn’t quite figure out what or how the unlocking mechanism worked. In his eyes, the sealing of the durasteel cage around whatever was inside was seamless. He tried nonetheless, turning the artefact in his hands and pushing at different parts of it in the hope that he could open it by twisting parts against each other. All of his tries failed.    

Reluctantly, he raised his head to look at Vader. “I can’t open it without my tools,” he said, hoping not to incite the Dark Lord’s wrath.

“You won’t use them,” Vader repeated stubbornly. “How do you usually proceed when opening strong rooms? Do it.”

Luke could feel that the Sith’s patience started to wear threateningly thin, so he refrained from asking a third time. Jitterily, he laid the Holocron on his flat hand, staring at it intently. He branded the image onto his inner eye, then closed his eyes and focused. Slowly, he became aware of the stretching, expectant silence but he blended it out, just as he blended out his nervousness and fear and sweaty hands. He pieced the image he had seen back together behind his closed eyes, sank deeper into his concentrated trance, and imagined the Holocron opening. Going by his previous observations he had a rough image of how it would play out. He imagined it more vividly, something in his mind- something foreign and dark and it should not be there, a part of his mind whispered,- guiding him.

His eyes opened abruptly when he felt a movement on his hand. He had barely time to see that the Holocron had partially opened itself up- how??- before it glided back into its original state.

“Only a person using the force- a Jedi- is capable of opening those Holocrons. You see, this is the true reason why I have come for you,” Vader stated, a strange tone in his voice.

“A Jedi? I am no Jedi!” Luke exclaimed, very suddenly realizing the seriousness of the situation and starting to panic. If Vader thought him a Jedi he would show no mercy. It was common knowledge throughout the galaxy how much Vader hated the Jedi- hated them so much that he had hunted and killed every single one of them until there had been none left. “I have never been trained! I have never even met a Jedi!”

“No, you are not. No Jedi would ever stoop so low as to use his abilities for mere thefts. Your handling of the force is childlike, at best.”

Even though Luke still felt chilled at the notion that Vader might have thought him a Jedi, he couldn’t help also feeling outraged and indignant at Vader’s patronizing words. Holding back several angry retorts, he glared at him.

“The Emperor has ordered your death. So this leaves us with three options,” Vader said slowly. “The first is that I kill you here and now.”

Luke gulped and tried to lean back further, quickly realizing that is was impossible.

“The second one is that I am handing you over to the Imperial court which will then sentence you to death due to your crimes.”

“Let’s hear about this third option,” Luke suggested.

Vader stared at him for several moments, not saying anything. Luke wondered whether trying to bolt now would cause him a quicker death than options one and two. “And the last option is that you are going to work for me. Your talent is astounding and it would be a shame to let it go to waste when I could have such a good use for it.”

Luke gaped. “Me? Working? For you?”

“What part about that was not clear?”

Luke’s thoughts raced through his mind. While it wasn’t very hard to decide based on these options, there were still things to think about. “What about Han? If I start working for you, will you let him go?”

“I don’t see how you have any leverage to pledge for your criminal friend. He will be brought to court and will have to answer for his actions.”

“If you let him go, I will tell you where we hid the crown jewels of Thylist,” Luke shot back, anxiety churning in his stomach.

Vader hesitated. “We have a deal then.”

Luke relaxed a tiny bit. “Okay, but what will you have me do? I don’t see how Darth Vader could use a master thief in his services.”

“There are information and things no Imperial officer could ever get. I am confident that once I have trained you, you can.”

Falling silent, Luke thought about it. He was quite certain that he wouldn’t be capable of breaking out of the Imperial custody when they put him on trial and this way, he could also save Han. Gritting his teeth and pushing back his shoulders he looked up at Vader, searching for the man’s eyes even though he knew it to be impossible. “In that case, I shall consider myself your future private agent, Lord Vader.”

He considered making a mocking, shallow bow when Vader let go of his arm but decided not to press his luck.

“Then come,” Vader said and turned around, lifting his hand. When the door opened Luke hastily picked up his tools which still lay spread throughout the room and was about to follow Vader when the Sith Lord abruptly turned back to him.

“And I warn you not to think about tricking me, young one. Should word reach the Emperor that you have survived or should you go missing on one of your missions I promise you that I will find you and that you will beg for death when I do.”

Luke gulped as Vader bore down on him, his finger way too close to his face for comfort.

“Yes, Sir,” he uttered silently.

Without a second glance, Vader turned around and started walking away. They passed a group of stormtroopers who must have waited behind the door for their conversation to finish- or for Luke to die, he supposed.

Luke struggled to keep up with the Dark Lord’s walking speed but he managed. Now that the first rush of adrenaline had come and gone, he started to wonder what kind of horrible mess he had gotten himself into and what he would face in the future. He also regretted that he would be forced to leave Han’s side but at least he would live. And after all, Luke knew that Han could handle himself.

They had walked for a few minutes in complete silence and Luke could see due to the bright light streaming in from the end of the corridor that they were to soon enter a larger hall.

“Now that you are working for me,” Vader suddenly said, “I wish to know your name. Your true name.”

The young thief hesitated, shortly. He hadn’t given his true name to anyone ever since Han had picked him up. He had given fake names, code names, had refused to answer- but somehow, he felt that lying to Darth Vader was in itself a bad idea. So he answered.

“Luke,” he said quietly. “My name is Luke Skywalker.”

For a moment he felt like there was a storm in the air, pushing against his skin and roaring in his ears but then their last steps carried them out of the corridor and into the hall.

It was buzzing with noise and filled with stormtroopers and…- Han stood somewhere in the middle, surrounded by several stormtroopers. Every previous thought slid away from Luke as he stumbled towards his friend. He never even noticed the hand that the Dark Lord had stretched out to hold him back and to turn him around.

Luckily, nobody tried to restrain him when he ran towards him. “Luke! You’re alright, kid?!” the older man said and didn’t get to say anything more as Luke threw himself at him, pulling him into a tight embrace.

“I’m fine, of course I’m fine!” Luke muttered. “What about you?! I heard the shooting and…!”

He pushed himself back and looked Han over, only to spot the bleeding wound on Han’s right arm.

“It’s nothing, kid,” his friend said when he noticed his attention and his concerned face. “Just a scratch which distracted me long enough for them to get to me. Nothing some bacta can’t heal. Even though I guess that would be for naught now anyway.”

Luke hastily threw a look around and then bowed forward quickly, grabbing his shoulders. “About that,” he whispered into Han’s ear. “I made a deal. A deal with Vader.”

“You did WHAT?!” Han exclaimed, not even trying to keep his voice low.

“Shut up and listen,” Luke said, still keeping his words so silent that nobody but Han could hear what he said. “It’s going to get you out. Vader wants me to work for him.”

“Like hell you are going to…!”

“I told you to shut up for once! It’s either me working for him or both of us being put on trial! You can imagine how that’s gonna play out!”

Han stared at him and Luke knew that he was shaken. Licking his lips nervously, Han averted his gaze. “But why would he do that? Vader sure as hell got enough people working for him, why would he want you to do his dirty work?”

Reluctant to tell him the whole truth- which he still didn’t entirely grasp either- Luke hesitated. Then he faked a broad grin and leaned back. “Well, it’s me, you know?”

He could tell immediately that Han didn’t fully believe him but that didn’t matter. He knew that it was only a matter of time until Vader came to collect him and he had to use the time he had.

“Listen to me,” he said, putting more force and urgency into his voice. “I want to give you the Falcon. It’s not like I’m going to be using it anytime soon, I suppose. You take it- and get out of here. Ya can’t trust those Imperials.”

Han’s eyes grew wide. “But the Falcon is your…”

“It’s the fastest ship in this part of the galaxy and probably in every other part, too. It’s gonna get you out of hairy situations and we all know that you love these.”

Han visibly had to pull himself together. “Thanks, Luke. I’m gonna take good care of the old Lady.”

“And no scratches!” Luke warned him.

“Hey, I thought she was a gift!”

“Still.”

Silence fell among them, reminding them of their imminent parting. With a sudden light in his eyes, Luke looked up. “And Han, don’t think this is the last time we see each other. I’m sure that even Lord Vader’s private agent can’t manage all of his missions on his own. So… I guess I’m gonna call if I need support.”

“Call regardless,” Han shot back immediately.

Luke flashed him a smile, one of the blinding ones, the ones that distinguished Luke Skywalker from Luke the master thief.

Then he turned on his heel and started walking away, towards the black figure of the Dark Lord standing at the opposite side of the hall, waiting for him.

Chapter Text

„I really, really hate this,“ Luke murmured.

Ever since he had arrived in Cloud City everything had gone smoothly. Surprisingly smoothly. Which should have been good news but it felt wrong. He could sense it, a heaviness and darkness that lay in the air, fuzzing his senses, lying in wait.

He had landed without problems, the people from Cloud city guiding him through the motions, giving him a landing site and welcoming him in their city. On the approach, he had been stunned by the beauty of the construct these people had built. Cloud city was a masterpiece, a construct so daring words failed him. He wondered how architects and engineers had been able to lift such a huge structure, to lift it till it reached the clouds itself and even further.

He had forced himself to look away from the beauty of the construct and see what was important to him- the defense work, the places of all landing platforms and, most important of all, whether there were any signs of Imperial activity. Leaving his fate to practiced hands and the force, he had searched for the force signatures of Leia, Han and Chewie. He had been incapable of tracing the last two but to his surprise, he had easily detected Leia’s presence. He wondered about that. While it was difficult to say what kind of situation she was currently facing, her emotions spoke to him clearly- there was tension, and anger, and a weak undercurrent of fear.

It had confirmed Luke’s decision to come to Cloud city. There was something going on here but until he set foot on the flying city, he would never know more. After landing as close as possible to Leia’s and hopefully also Han’s and Chewie’s position, he had entered the main buildings, slowly drawing closer to the prominent light in the force that was Leia.

The closer he got, the less people crossed his path. At the same time he felt a coldness that did not belong here settle unwaveringly in his bones. It reminded him eerily of the cave on Dagobah. He chose not to think about it. The darkness now accompanied him, making him feel like he was being tracked.

In short, everything about this entire situation screamed trap. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. Luke continued walking. He had not come this far only to give up now. Still, the warnings of his teachers echoed in his ears. You are not ready, Luke , they whispered. Turn around , they said . It’s not too late. Come back.

Luke stubbornly shook his head and pushed the voices out of his head. In the end, they bowed to his resolve and left. But know that you will be on your own now, they whispered. We can’t help you.

“Fine,” Luke muttered angrily. He peaked around the next corner, decided that he felt way better with a blaster in his hand, and drew the weapon. Artoo who had dutifully and quietly followed him the whole way now beeped up enquiringly.

“Of course I am expecting trouble, I am always expecting trouble,” Luke said quietly and tensely.

Artoo let loose a string of incomprehensible binary. Luke guessed that he was trying to express that he was not happy about this. “Me, neither, little guy,” he said, the talking distracting him a little bit from his nervousness. “But it’s not really like we’ve got a choice.”

Judging that the corridor before him was really as empty as it seemed he stepped forward. The corridor lead him to a main corridor whose prominent feature were the huge windows on its left which allowed him to catch a glimpse of the stirrings of Cloud city. An elevator rose up just beside the window, leaving Luke to wonder how many levels the city had. Still no people in his field of vision. No people, no droids, no noises, no nothing. It seemed that Cloud city gave it its best shot at appearing like a ghost town.

Fighting his instincts which were shouting at him to turn on his heels and to run, Luke decided to rename the city. Ghost town it was. The thought amused him for several more steps, then he grew serious again.

He took a turn, bypassed another round window and stopped abruptly. The corridor ended in a door. Come closer, Leia’s presence beckoned. We’re right here.

Hesitating, he looked back. Still no one there. On each side of the double-winged door, there was a decorative symbol resembling rocks and the letter M carved into it.

Enter, Luke’s worry about his friends said.

Don’t, there is danger waiting for you there, his caution said.

Luke threw caution to the wind, took his blaster into his left hand and drew his unlit lightsaber with his right hand. He approached the door with raised weapons, ready to react at a moment’s notice. The doors opened.

The first thing- wait, person- he laid eyes on was Darth Vader, rising from behind the huge table. Luke didn’t think, didn’t let himself feel the horror and hate that instantly overcame him, he raised his blaster and-

“Fire and your friends die,” Vader said.

Luke froze.

Only now did he take in the scene in front of him. Before him, seated on both sides of the Dark Lord, were Han, Leia and Chewie, behind each of them a stormtrooper pointing a blaster at their head.

At his back, Luke could hear the steps of many people assembling behind him and he didn’t need to look back to know that it was a group of stormtroopers whose weapons were now pointing at him.

He had sprung the trap.

Hello, young Skywalker,” Darth Vader said, the greeting sounding more like a threat than anything else.

“Luke!” several voices cried out at once, mixed with the roar of a Wookie.

“Hey, guys. Looks like the gang's all here.” He didn't dare take his eyes of Vader while he said it, waiting for the inevitable attack.

Slowly, he slid into a fighting stance and pushed the activation button of his lightsaber. The luminous blade hissed into existence, held steadily in his hands. “Let them go,” he hissed, addressing Vader now. “You wanted me, right? Well, I'm here, so let them go.”

Vader stance didn't change a bit. “Indeed, I arranged all this in the hopes of finding you. You have proven to be very skilled at avoiding a confrontation with me. This ends now.”

He looked at Luke and Luke had the uncomfortable feeling that he was being measured up. “However”, Vader continued, “you misunderstand. I have no intention of fighting you.” He sat back down, somehow managing to look no less menacing even without the advantage of height.

Luke stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Sit down, Skywalker,” Vader ordered. “We have much to talk about. And lay down your weapons, you won't need them.”

Like hell I am!” Luke gave back. Vader just expected him to give up looking at the odds! So yeah, having a group of stormtroopers at your back and Vader in front of you wasn't that good! So what?! Luke wasn't just going to give in to his father's murderer's demands! Once Vader had him, he would get killed anyway!

“Sit down or you are going to loose one of your friends to the twitchy fingers of my troops.” He nodded at the one standing behind Han. “Start with the smuggler.”

Wait!” Luke cried out.

V ader stared at him expectant ly, stopping the trooper with a wave of his hand. Luke gritted his teeth, turning the situation over and over in his mind, and finally accepted that he had no choice. Glaring at all stormtroopers close to him and at Vader in particular, he stepped forward, his back stiff and his knuckles white as clutched his lightsaber tightly.

Extinguishing his lightsaber and s lamming the blaster on the table, he sat down at the end of the table, facing Vader directly. There were still two chairs on each side separating him from Han and Leia but he refused to get any closer. The less space there was between Vader and him, the less time Luke had to react when Vader decided that his patience had run out.

H e wondered whether he was quick enough to wrench the stormtrooper's blaster off course before he could fire at Han. Maybe he could but... it was too risky. And there were still Leia and Chewie to be considered. For now, Luke couldn't do a thing.

Clenching his teeth and refusing to give in entirely, Luke slapped both blaster and lightsaber onto his belt, unwilling to let Vader take them.

Vader didn't advert his gaze and Luke stared right back, hostility emanating in waves from him. Apparently Vader thought this enough consideration because he didn't comment on Luke's refusal to give up his weapons.

He nodded at the stormtrooper squad standing behind Luke. “Leave us and guard the door.”

Luke should have been relieved but his sense of alarm didn't fade. He knew that the stormtroopers behind Han, Leia and Chewie would shoot the moment he tried anything and he was more than aware that he could impossibly save all of them. And of course, there was still Vader himself.

After a few tense moments in which everyone expected a fight to break out Vader started to talk. “It was foolish of you to come here, Skywalker. Brave, but foolish.”

“I know you couldn't possibly understand!” Luke snapped right back. He wasn't about to be lectured by Vader for stepping knowingly into his trap.

“How did you even find us, Luke?” Leia joined in on the conversation, ignoring Vader with an ease that made Luke marvel at her.

“I... it's difficult to explain. I had a vision and“, Luke looked briefly into her eyes. “I felt that you were in pain. I knew that you were in trouble, or soon to be in trouble and I had to come.”

He glared openly at Vader. “You were planning to interrogate them, weren't you?”

Vader didn't move a muscle. “I was. But not for information. I knew that when you sensed your friends' pain you would come. It was the only way to make sure of that. Your compassion is one of your many weaknesses.”

Luke lost his temper. “How dare you use them like that! If you wanna come and kill me, do it! But don't involve them!”

“I'm afraid it's a little too late for that,” Han mumbled miserably.

Luke shot him a short glance and then forced himself to calm down. Getting angry wasn't going to get them out of this situation and it hindered him from thinking clearly.

“I think the dinner is ready,” Vader remarked amiably, embodying a caricature of the perfect host. As he said it, the doors opened and revealed several servants carrying huge plates with food. They entered and set down a plate in front of each of them.

He is serving us dinner, Luke thought hysterically. I am eating dinner with Darth Vader. This can't be happening!

“Please enjoy,” Vader said lightly. “This has been prepared carefully by the most skilled cooks in Cloud City.”

Luke stared in disbelief at his plate. Arranged in a delicate pattern lay smoked nerf, stew, spice-jelly, flatbread, nerf sausages, roast beef, buckwheat noodles, potato sticks and amber-roots, as well as a few dishes he could not even name.

“This is absurd,” he sat flatly.

“That's right! If you're gonna kill us, why feed us first?” Han snarled.

“I am not planning on killing you. Skywalker will be brought to the Emperor and you will be handed over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett. The Princess and the Wookie will suffer the fate of every rebel leaning up against the Empire, answering for the destruction of Imperial property, insurgence, terrorist activities, evading arrest, smuggling, anarchy, subterfuge and murder.”

“I'm suddenly not feeling very hungry anymore,” Han stated unhappily.

Vader leaned forward a bit. “Eat,” he said darkly. Swallowing nervously, Han obeyed.

Luke, who had followed the exchange with growing alarm, now briefly closed his eyes and then focused a calculating gaze on Vader. “This will not be necessary,” he began. “You only captured them to get me. Now that you have me, you can let them go.”

“I don't think so,” Vader replied without a second of hesitation.

Luke narrowed his eyes at the Dark Lord, feeling hot rage rising within him despite his efforts to stay calm. “Let. Them. Go.” He barely recognized his own voice and if Chewie's low howling was anything to go by, neither did he.

“You are already in my custody, young one, therefore you have nothing of worth to offer to me. Your friends are enemies of the Empire and are threatening our peace.”

“Threaten the peace? What peace?!” Leia interrupted furiously. “Do you call terrorizing and oppressing the people peace? In that case I am glad to do so!”

“Please be quiet, Leia,” Luke murmured, his own anger fading as he could feel the Sith Lord's temperament rising. He tried desperately to figure out a way out of this situation yet he could think of nothing. Stalling for time, he picked up his cutlery and pretended to focus on his food. The very thought of eating in the presence of his father's murderer made him sick. He distantly moved the food around, wondering at the fact that they had given them knifes. He glanced up discreetly and saw that Leia's knife was missing.

“You are not eating, Skywalker,” Vader observed matter-of-factly.

“I do not really feel like eating,” Luke gave back. He could not really blame Leia for her anger which vibrated in the air. He himself felt unstable, his emotions churning within him.

“It's probably poisoned,” Leia said pointedly. She hadn't even touched the food. Han, who had just stuck a piece of roast beef into his mouth, looked like he wanted to spit it back out.

“Do you think I have poisoned the food, Skywalker?” Vader asked.

“I don't know,” Luke shot back. “Did you?”

The Dark Lord leaned back, crossing his arms before his chest. “A Sith Lord has no need for petty tricks like that.”

It was no outright denial that he had not poisoned it and Luke decided not to take any risks. He inconspicuously showed his plate further away from him and looked at Han. “How did you end up in Cloud City anyway? I thought your evacuation from Hoth was successful.” If Vader was intending to have a macabre dinner so be it. He could play these games, too.

Han made a face. “We did but”, he shot a short glance at Vader, “the Empire followed us. They most likely thought you were with us and only later realized their mistake.”

“No, they didn't,” Luke said curtly.

Han was shortly confused by his objection but continued. “We tried to escape through an asteroid field but...”

“An asteroid field?” Luke fought to keep his facial expression neutral and failed. “That's insanity, Han.”

“I said the same,” Leia threw in. “You forgot the asteroid creature that tried to eat us.”

“It tried to eat the ship.”

“Same thing.”

“You seem to have had some fun,” Luke commented.

Leia glared at him. “No.”

“Anyway,” Han said, irritated. “They found us again, tagged us somehow when we escaped and came to Cloud City even before we arrived. We were in for repairs-”

“-the hyperdrive?”

“The hyperdrive.” Han's brief smile fell and he looked pained for a moment. “I thought I had a friend here who I could count on. I didn't.”

His shoulders sagged and Luke wished that he could solace him somehow but with the watching figure of the Dark Lord in front of him he didn't dare to.

“Weakness,” the Dark Lord stated.

“Excuse me?” Luke replied.

“They are a weakness, those feelings. You do not have need to feel pity for a criminal like him.”

“Well, I tend to disagree. Han is my friend,” Luke said icily.

“And that is the problem,” Vader observed. “You have spend your life in the company of smugglers, rebels and other low life. It comes as no surprise that they have had a bad influence on you.”

“And who do you think you are to judge this?” Luke couldn't believe this. It sounded almost to him like Darth Vader was... reprimanding him. Rage balled in his stomach at the very thought.

Vader didn't answer. “They have distorted your point of view- about justice and the foolish ideals they cling to. The galaxy cannot be in peace without a firm hand governing it. You are lacking in several areas of education but I will see those errors rectified, son.”

Luke's barely contained rage flowed over. “Don't call me that!”

“Why, do you not like it?” Luke could have sworn that Vader was smirking beneath his mask.

He balled his trembling hand into a fist. “You have no right to call me that! After what you did to my father-”

“Look at that, look at how angry you are. There is much hate in you, young Skywalker. If you would use that hatred, that anger...”

Luke fought to control his churning emotions. Hate is the way to the dark side, Yoda had told him over and over again. He is trying to provoke you. Yet he couldn't help it, the helplessness he felt tearing his defenses down.

“The potential lies there”, Vader said quietly, his words sinking deeper into Luke's mind, “just hidden beneath the surface. You feel it, don't you? Don't fight it, let it in. Those emotions will guide you, help you...”

“What the kriffin' hell are you trying to pull, old man?” Han spit.

His voice broke the spell and Luke could free himself from the tangles of the Dark Side he hadn't felt creeping closer and closer around him. He forced himself to calm down. He could not, would not rise to Vader's taunts.

“Be quiet, smuggler, before I do something about your ability to speak out loud.”

Luke stood up, so abruptly the chair nearly fell to the ground. “You do not threaten my friends!”

The guards stiffened and inched closer to their respective hostage. Vader tilted his head as he looked at him. “I think I just did. What are you going to do about it?” The challenge was evident in his voice.

Then, when Luke didn't move, he snarled in a dark tone, “Skywalker, sit down.”

With trembling fists, Luke slowly seated himself again, not taking his glare off Vader.

“It is just as I thought. They are your weakness. We will erase it in time. You don't need to feel loyalty to anyone but...” For a moment, it seemed as if Vader hesitated. “But to the Empire.”

Leia opened her mouth. “You will not...”

“Quiet, Princess,” Vader said distractedly and waved his hand in her direction. Leia raised her hands towards her neck and moved her mouth but no word came over her lips. Luke's heart pounded rapidly. He could feel the force, a dark cold presence at the moment- or was that Vader?- sliding through the room, wrapping itself around Leia and Han and most of all, him himself.

“You know it, don't you, Skywalker?” Vader asked in a low voice. “That you will not walk out of this room on your own?”

Luke angrily fought against the quivering that wanted to overcome him. This was Vader's intention, breaking down his will to fight before it ever even came to the confrontation. But why? What would he gain from it? Did he really intend to turn him or was it mere taunting, proving to him how little he was a Jedi yet? It made no sense. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts away. His hands felt clammy nonetheless. He nervously fingered his lightsaber, just to make sure it was still there. He was certain that Vader noticed the movement but the other man showed no reaction to it.

“You are in Imperial custody now, boy,” Vader stated. “You should better think about your position. It is not wise to make an enemy out of me.”

“Why don't you just kill me if you think I am done for?” Luke hissed, now gripping his lightsaber openly. “I am not giving up yet!”

“So ready to die for your misplaced ideals,” Vader sighed. “Your father was the same-”

“-my father-”

“It's unfortunate that I have to undo so much learned foolishness. But it won't be a problem in the end. I will take over your training. The feeble experience you have gained does not compare to the power of the dark side.”

Luke nearly stood up again at that but controlled himself when he saw the stormtroopers behind his friends tense. “I will not turn. Not now and not ever. I am a Jedi, like my father before me,” he declared bluntly.

Vader ignored his words. “Once you have gotten but a taste of what you can do you will quickly change your mind. Your future lies with the Empire, Skywalker, whether you like it or not.”

“Well, I don't like it.” Luke felt a little light-headed. The conflict took more out of him than he had assumed it would. He rested his hands on the table. There was also a dizziness suddenly clouding his thoughts and making his movements slow and shaky.

“What are you...?” he started. His breathing seemed heavier and more exhausting than before. It should not be this exhausting to breathe. It was not this exhausting to breathe.

Get up , something cried in his head. Get up, quick!

Swaying, he managed to stand up. His eyes wandered to Han, Leia and Chewie. They all lay sunken down at the table. The stormtroopers still stood behind them, looking as stony as ever before. He had not even noticed them breaking down. There was something wrong with his mind...

“What...?” He grabbed his lightsaber with numb fingers. The grip slid through his fingers and fell to the ground, bouncing up one and twice. His vision wavered and there were black spots appearing in his vision.

Refusing to give up, somehow fighting through the haze in his mind, desperately- instinctively- grasping for the force to stabilize him, he ripped up his blaster. He levelled it at Vader and fired.

And fell. And fell. The floor opened up to swallow him in darkness.

As Luke Skywalker's mind slipped into unconsciousness Vader stood up. “Open the windows to release the gas. We don't want any more trouble with our host, do we?”

He stepped forward slowly, ignoring the slumped bodies of the rebels at the table and instead bowing down to the broken-down figure of his son, heaving him into his arms.

“We have what we wanted.”

Chapter Text

 

Let me tell you a story.

There once was a human fisherman who fell in love with a mermaid. The human’s name was Anakin and he was reckless as well as skilled in his line of work. One day, he sailed out deep into the open water and a storm surprised him. At the verge of despair, his ship sunken and the strength in his arms fading, he was found by a mermaid.

She brought him safely back to the beach of his village. When he laid eyes on her, the most beautiful being he had ever seen, he fell in love and asked for her name. She told him and from that day on, Anakin and the mermaid secretly met as she had also fallen in love with him.

But they wished for more than secret stolen kisses and summer nights. So she came out of the ocean, revealing to Anakin the most secret of secrets of the merpeople. If they fully touched land, their tails would shrink and transform into delicate legs. Going back into the water would reverse the transformation.

The mermaid gave up her life in the water to stay with the fisherman, wishing to live with him for the rest of her life. But fate had other plans. She became pregnant and went back into the ocean to bring the child into the world. Hoping for support from her family, she encountered hatred instead. It was forbidden, a crime, to marry a human and even worse to bear his children. She was condemned to death.

When the mermaid didn’t return from the ocean the fisherman questioned the merpeople who were trading with the village’s people what had happened to her. Upon hearing the truth, Anakin was overwhelmed by despair and suffering which turned into hatred. He joined the Navy, quickly rising through the ranks.

His hate for the merpeople was legendary. The people sailing with him gave him a new name, they started calling him Vader for the destruction he brought. As he received the rank of an Admiral of the Fleet, the Admiral of the Fleet, he ordered a large-scale extermination of the merfolk. Exploiting the people’s fears and prejudices, he hunted the ones which had taken his wife and his unborn child from him.

Within a few years, all merpeople living near the coasts had been killed, in open attacks and through traps, the coasts now surrounded by wide, reinforced fishnets in which mermaids and mermen could be caught. The ones surviving retreated, searching for new homes in the depths of the ocean.

But not all hope was lost. The children the mermaid had born were spared from death and grew up, taken in by families which had felt pity for them.

But this is only a story, known to less than a handful of people. Yet every story has a basis of truth. And this one in particular.

 

 

It was the worst storm Luke could remember ever swimming in. And that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that it was still getting even stronger.

Once more he cursed his curiosity, as the well as the hunger, which had driven him so far from home.

Once, just once, he had wanted to see the coast, the sliver of land leading to the places where the humans lived when they did not travel the sea. Of course, doing so was forbidden as it brought the merpeople too close to said humans and their traps. The merfolk kept a constant distance from the coast, in fact several nautical miles, and nobody would have ever dared to move past these invisible borders. Well, no one but Luke.  

Another reason which had driven Luke to his hazardous decision to swim out this far was the fact that their usual fishing grounds were steadily growing more empty. Being exposed both to the sailors and fishermen in these quarters as well as the merfolk, the fish stocks were declining. Luke had heard many people talk about giving up the settlement but it was hard to give up the many advantages of the Big coral reef. He knew that their people had once- before the purge- lived closely to the coast where they had found huge fish populations.

Giving in to his growling stomach and his unsatisfied spirit of adventure, he had set out, wishing for nothing but a few fish to cross his path and a glimpse of the forbidden land. He would have asked Biggs to come along but Biggs had been tasked with something else and Luke didn’t have many other friends. Most merpeople shunned him, not liking the presence of a halfling among them.

Luke was used to getting along on his own. But he had barely ever left the deep waters he grew up in and thus, had never experienced how completely helpless merpeople were if caught in a storm in shallow waters.

Also, he had made a mistake in estimating the distance towards the shore. Many more sea miles lying between his home and the coast than he had expected, he had been forced to focus all his energies on getting there, heedless of the danger brewing above.

And now the storm was raging somewhere above him, making the sea churn and rage as well. Luke had dived as close to the ground as possible, hoping to avoid the strongest turbulent currents. How much further was it? It had to be close. What if Luke had steered off into the wrong direction at some point and was now swimming away from the land? What if he got close to any of the human villages? He shuddered at the thought.

Quickly making up his mind, he twisted and propelled himself away from the seabed, swimming as hard as he could towards the surface of the water. The currents, up here raging stronger than where he had swum before, battered against his body, changing direction quicker than he could follow. With burning muscles and fluttering gills, he broke the surface. For a moment, he saw nothing, blinded by the noise of thunder above him and rain hitting the sea. The cold air bit into his skin and immediately made him wish to stick his head back under the surface. He rubbed his eyes, trying to get a clean view but he could barely see further than a few feet. He had to be so close. And who knew when he would find a new opportunity to sneak away?

A new current pushed him forward, making it hard for him to keep his balance. He swept his tail in tight fast strokes to keep his torso out of the water. Still nothing. He swam a short circle, searching for direction, searching for anything to give him hints about his surroundings.

Slowly, he started realizing that the waves kept pushing him into one direction. He half-heartedly struggled against it, feeling his fatigue grow stronger. How long was the storm going to last? Some parts of him were crying out to just stop moving, to wait until the tempest was over and to then reevaluate the situation. While he would have usually agreed to such a strategy his instincts were now warning him not to let his guard down in a possibly hostile environment. Also, if he wasn’t back by tomorrow morning Owen and Beru would be worried sick

If only he hadn’t swum out this far, then he wouldn’t have this problem. Giving up on seeing something above the water, he dived back in, flinching when a sudden brightness lit up the water. Lightning. He flinched again when he suddenly realized that the light had allowed him to see the ground. The ground wasn’t supposed to be so close? Had it been this close before?

This was bad. Giving in to his gut feeling, Luke decided to abandon his plan of further searching for the coast- one sliver on the horizon would have been enough!- and changed direction.  

Pushing himself forward with hard swipes of his tail, he fought against the torrent. He got rewarded for his efforts with burning muscles. In addition to that, he felt a little light-headed and his gills were fluttering hard against his throat. Diving further down, he saw that he was basically making no progress.

Luke lost count of the time he spent struggling, fighting a fight he felt he could only loose. But he wasn’t ready to give up. Something hit his head with such force he lost balance and got knocked to the side. The current immediately took his body and dragged it along.

Propelling himself up once more, he stuck his head over the surface, squinting at the rain. He imagined that he could see something looming up not far in front of him but that was impossible. He would have never thought that one day, he would be glad that merpeople couldn’t drown.

His upper tail muscles by now felt like they were on fire. He would definitely have stiff muscles tomorrow. A wave passed over his head and he ended up inhaling water through his nose. His body shook from exhaustion as well as the coughs.

Loathing the idea of spending more time above the water, Luke let his sweeping tail rest for a few seconds. The currents immediately dragged him underwater. And kriff, was that the bottom?

The torrent took over what should have been a controlled movement and Luke run headfirst into the seafloor. Sand scraped the skin of his stomach and his cheek felt raw. Dazed, he let the current heave him back up. A second current, coming from a different direction, picked him up and threw him against the other. Luke willed his arms to move and his tail twitched faintly. Why was there so much sand around him, floating wildly through the water? It hindered his sight and his eyes were already burning.

But he knew that the waters were shallow, far too shallow. This was not only bad. This was turning into a catastrophe. Mobilizing his last reserves through pure strength of will, Luke threw himself against the tides.

That was when he hit the net.

The first moment he didn’t understand what had so unexpectedly stopped his progress. Then he saw the grey network spread out widely in front of him, flowing in the water, dancing around his hands and hindering his movements.

He panicked. Throwing himself backwards, using every bit of strength he didn’t know he still had he tried to get away.

His tailfin was stuck. Propelling himself backwards again, this time with even more force, he tried to free himself, whipping his tail from side to side. Instead of coming free, it got entangled more in the net, causing his body to tilt dangerously to the side.

A new wave came up and his head broke through the surface, air rushing into his lungs, then water, then air. He tumbled over twice, feeling the net close in around him. It was underneath him, there was a bit touching the back of his head and- he struggled to remove it.

One hand touched the despicable thing and he quickly pushed it aside but his other hand got caught somewhere else. He cried out, alarmed screams escaping his lips as he struggled to free his hand.

Streaks of fire flared up all over his body as he tugged at the net, trying to break free, pulling and yanking at strings, only worsening the situation with his hectic movements. He hit the bottom and then the next wave made him scrape over the sand, the taste of blood on his tongue.

When he resurfaced the next time, Luke- for the first time in his life- saw the beach.

 

 

Vader’s long strides stirred up the sand beneath his feet. The midday sun had already dried it, leaving no sign of yesterday’s heavy rainfall.

Since his ship had to resupply, departure had been delayed for a few days. Vader cursed the fact that there had been no alternative ports to choose close enough. Revisiting this place made old anger and pain flare back up. Every place was bound to awake memories he had no wish to relive, memories from the time before, memories of her…

Angrily, he sped up his pace. Uneasiness, boredom and impatience had driven him out of his rooms, the lodgings the best the place had to offer. The village he had known had grown into a remarkable town in the time he had been away. Even though many of the houses had been replaced, he still felt as if he knew every street.

His steps had quickly led him away from the people and towards the beach. While he held no real desire to visit the place, the beach was always an interesting place to visit after a storm. And a violent storm it had been, battering against the houses and howling in the streets till deep into the night. Had he cared for it, he would have seen the damage the smaller buildings had taken, the plants that had been ripped apart and the remnants of the destruction lying on the street.

Vader did not care. He breathed in the fresh air, seagulls flying far above his head, and watched out for what the sea had washed ashore. There was a lot of driftwood as it was to be expected but luckily, the beach was spared from the amounts of seaweed he had encountered in the more southern quarters. Finding seashells was less difficult but they held no interest for him.

Giving up hope to find something of worth or at least interest like stranded cargo after walking down the entirety of the beach, he sighed. Eying the position of the sun, he decided not to leave the quiet of the beach just yet. Instead he shuffled closer to the water, watching the sparkles blinking on the surface and enjoying the prickle of the heat on his tanned skin.

He was mildly regretting putting on his dark cloak, the black cloth shielding him from most unwanted attention as it hid the colours of his blue and golden uniform but also heating up unreasonably fast.

He decided to spend his walk back controlling the nets alongside the beach. While mermaids and mermen only rarely got caught in the nets anymore due to their reducing numbers and their avoidance of all coastal areas, there was always the chance that one of them had gotten lost in the storm or that something else had gotten tangled up in the nets. If he found punctures he could report those to the town’s people. It was a task unworthy of an Admiral of the Fleet but for some reason, the familiarity of running his eyes over the nets calmed him down.

Vader was hoping for a small breeze to pick up and soothe the by now scorching heat when he spotted the small figure lying motionless in an entanglement of nets.

He froze and could hardly believe his luck. Picking up speed, he hastened towards the lying figure. The merman had obviously only faked unconsciousness in the hope of avoiding discovery because the moment he noticed Vader’s movements towards him, he started struggling frantically against the nets.

Upon striding closer and coming to a hold only a few steps away from him, Vader had to make a reassessment. The person that had been caught in the nets was by no means a merman but a boy, looking so painstakingly young he could be not have seen more than 16 winters. Yet young age would not halt Vader’s hand.

He shifted his stance and thereby enabled the boy to catch a full glimpse of his Navy uniform. The boy’s eyes widened in horror. It had been stupid of him to swim out so far, oh, so very stupid. Vader then slowly pulled his sabre, unwilling to waste the precious bullets in his pistol and intending to fully savour the opportunity that presented itself so rarely these days.

As was to be expected, the boy panicked upon seeing the weapon and shuffled backwards hectically- or at least he tried to, the nets binding him too efficiently to allow much free movement.

As Vader got closer he could see the full predicament of the boy’s situation. His tail, especially the tailfin, were completely tangled up in the nets. It was twitching nervously when he neared but it was obvious that it was both hurt and incapable of moving. The boy must have panicked and struggled a lot after getting his tail stuck because parts of his torso and one of his arms had gotten entangled, too. Vader shortly played with the thought of leaving the boy out here in the sun to slowly suffer the effects of dehydration but he did not want to risk the boy getting away after all.

There were cuts and abrasions all over his body, proving that he had not been caught without a fight. Stupid boy, Vader thought. Had he moved slowly and used his head he might have been capable of freeing himself, slim as he was.

The boy’s eyes stared up at him both in horror and imploringly. “Please,” he begged. “Please don’t. I swear I have never done anything to anyone. I just want to get out of this. Please, please help me.”

Vader tilted his head and let a smile creep over his face. “You should know who you are asking for help, boy.”

The boy flinched when he came even closer, his boots splashing up the water. He leaned forward slowly, blocking out the sun and hovering over the boy who in return leaned back as far as he could, his tail twitching erratically. “You have the worst kind of luck, boy. I am Admiral Vader, Second in the Imperial Navy. You may now pray to whatever rotten deity you have chosen to believe in.”

He enjoyed watching the light go out of the boy’s eyes as realization struck, despair and horror overwhelming the child. He started shivering, violently, when Vader slowly raised his blade towards his torso. There was no hope for him now, no escape possible, and the boy knew it. He had known from the moment Vader had spoken his name, the name that every person of the merfolk dreaded.

Vader drew the moment out, getting drunk on the fear on the young face and imagining the fear Padme had once felt when her own people had turned against her. He slowly drew his blade upwards, barely touching the boy’s torso. There was a soft click when it encountered resistance, a small necklace around the boy’s neck.

Vader stared. Then he moved forward rapidly, ripping the necklace from the boy’s neck. He twisted it in his hands. The form was awfully familiar, sending ripples of pain through him. It was a japor snippet, cut from japor ivory wood, carved into it several simple black markings. The form, the markings, every dent in the necklace he remembered. It was, without a doubt, the good luck charm he had given to Padme, a lifetime ago.

“Where did you get this from?” Vader questioned the boy, barely managing to keep his voice steady. When the boy just stared at him dully, Vader bowed forward again and exerted strong pressure onto the boy’s shoulder. “Where did you get this from?” he repeated slowly and dangerously. “Answer me.”

“It was my mother’s,” the boy said, the words stumbling over his lips so quickly they were nearly incomprehensible.

Vader shrank back. There was no reason for the boy to lie to him, considering that barely anyone knew the connection between Anakin the fisherman and Vader the Admiral of the Fleet. Also, the boy shook underneath his strong hands, clearly fearing death to come upon him every second now and surely incapable of making up anything of this magnificence.

He softened his grip, for the first time really bothering to take in the boy’s features and build. The boy was small and slim, as he had observed directly after finding him. His long tail shone in a bright blue colour, shimmering in tones between the blue of the summer sky and the blue of the sea. He was probably not eating enough considering how thin he was and he was lacking muscles on both his torso and his arms even though the muscles of his tail were fairly pronounced, proving him to be a strong swimmer. The tail fin showed a vibrant turquoise colour, just like hers had been.

He had fair hair which had to take on a darker shade in the water. It was an usual hair colour for merpeople who usually had dark hair. Anakin had had blond hair which had grown darker over the years. His skin was pale, as usual for his people, and his eyes shone in a bright blue. Padme’s had been a dark brown which had pulled him into its depths but Anakin, Vader, had blue eyes as well, so blue that there were rumours he carried fish blood in his veins.

The boy snarled at him, showing off his teeth, when Vader grasped for his chin and pulled it forward. The teeth which should be slightly elongated- fangs if you wanted to call them that way- looked more than human.

“What is your name, boy?” he asked softly, taking in with wonder the even features which looked a bit like him and a lot like her

Squinting up at him insecurely, the boy hesitated.

“The name,” Vader repeated with a hint of impatience.

“Luke,” the boy- his son!- finally answered. Luke, a strong name, a simple name. Vader liked it.

“Where are your parents, young one?” he asked slowly.

Luke shuffled under his sharp eyes, avoiding looking at him. “They’re dead.”

“Is that so?” Vader straightened up again and made up his mind. He could not risk staying here with the boy any longer, any minute someone could come by and see them. He marched deeper into the water, gripped the boy’s tail close to its end- ignoring the cry of pain that elicited- and cut away at the nets about two meters away from it. He didn’t dare freeing him any further in case the boy was less weakened than he appeared. Gripping the entanglement of nets and the tail in one broad hand and his sabre in the other, he marched back towards the sandy beach, cutting away the nets about a meter away from the boy’s torso and his right hand as well.

Luke flinched strongly when he did, clearly expecting the weapon to meet him and not the nets. Putting his sabre back into its sheath, he grasped at all loose ends of the nets he could find and then bodily dragged the boy towards the land.

As he had expected, Luke panicked. Getting drawn on land would force his transformation, a transformation the boy was certainly aware would happen. The nets in Vader’s hands shivered violently as Luke threw himself from side to side, trying desperately to weaken Vader’s- or the nets’- hold. But Vader had been prepared for this, keeping his pull steady and unrelenting. The boy grasped with his free hand for the other nets floating behind him, for the ground, for anything that could halt their progress but in vain.

In the end, he ended up laying panting in the soft, dry sand, at least half a dozen steps away from the water. Vader carefully put tail and nets down and strode quickly towards the boy, drawing his sabre once again.

“No,” Luke murmured desperately, still trying to scramble away, back towards the water, his tail sweeping helplessly over the sand. “Don’t take me out of the water, just kill me there, please, please…” The helpless pleas weighed down Vader’s heart but there was no other way to do this.

“No, boy, I won’t,” he said, laying his blade to rest on Luke’s right shoulder to stop him from moving any further. It worked, the boy grew stiff, staring straight ahead through horrified eyes.

A few more words stumbled over his lips, begging Vader to kill him right now, to not draw this out any longer or to at least let him touch the water when he died. Of course, Vader knew why the boy- looking pale as death right now- begged for death rather than life. He wanted to take the secret to the grave, the secret which could otherwise endanger the lifes of many seapeople.

Then the shaking began- a sign of the imminent transformation- and Vader nearly closed his eyes at the sob that escaped the boy’s mouth. The shaking grew more prominent, sounds of pain cutting off the boy’s words. And then, like a snake changing its skin, the boy’s tail morphed into slim human legs, his silvery gills fusing with the skin of his neck and throat.

Shivering heavily and hunched over, he sat there, stark-naked except for the nets still covering him. He curled up on himself as he squinted fearfully up at Vader. “Don’t move,” Vader said and without a moment of hesitation, he struck carefully several times with his sabre. The boy didn’t flinch but closed his eyes, brows furrowed in anticipation. He ripped them back up when he felt the nets fall down around him, the blade not even having touched his skin.

Vader reached for the cape around his shoulders after putting away his weapon, knelt down in front of him and pulled it around the boy’s slim form. He was so small now it nearly covered him completely. Hesitantly, the boy wrapped it closer around himself, looking so lost it tore at Vader’s heart.

“You knew,” the boy said, finally. “You knew what would happen.”

Guessing that his lack of surprise had given it away, Vader nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“Then why…” the boy’s voice trailed away. Suddenly he flinched back, grasping with his hands for the ground behind him and trying to drag his feet behind, as realization struck.

“I know nothing!” he cried out. “If you want to question me, I can’t answer anything! I don’t even know where I am! I got lost in the storm, that’s how I ended up here! If you want to know where our settlement is- I can’t tell you! I don’t know how far I am from home or even which direction I would take. Please, you have to believe me! I…”

“Be quiet, boy,” Vader interrupted his nervous flow of speech. He was certain that at least some of the boy’s statements were lies. “I am not intending on questioning you.”

His son fell silent again, clearly uncertain what to make of the situation, what to make of him.

“But I am taking you with me,” Vader stated with certainty. “Stand up.”

Luke stared up at him in confusion. When Vader scowled at him impatiently, the boy moved, clearly trying to avoid Vader’s wrath. He pulled his legs in front of him, leaving the majority of his weight to his hands touching the sand and tried to pull himself up. The attempt failed. The moment he half-crouched on his feet, he collapsed back onto the sand, his knees and legs- never having done so- clearly unable to support his weight. Immediately he tried again, proving a fierce spirit, but with the same result nonetheless.

Vader remembered that Padme had had the same difficulties when she had first shed her tail and decided to solve this issue the same way he had back then. Being careful not to touch any of the scrapings on the boy’s body, he put his hands underneath the boy’s knees and his back and lifted him up effortlessly.

This action startled the surprised yell out of the boy and seemed to encourage him to start wriggling wildly. “Stop it,” Vader growled disgruntledly and tightened his grip. The boy refused to see reason and continued his struggles. Vader shifted his grip slightly and strengthened it again. The boy hissed in pain when Vader’s fingers touched the bruise more tightly than necessary and he ceased his squirming.

Content with how things were proceeding for now, Vader moved across the beach, carrying in his arms his precious son, and softening his grip when the boy stopped fighting against it, obviously realizing the uselessness of a fight. Still, he was pleased that his son seemed to carry as much fighter spirit as he did.

“Where are you taking me?” Luke wanted to know, slumping in his arms.

“You will see.” Answering this question would only raise more questions and Vader did not wish to have this talk now.

Deciding that he at first- before he figured out how to deal with this situation- had to bring the boy somewhere safe, the first place he came up with was at the same time the most painful one. His old house. The house in which Padme and he had lived- before she had left him- was the most obvious solution to this problem.

It was also not far away while keeping an appropriate distance from the town. The boy grew stiff as the house appeared behind a high dune, watching out over the water. Vader approached with firm steps and pushed open the door- it had never truly been closed.

Luke took in his surroundings through huge eyes. Judging from his age and his reactions Vader guessed that he had never been on land before and neither had he ever seen human settlements and only a couple of their items. They had probably told him stories about it but seeing it with his own eyes, the boy was clearly overwhelmed from the sensations assaulting him today.

Vader used his distraction to carefully settle him down on the floor and- while the boy still didn’t look at him- to grasp a bunch of long ropes from a cupboard. Moving with them towards him did get the boy’s attention and he tried to slap Vader’s hands away. To no avail. Listening to the boy’s small yelps of terror he fastened the ropes around his hands, pulled them above his head and fastened them around the sturdy beams hanging above.

Running a critical eye over the unhappy looking boy, he said “Don’t try to move around. I will be back soon and then I will take care of you.”

Deciding that he had clearly imagined the small answer – “Very funny”- he turned around and strode purposefully towards the door. As much as it hurt him to restrain Luke like this, he couldn’t trust the boy not to try to escape- knowing the truth about his parentage or not- and so he decided to first take care of the most pressing matters, these being getting food, bandages and fire wood. Afterwards he would slowly explain the situation to his son, giving him time to comprehend and to react.

On the verge of the door, he stopped, his eyes having caught on the small pipe on the wall to his right. It was the pipe that led to the roof where it captured the rain, allowing him access to valuable drinking water. He remembered that Padme had loved the clear water, `sweet´ she had called it.

He threw a look back at Luke who stared back at him, trying to cover his fear with defiance. The boy looked exhausted and beaten nonetheless and Vader wondered once again for how long the child had laid exposed in the bright sun, still wounded and weak from his previous struggles.

With long steps, he strode over to the shelf where they had kept their cooking vessel and dishes. He took a deep wooden bowl, filled it with the clear water and stepped over to Luke. His son tried to shuffle away, effectively hindered by his hands bound to the beams. Vader carefully lifted his chin and held the bowl against Luke’s lips. The boy twitched, trying to turn his face away but Vader held him steady and refused to let go.

“You need some water to stay hydrated, young one. You’re not in the water anymore and humans have other bodies than merpeople,” he stated matter-of-factly. Luke’s bright blue eyes searched his and whatever he found there must have convinced him because he hesitantly accepted the water, first tasting one sip, then a second and then thirstily drinking the rest. Vader filled the bowl once more and let his son drink, reminding him to do so slowly- he was ignored- and then put the bowl down and turned to leave.

The trip into the town didn’t take long, both because he knew exactly what he wanted to purchase and because he wanted to get back to his son as quickly as possible. While he didn’t expect him to escape his sailor’s knots, he didn’t want the boy to be alone any longer than necessary. He was already frightened and weakened, any more distress was to be avoided.

Only few time had passed when Vader arrived back at his hut. He found the boy where he had left him. Luke stiffened when he got closer and his wary eyes didn’t leave Vader’s face as he bowed forward to unwind Luke’s restraints. The moment his arms fell down, the boy was already moving forward, scrambling hectically around Vader’s bulk. Before he could get any distance between them- could he even walk by now? How did he plan to escape when he couldn’t even walk?- Vader snatched the boy’s arm and pulled him up gently.

Luke staggered and fought to stay on his legs but ended up falling against Vader’s side helplessly, clawing his fingers into Vader’s uniform. Carefully supporting his son, Vader guided him towards the only two chairs in the room and pulled them away from the small table. Pushing his son gently onto the chair and laying the bag he carried onto the table, Vader settled down on the other chair. Luke looked ready to bolt when Vader moved his chair directly in front of him but even he had to realize that he would- and could- not escape Vader’s presence for now. He pulled Vader’s cape closer around his body as if it could hide or protect him from the Admiral.

Unwilling to let Luke suffer this anticipation and fright any longer, Vader briskly searched his bag for the first thing he had purchased. The small bottle, which he finally found and set on the table, contained a clear liquid. Vader pulled out a fine cloth and poured some of the liquid onto it. It immediately soaked it up.

“Give me your arm,” he ordered.

The boy didn’t move. Suppressing a snarl, Vader reached for the boy’s arm and pulled it towards him. At the very least, Luke wasn’t fighting him but passively watched what Vader would do next.

Carefully, he examined his arm for cuts and deeper scrapes. The result displeased him- had it really been necessary to put up such a struggle when it became obvious that he would not escape the net?- and he grunted angrily, then swiped the cloth across the boy’s wounds. The moment the cloth touched the first cut, the boy hissed in pain and ripped back his arm.

“What is that?” he finally asked the question which must have lingered in the boy’s mind ever since he saw the bottle. He eyed the cloth suspiciously.

“It helps disinfect the wound. You want these to heal soon, right?”

Vader beckoned. Leveling his gaze from the cloth and the bottle at Vader, Luke pursed his lips. Then he slowly stretched out his arm again. More carefully than before, Vader started to disinfect Luke’s scratches one after another. He then moved over to the other arm, repeating the procedure. Luke sat very still, only flinching slightly whenever he hit an especially painful spot.

Once Vader had cleaned the cuts on both arms he took out the rest of the cloth which he had bought and used a knife from the cooking area to cut it into long straps. Luke tensed when he saw him yield the knife but Vader made sure to keep it far away from him- not laying it down once- and he brought it back to its original spot as soon as he was done.

He then proceeded to wrap the makeshift bandages around the deepest cuts. It was probably not a necessary action but Vader insisted on it. To give Luke credit, he kept perfectly still while Vader worked.

Keeping a slow but continuous speed, Vader continued his work, taking care of all the more painful cuts over Luke’s body. The boy’s rigid posture cried out how uncomfortable he felt to let Vader so close to him but he seemed to realize the importance of what had to be done.

Once Vader was done and content with the results, Luke shuffled back on his chair and eyed him warily. Vader took one look at Luke’s slim body and stood up. He took the second bag he had carried and upended its contents on the table. Brown and white cloth spilled on it as well as two flat boots.

“I had to guess the size but it should suffice for now,” he said when the boy made no move to touch the clothing. “Put it on.”

Reluctantly, Luke started to inspect what Vader had bought for him. They were simple clothes but of the best quality Vader had managed to find in the short time. A white shirt with long sleeves, wide brown pants, a dark waistcoat and a simple pair of socks.

Luke raised his head after sorting through the heap of clothes and looked at Vader imploringly.

Vader snorted and turned away. “Do tell me if you need help, boy.”

He marched back towards the corner of the room where he had gotten the knife from, carrying the bag which had held the strange liquid, and moved in front of a wooden surface at the wall. He then started rummaging through the bag, digging up several small items Luke could not identify from where he sat. He placed them carefully on the wooden surface, then moved the items one by one in front of him.

Unable to see what Vader was doing now that he had completely turned his back on him, Luke scowled. He gazed shortly at the door, enjoying for a second the delusional thought of escaping while Vader was distracted, then turned his focus on the clothes the Admiral had brought with him.

…clothes. The very thought of putting them on made his skin crawl. That it was already feeling raw and hurting all over did not exactly help. Nor did the fact that Vader had bought them for him. What was he even trying to accomplish with this? His compliance? Luke would rather die than to submit to the man.

He wrinkled his brows in disgust. But it was probably wiser to not anger him without a reason. And besides that, he was starting to feel a slight chill. He already missed the push and pull of water against his skin. Being on land, moving on land, felt so different from what he had ever imagined.

Struggling, he pulled his wandering thoughts back under his control, and took the first piece of cloth, the white shirt, into his hands. He ran his fingers over it, wondering at the texture. Then he started the challenging process of putting the clothes on.

It took long, way longer than he thought it was supposed to take, and in the end, it all felt wrong. Luke felt as if the cloth was constricting around his body, laying on too tight to be comfortable- even though the clothes miraculously were in his size, were maybe even a bit too big for him if he compared it to what Vader wore…

To his dismay, they even did succeed in warming him up a bit, so he couldn’t even complain about having to put them on. He refused the boots and the socks though. The very thought of putting them on made him feel sick and repulsed so he just pretended he hadn’t seen them. The waistcoat also still lay forgotten on the table.

Vader, who hadn’t forgotten about him as Luke had foolishly hoped, turned around soon after Luke was finished with inspecting his new look. In his hands, he carried a large wooden tray. As he came closer and placed it onto the table, Luke got a look at the arrangement of different kinds of food. Even though he had never before seen, let alone eaten, human food, he could recognize some of it from his guardian’s tales. Bread. Some kinds of fruits? A strange yellow substance which at the same time looked… solid? And had holes in it? Fish! … Fish that looked weird. Burnt?

Luke took it into his hand and smelled it carefully. He immediately flinched back. Something was wrong with that fish! What had the humans done to it?!

“It’s smoked fish,” Vader said. “Try it.” Luke only now realized that the older man had been watching him. Embarrassed, and still very suspicious of this abomination which went against the natural order of things, Luke held it closer to his face again. The smell still was disgusting. Nonetheless, he was painfully aware of his increasingly painfully aching stomach and he swallowed his distaste and took a tentative bite.

The fish tasted weird… but not necessarily bad. Different, with a biting flavour which scorched his tongue and should not be there. Luke swallowed the bite unhappily. Vader made a telling gesture at the fish and the rest of the… food… before he turned around and headed out again.

This time, Luke didn’t even bother to follow him with his eyes. Instead, he laid the fish down again and inspected the clump of bread instead. It looked interesting and felt admittedly not bad underneath his searching fingers. He ripped off a piece and shoved it into his mouth. It tasted good. He ripped off another part and then, when his stomach growled louder instead of quieting down, he gobbled it down rashly and hungrily.

He distrusted the yellow… thing- whatever it was- so instead he turned to the colourful little balls. There was a big one which was red and some smaller, flatter ones, which were coloured orange. He adored the colours. They reminded him of his favourite coral riff.

Before he could dig in though, Vader re-entered, carrying in his arms thick pieces of wood. He put them down next to the fireplace and kneeled down in front of it. Luke eyed him curiously while absently biting down on the orange fruit. He nearly let the plate fall down. It was sweet. Sweeter even than the unusual water Vader had given him! Moreover, it was delicious. Luke licked his lips as fruit juice started dribbling over them and lifted the fruit to his lips again.

His attention was so much focused on the tasty little miracle in his hands that he entirely missed what Vader was doing. He had nearly eaten up all the orange fruits when two large arms appeared in front of him, lifted him out of his chair and all but carried him over to the fireplace.

Luke would forever deny that he squealed a little in surprise. He thrust out one longing arm at the plate but wasn’t quick enough to grasp it. Once he had crossed the short distance, Vader carefully set him down in front of the fireplace. Luke didn’t contemplate the loss of his fruits for even a second as he became aware of what was in front of him. Fire!

They were only small flames, slowly creeping up the large pieces of wood, causing it to glow in the most intense colours. Nonetheless, Luke flinched back for a moment, the instinctive fear of fire which every creature of the sea possessed taking over.

Something settled over his shoulders and he jerked again, this time even more violently. Vader’s hands held his shoulders for a few seconds longer, applying pressure which for some reason helped Luke calm down a little.

“You need to warm up, young one. Your body is not used to the upper world yet,” Vader said, a strange tone in his voice which Luke could not interpret. Was that… caring? Not possible.

His breathing slowed and he looked at what Vader had wrapped around his shoulders. A woollen blanket, made of a grey fabric which felt scratchy. But it was warm and Luke, who had felt increasingly cold during the recent developments, grasped for it like it was an anchor at deep sea.

He then noticed the soft warmth radiating from the flickering flames in front of him and he instinctively bowed forward a bit, stretching out his hands and savouring the feeling of heat against his skin. While he didn’t like his newfound sensitivity to cold, he did enjoy this way of fighting it. He stared mesmerized at the fire, the swirling flickers taunting him. He was so distracted by it that he startled heavily when something huge dropped next to him. Wait, not something. Someone. Vader.

Luke hastily scrambled to the side but one of Vader’s arms shot out and hindered him effectively from moving away.

“Calm down. I am not going to harm you, young one,” Vader stated reassuringly.

Distrusting the Admiral and his intensions but aware that resisting might have unpleasant consequences, Luke dropped back into a more comfortable position. Apparently Vader deemed the distance he kept as acceptable because he didn’t comment on it further.

For a couple of moments, there was a tense silence, both of them unmoving and staring blindly into the fire in front of them. Then Vader visibly pulled himself together and started to speak.

“I know you are confused by all of this and anxious. But let me explain some things to you.”

Luke stared at him in surprise but the Admiral kept his eyes firmly on the flames, refusing to face him. He talked slowly, his words coming out only haltingly.

“Or rather… Let me tell you a story… There once was a human fisherman who fell in love with a mermaid…”

 

From the annals of 1729:

Sixteen years after the beginning of the purges, they ended. Nobody really knows why or how it came to be but it certainly has to do with the Grand Admiral Vader stepping back from his service in the Imperial Navy. He requested the Emperor to grant him the possibility to lead his last years in peace and quiet on land as well as to put an end to the atrocities.

He then disappeared without a trace, the same way he had appeared all those years before. Some say he died. Some say he spent his days at the side of a young boy in a small town which name is already forgotten. Some say that in that town, a merman was sighted from time to time, swimming in the waters close to the town. That in itself is unusual as it took a lot of time for the merfolk to overcome their grudges and fears to face humanity once again.

But we have faith that in time, we shall overcome this dark side of our common past.    

 

 

Author’s notes:

For anyone interested, I have kind of a headcanon how to bring Mara Jade into this AU. She is a mermaid (and totally doesn’t look like Ariel, no) and her parents got killed in the purges. She finds out that Luke is Vader’ son and decides to kill him as revenge. She tries to drown him. It goes about as you can expect it to go.

 

Another thing: Exam time is starting (AGAIN) so the next update might take a couple of days longer. Just to warn you ;)

Chapter Text

In the beginning, there was darkness. Then there was a sudden light and a figure sweeping into the room. He couldn’t look at it because the lights hurt his eyes but he felt it settle a gloved hand against his wet cheeks.

Then a deep baritone voice. It’s been enough. Sleep now.

There was a command in the gentle words that the boy could not resist and darkness dragged him under. He surrendered.

 

He woke up slowly, with the soft remembrance of wild dreams which were lingering at the back of his mind, only barely forgotten. When he focused on them, they slipped away and what stayed behind was white emptiness.

Still sleepy, he opened his eyes. He felt himself rapidly coming awake as he took in his surroundings. They were unfamiliar, an empty white room, a few rollable rest tables over which someone had draped a linen. And of course the white bed he was lying on. The bed reminded him of those you’d find in a clinic, the back and head of the patient being supported into a half-sitting position.

The room was quiet, somehow too quiet for his ears. He felt that there should be something else, a familiar, humming background noise… a sublight engine? So he wasn’t on a ship? Where was he? Why had he just thought about being on a ship?

All of a sudden, he felt something in the room change, like a strange shift in the air. He lifted his eyes towards the door. It slid open without a sound and a man stepped through it. At least, he suspected that it was a man. The figure was clad in black, surely two metres tall. A dark cape trailed after the man and his face was hidden by a breathing mask that made the boy on the bed feel uneasy for some reason.

The figure brought with it a rush of cold air and he only barely suppressed a shiver. The man stepped closer, his footsteps measured, not rushed but not hesitant either. He might as well had been a red blinking sign saying “Danger”.  

“Hello, Luke,” he said when he came to stand in front of his bed, holding a respective distance between the two of them. His voice sounded strange, blank and rustling- like a droid talking. Was he a droid? No. There was something that told the boy that he was- just like he himself- human. Or maybe mostly human.

And what had he called him? Luke?

The boy made a mental shrug and filed the information away for later inspection. He was Luke.

“Where am I?” he asked flatly, his voice betraying just as little of his emotions as the man’s voice had.

“I am glad to see you are awake. You took a lot of time to recuperate,” the man answered, ignoring his question fully.

The boy- Luke, he reminded himself- repeated his words. “Where am I? Who are you?” Just as the man’s voice had gotten softer at the end of his last sentence, his own got colder, warier. Of what exactly he should be wary of, he did not know. But there was a feeling in his gut like a cold stone, heavy and cramped up.

“You… don’t remember?” The man sounded hesitantly now and something about the way he held himself changed. Luke pulled himself together. There seemed to be no need for hostility against this man. And if he wanted information about where he was, being cooperative seemed to be the most logical course of action.

“… No? I don’t?” He searched his memory for the last day he remembered and he found nothing. A slight panic began to churn in his stomach.

“So it is as the doctors have feared. That blast did cause more than a heavy concussion.”

“What are you talking about? What blast? What happened?” Wrought-up, the boy threw back the blanket covering his body and made a move to sit up. Before his feet could touch the ground, the man quickly stepped forward and laid a big, gloved hand on his shoulder.

“Hush, young one. Take it slowly.” The pressure he exerted on the boy’s shoulder made the boy draw back. He cast a wary look up at the man’s mask but when the other one did nothing but look at him, the mask angled at his face, he slowly relaxed. “I will explain everything to you that you are currently missing. Do not worry. You are safe now.”

There was an awkward silence for a few moments as the boy sat hunched over on the bed, shoulders drawn up protectively and a soft scowl on his face as he stared blankly at the white hospital clothes he wore. Luke thought for a moment that the black robes the man wore made him stand out in the white room like some strange specimen that shouldn’t be there. But clearly, that was a ridiculous thought.

Something that could have been a sigh came from the man. “What do you remember?” he asked in a quiet, soothing voice.

Luke chewed on his lips. He cast his eyes to the white walls, to the man, to the bits of furniture he could see, to anything at all, while he searched his memory. There was nothing. A blank white wall where there should have been something. He tried harder, willed images to come.

“Nothing,” he finally said, and there was an undertone of fear in his voice which had not been there before. “I remember nothing at all. Who are you? Who… am I?”

Again, he tried to move, panic taking over control of his body.

Again, the other man intervened, holding both of his shoulders down resolutely as he struggled. “No, don’t try to get up. It will be fine. I promise.” He stretched out his hand slowly and stroked Luke’s cheek gently.

Despite himself, Luke felt himself overcome by a strange calmness. Some part of his mind spoke up that he should not feel this safe just because of the man’s actions and words but the other part of him didn’t mind at all. “Who are you?” he murmured into the man’s glove.

The stroking stopped and his chin was lifted up gently so he looked directly at the mask. For some strange reason Luke felt like he was meeting the man’s eyes.

“I am your father, Luke. And we have been kept apart for too long now.”

“… Father?” Luke mumbled confused, feeling guilt rise in him. “I… how...”

“Ssh. No need for you to be upset. I’m certain it all will come back in time.” Luke wondered how his father knew that he was upset. Then again, maybe he could easily read it in his face.

“You see, the doctors warned me that it might come to this. It is not unusual for people to… be confused after such an incident. But the memory loss is only rarely permanent. You will see. Once I have told you a few bits, it will all come back by itself. You have no reason to worry now that you are with me, my son.” There was a warm smile in his voice, even though Luke couldn’t see it.

Luke felt a soft smile spread on his own face in reply. The anxiety he had felt before faded away a bit, replaced by a new hope and confidence. His father was here, with him. All would be sorted out. Sure, he showed a few bad symptoms but it would be fine in the end. They would figure it out.

“So… what did happen?” he asked, curiously.

There was a short pause in which Luke was sure his father was collecting himself and thinking about how he could best explain everything to him. Then he started talking. “Your name is Luke Skywalker. You are my son.”

Luke nodded solemnly. This he knew. He could feel the truth of these statements deep in his mind and even his soul.

“I am the Second Commander in the Galactic Empire, Lord Vader, subordinate only to the Emperor Palpatine himself. As my son, you are a potential successor to the throne.”

Luke scowled. That seemed like an awful lot of responsibility. Nonetheless, the way his father carried himself as well as the aura of power he wore around himself like an invisible cloak were befitting of a man of his status.

“However, you spent the last four years with the rebels fighting against the Empire.”

-focused intent, the target lies right in front of him, he can feel it-

-he pushes the button. A hit!—the lights of a huge explosion behind him and the shockwave-

Luke shot up in his bed. “I wouldn’t! I could never fight against my own father!”

Vader made a reassuring hand gesture. “Calm down, Luke. It’s not like you think.”

Deeply unsettled, Luke sank back. The short images he had seen- his memories?- had they been real? Had he really fought against his own father? For what? What would be reason enough to betray your own family? The fact that he had remembered something should have calmed him, given him hope that his memories would be restored but he could still not shake his deep sense of alarm.

“You see,” his father said, “you were there on my orders.”

“What?”

“The rebels. I sent you to them. You were trained, you were loyal to me and the Empire, and, the most important of all, you were a very good actor. I knew that if anyone could be trusted to become a high-ranked member within the Rebel Alliance, it would be you.”

“No,” Luke said. His very short moment of disbelief was replaced by an intense feeling of relief. He had not betrayed his father. There had been a reason for his behaviour, just like his father had said. He had been a spy.

“So I sent information to you? From the rebel base?”

“You did. You and I are connected through the force, my son, and our bond runs strong due to our family ties. You rose through the ranks quickly…”

A golden flash in front of his eyes.

-and a golden medallion bouncing around his neck. He’s wearing a yellow jacket. A ceremony?-

“… to a commander. Like this, you were able to send important information about the rebel plans and movements to us. We were never far from you and though our ship was only in the pursuit, we were always a step ahead.”

A smile tugged at the corners of Luke’s mouth.

-“You have done well, my son. We can use this information to stop the uprisal in Uthenia.” A strong hand on his shoulder, squeezing in approval. He smiles, a little viciousness driving away the innocence he usually painted on his face.

“I am glad I could help, father. These rebels had to be stopped. Civilians were getting hurt and people started questioning the authority of the Empire.”

“Did you…?”

“Of course. Who do you think I am? Nobody will know where the leak came from.”-

Luke’s smile widened. His memories were coming back…! This flash of memories had been brighter than the rest, more intense. Proof enough that the memory loss would indeed only be temporary.

Then, his smile fell away. “But then why am I...” he began. “Why am I here? What happened?”

His father put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed shortly before stepping back again. “You were on a mission. Do you remember?”

Luke scowled.

-a look at a huge city from above, he is flying-

-he focuses on the complex he can see far away in the distance, this is where they will go-

“No,” he answered. “What were we there for? What happened?”

“The rebels sent you there to steal some documents. We had already replaced them and laid wrong information.” He was quiet for a moment. “Something went wrong.”

-“LUKE, RUN!” A female voice. Loud noises in the background, steps right behind him, there are people shouting somewhere in the distance…-

-he runs-

“You remember something?”

“A girl. There was… a girl.” Luke crunched up his face. He concentrated on the sound of her voice and images sprang up in his mind.

“Brown hair. Complicated-looking braids. Blaster. Looks like she could kill you.”

“Leia Organa,” his father growled. “She was part of the rebels you had close contact with. She was also participating in the mission.”

“Leia,” Luke murmured and tasted the name on his tongue. It felt sweet and nostalgic and he was overcome by a weird warm feeling.

-“Princess, I hate to say it but we need to leave. It’s only a matter of time until the troopers arrive here and we are sitting ducks…”

The brown-haired girl dismisses the man’s words with a wave of her hand. “Give me one more second… I’ve got the data! Let’s go!” She steps back from the display and turns around. Luke feels struck by her beauty. But he also sees the iron will underneath. He can see himself walking closer to the window. “Luke, what are you standing around for?”

He doesn’t move, instead feels his hand itching towards the lightsaber on his hip. His voice is calm, hiding the nervousness bubbling up inside of him. „They are coming…”

He does turn around when the other voice, the man from the beginning, starts talking again. “Luke, we don’t have time for this, come!” He moves towards him, focusing on the man’s stressed face while he tries to ignore that force presence he feels pushing against his shields, dark and threatening and unsettlingly familiar-

“Han,” he said quietly, savouring the syllable on his lips.

“Han Solo, a smuggler who joined the rebels after he picked up the princess. The typical low-life the rebels consist of. You managed easily to gain his trust and that turned out to be useful many times,” his father comments disparagingly.

Luke’s focus lay on another part of Vader’s words. “Princess? She is a princess?”

Vader was quiet for a moment. “She used to be.”

“What happened?”

“Her planet suffered the same fate as all planets which stand against the Empire.”

Luke nodded. Whatever had happened, had been for the sake of the Empire and therefore for the security of the Empire. Whatever had happened had been necessary.

-emptiness where there should have been land, where there should have been life-

-death had come for every one of them-

He squeezed his eyes shut and wondered at the burst of intense greenish light he saw behind his closed lids.

“You seem tired, my son,” Vader said. “You should rest some more. I will return later when-”

“No!” Luke didn’t know where the burst of terror had come from but he found himself gripping the man’s dark clothes tightly. The very thought of spending a longer amount of time by himself-

-all alone, incapable of sleeping, turning from side to side, repeating the names, repeating them all- had he already forgotten one?-

- seemed sickening to him. “Please,” he found himself saying, “stay. I…” He hesitated as he searched for a good reasoning for his wish. “I want to hear more. I want you tell me more… So I can remember more quickly! If anyone can help me regain my memories, it’s you!”

His father did not react for a moment and Luke was already fearing that he would laugh at his troubles and walk away but then he nodded. “As you wish.”

Luke breathed out in relief and then pulled his focus back together. “So you said the mission went wrong. What happened exactly?”

Vader’s breathing sounded very loud in the silence. “As I said, you were deep-undercover. Less than a handful of people knew the truth. You got unlucky.”

-his steps hammer on the ground, nearly as quickly as his heart in his chest. He is going fast, faster than a normal human being should be able to move.

´Quicker,´ his instincts scream at him. ´Quicker or you won’t make it!´ Han and Leia have probably already reached the Falcon but he is, he has to be, closing in on them, his unlit lightsaber in his hand as he storms through the corridors. Taking care of the stormtroopers which had attacked them had taken him more time than he had assumed it would. He wonders whether splitting up to reduce their enemies’ numbers had been the best way of dealing with the situation. Impatient, he throws open the door lying in front of him and is greeted by the familiar and very welcome sight of the Falcon. It is further away than he had anticipated, several hundred meters at best. Had he taken the wrong turn in the corridors at some point? No matter. He storms through the door and towards the ship. On the boarding ramp stands a small figure, waiting for him, which he can without a doubt identify as Leia. Han has to already be inside, firing up the engines.

He swears when he feels the dark presence in his mind again,-so close now!- pinpointing his position. It distracts him and his distraction proves fatal. One moment, he is speeding over the grounds, the next, a flaming pain sears through his right leg. It gives way before he even realizes what has happened and he falls, the impact jarring through his entire body as he rolls over the ground. Once, twice-

The pain flares up more when he stops moving, panting heavily. Before he can pull his scrambled mind together and command his body to move, he hears the noise of a group of people running towards him.

He curls up in pain and throws a short look at his bleeding leg. A blaster shot of such power that it had passed through at least half of his leg- a rifle? A sharp-shooter? He tries to get up, knowing without looking up that the troop of stormtroopers is coming closer, that the dark presence at the corner of his mind is closing in on him.

Finally, he manages to regain his footing, fighting to blend out the pain and turning to hurry towards Leia- that is when the second shot sounded.

The warning through the force comes too late.

He screams and falls down again. Clutching both of his legs, he tries to move them, wills them to get up, to obey his commands just for a few minutes, just until he has reached the Falcon… they twitch and a fresh wave of pain rips through him. He cries out involuntarily and fights against the tears blurring his sight.

Somewhere deep in his mind, he knows that this is the end. Both of his legs are useless now and he can impossibly fight while lying down. He can feel his father’s presence reach for him, sensing his pain. He refuses to let him in and crawls towards where his lightsaber lies. He had let go of it when he had fallen, trying to soften the impact of his fall.

A white boot sets down on the weapon just as he stretches out his hand. He looks up and looks into the muzzle of a blaster.

Realization- a white light- and then darkness comes to claim him.-

Luke gasped, sitting up straight again. “I remember,” he uttered breathlessly. “I remember what happened.”

Vader started pacing in front of his bed. “It’s unfortunate, really, that your cover got blown. As it is, your mission is over.”

He started at the thought of having failed the mission, of having disappointed his father. “What are you talking about? My cover didn’t get blown! I might have gotten caught but they don’t know that I was yours all along! I can just pretend that I managed to break out of your cells- I can even fake that you interrogated me! Please, father, I haven’t failed you! I can still…“

“You won’t ever go back to them!” his father thundered with unforeseen force.

Luke stared at him, growing pale when he sensed his father’s fury in the air. Some of the fury abated when his father stopped pacing and turned to look at him. “You see, son,” Vader said. “No matter how convincing your story will be, it remains very unlikely for you to escape my grasp. They will have suspicions, one way or the other. I can’t stand the thought of them hurting y-“

“They would never hurt me, they are my friends!” The words were over his lips before he had even thought them through. He had no idea where they had come from and he had certainly never intended to voice them. Nervously licking his lips, Luke glimpsed up at Vader.

His father’s voice was very quiet. “What did you just say?”

“I…” Luke hesitated, his breath catching. “I’m sorry, father. I… just don’t think that you need to worry about that. They would never suspect me, they consider me their friend…” And I consider them my friends, oh god, what am I doing…? This doesn’t make sense, I’m their…

“They are not your friends, young one.” His father sighed. “You are confused, that’s all there is to it. You were faking it, those feelings, you were faking that friendship the whole time. Sometimes you are too good at what you do.”

Luke paused and thought about what his father had said. In front of his inner eye, he could still see the rebels he had been with. Their image was vivid and he couldn’t help feeling a strange kind of fondness.

-“You came back!” he exclaims excitedly. “I knew you’d come back!” Han’s eyes shine in exhilaration back at him and he finds himself in a tight hug. He had been right to put his faith in Han, he had been right, they had made it, they had destroyed the-

“Luke,” Vader’s voice brought him back to the present. “You do remember it, right? That it was not real?”

Luke first nodded, then shook his head. It couldn’t be. Could it?

-“It has grown easier, being around them. They trust me now. Soon I’ll get close to High Command.”

“You should not underestimate them. The innermost members of the High Command are the most dangerous ones. They are sneaky and untrustworthy. Be careful around them, Luke.”

“I promise, father.”-

Luke lifted a hand to his head. The first signs of a headache were beginning to show but he knew that he was making progress at regaining his memories and shouldn’t stop now.

“But why didn’t I just kill High Command once I met them and be done with it?”

“It’s not that easy. We also wanted information on the other hidden rebel bases. These information were top secret.”

-“Just prove to the Emperor that you are now loyal to him, renounce the rebels, tell us of their bases and join me. Together, we can bring an end to this war.”

“I will never do so and you know it, father.”

“Then you leave me no choice.”-

Luke twitched. Nervously, he moved his legs. It was only then that he noticed that there was no pain emanating from his legs. “I see,” he said, since Vader surely expected an answer from him. “So… how long was I out? I feel like I’ve slept for a long time.” To reinforce his statement, he stretched his body, feeling the little tensions in his muscles subside. As he did, he felt his clothes scratch along his wrists.

His wrists felt sore. With his mouth suddenly gone dry, Luke started fidgeting with his hands, inconspicuously rubbing his wrists and following the trail of sore skin. He knew of only one thing which would leave his wrists sore like this. Binders. There was an uneasiness beginning to churn in his guts.

If Vader was suspicious about his change of topic, he didn’t let it show. “Not for a long time,” he answered. “Three days in the bacta tank until your wounds were healed. You should not be feeling any repercussions.”

Luke nodded. “So I guess I didn’t wake up in that time?”

Vader tilted his head in confirmation. “This is the first time you have regained consciousness.”

-“Hello, Luke. How are you feeling?”

“Father.”-

Luke scratched at his wrists, ignoring the pain that this meant. It helped him concentrate. “So what happens now? I didn’t manage to finish the mission, so what do you want me to do?”

His father’s mood seemed to brighten up, Luke could feel it and see it in the way the man straightened up. “While it is irksome, we can still work with the situation. We have managed to gain a lot of useful information thanks to you, now we can lay our focus on your further education. Your connection with the force has grown stronger in the time we have been apart and your potential begs more training.”

He felt cold all of a sudden. In the dark side of the Force?, he wanted to ask but bit on his tongue before the question could escape his mouth. He did not even know where the question had come from.

“I’m feeling tired,” he said, the words rushing out of his mouth. “I’d like to rest for a while.”

Vader stared at him and for the first time, Luke actually felt like he was in danger from this man. “Very well,” he agreed after a second. “I know that all of this must put a great strain on you, son.”

Son. The word caused an echo in Luke’s head. Son, son, son…

It was true, he felt that knowledge vibrating in his bones and his skin and his soul. He was his son. And his father wouldn’t lie to him. He was confused, just a little confused… That was all there was to it. He clang to that fact, made it his holding anchor. It felt solid, real, when so much else didn’t.

He leaned back and closed his eyes and listened to his father’s steps and breathing as he left the room. Only then did he dare to roll up his sleeves.

The sight of the binding marks was like a hit to his face. He had suspected, deep down inside, that something about this situation wasn’t right, now he knew for sure. He let go of his sleeves as if he had been burned and watched as they fell back over his skin, once more concealing the marks.

Breathing in slowly, Luke fought his rising panic. His wheels turned, but there weren’t enough gears to get them going, not enough information to fill in the blanks. He thought about what he would normally do in a situation like this, and, without knowing the answer, forced himself to calm down further. He slipped into meditation.  

“That’s not true! You always have a choice! Let me go, please!”

“Luke, I can’t. The Emperor wants you to either join us or to die. And I don’t want to see you die.”

“Then just walk out of this door and forget to close it again. Oh, and please take of these!” He awkwardly holds up his hands which were still chained together.

His father turns his head away from him and for a moment, Luke allows himself to hope. But then he feels the new determination in the air, a decision made.

“No, Luke. I give you this one last chance to join me willingly, otherwise you are forcing my hand. You need to be aware of your situation: Nobody, not even you yourself, knows where you are. The rebels have probably already declared you dead. You have evaded me and the rest of the Empire for a long time now but your luck has run out. Don’t make this harder for yourself than it needs to be.”

“I am not going to become a Sith!” An unknown sharpness has crept into his voice, just as the hard clump of ice that is growing in his stomach. “I won’t!”

His father’s breathing sounds loud in the silence. “Then I will do as the Emperor demands.” Vader raises his comlink and starts typing in a short sequence.

Only a few seconds later, a small group of medics enter the room. Without wanting to, Luke finds himself tugging at his binders again. The skin is already feeling sore in some spots but he can’t help himself. The feeling of helplessness gets worse when his father pushes down his shoulders and holds him in place while the medics open the binders and instead fasten his hands and feet to both sides of the bed. He doesn’t struggle, mostly because he knows that it would be a useless fight but he does clench his teeth and his hands, staring straight up to the ceiling.

He won’t fall. He has told his father that he’d rather die and it’s true. He won’t let it happen. He can’t.

But they won’t let him die, a small voice whispers inside his mind. They’ll be patient. And in time, you too, will surrender to them. They’ll break you down piece by piece, if that’s what it takes.

Luke feebly shakes his head to chase the thoughts out of his mind, and without wanting to, his thoughts wander to Han and Leia instead. Did they think he was dead? Were they coming to get him?

Don’t be a fool, the voice whispers. They’ll never find you. You know it. Just give in.

He turns his head, like that could make the voice shut up, and his gaze finds Vader’s. His father is watching him and Luke knows that he can read every emotion on his face.

One of the medics pushes a small table towards him. Two syringes lie on it as well as several different durasteel tools Luke has no desire to know what they are meant for. They go for the syringe with the transparent liquid first. A medic with short brown hair takes hold of his already stretched-out arm and searches for the right vein. She notices his gaze and smiles happily at him. “This will make sure you won’t fall asleep anytime soon,” she declares way too cheerfully.

Luke turns his head away from her when she puts the syringe against his skin but he can’t help feeling it, like ice spreading up his arm. He feels that his father is watching him and he tries to keep his face emotionless. It doesn’t matter in the end. He knows that his fear sears into the bond, no matter how hard he tries to clamp down on it.

The effects of the chemicals in his system aren’t evident immediately. He does feel strangely hyperaware of what is happening around him but it could be just a side effect of the adrenaline cursing through his veins. His breathing sounds loud in his ears.

Once again, the same medic closes in on him. Luke eyes the second syringe and the strange green liquid it holds. “What is that?” he asks despite not really wanting to hear the answer.

“Our special mixture,” the medic says with a charming smile and injects the fluid into his bloodstream. It hurts a little because Luke has gone tense against his will.

“How soon will it start showing effect?” his father asks and Luke’s heart flutters.

“That is dependent on the person. In a few days, at best. We need to continue the treatment in regular intervals.”

Luke shifts on his bed. He wants to repeat the question but at the same time he refuses to show how deeply the whole situation is unsettling him. So he clenches his teeth and his fists and pretends that he doesn’t care. He feels his father’s evaluating eyes on him but he refuses to look at him.

Then they turn around and take their equipment with them. The medics are gone first and when they leave, the lights go out one by one. Vader still stands in the door frame, only a shadow against the now blinding light outside. He touches the door handle and Luke can’t hold it in any longer.

“What does it do?” he asks.

“It will make you forget,” Vader answers, all traces of feeling carefully extracted from his voice.

Luke feels very cold all of a sudden. „Forget what?”

“Everything.”

Before he even has time to contemplate those words, Vader makes the final step over the threshold. The door closes behind him and leaves Luke alone in the darkness.

 

He doesn’t know when they come again. Time has little meaning when you’re lying in the dark and your only way of estimating how many hours have passed is the growing pain in your stomach and the dryness of his throat. Like the medic had said, he hasn’t managed to fall asleep. His heart rate has become strangely erratic from time to time and he feels weak and exhausted. His head has been hurting for a while now, a dull throb at the back of his mind. Not knowing what is to come is even worse.

He has had a lot of time to contemplate what he will say to Vader the next time that door opens. He has finally settled on saying ´Are you intending to bore me to death in here?´ It sounds bold and cocky at the same time. When the time comes, however, what he first says is something differently.

“If you wanna starve me, there are easier ways of killing me.”

His father doesn’t reply, just stares at him for a second, before he motions to the medics. They give him water which he appreciates a lot but no food. The lights above him are hurting his sensitive eyes now and he nearly wishes for the darkness to return.

“Have you changed your mind?” his father asks. Luke considers pretending to give in but he knows that Vader will see through his behaviour immediately, so he just clenches his teeth. “Certainly not.”

Vader nods at the medics and they approach him again. Luke lies still when they inject the serum once again. He feels breathless and mildly dizzy afterwards but he forces a brief, exhausted smile on his face. “I sure hope you tested out before how these work in combination,” he comments. His heart is beating far too quickly and he is feeling hot. Is it the influence of the drug which keeps him awake? Or is the other one, the far more dangerous one? So far, he hasn’t noticed any changes. But then again, how does someone notice whether pieces of your memory are missing?

Vader and the medics turn to leave again and Luke’s heartbeat starts quickening even more. He doesn’t want to be left alone, he even welcomes the harsh lights biting in his eyes if that means that he won’t be alone.

“Father,” he calls. Vader stops in his movement. For one moment, Luke has hope. Then his father starts moving again and steps out of the door.

 

After all this time of being unable to move, Luke’s body starts feeling foreign to him. He ignores the sore patches of skin as well as he can and tries to move what he can to keep himself sane. He’s wiggling his feet whenever anxiety overcomes him, bending his knees- as far as that works-, stemming his upper body upwards as much as he can, cracking the kinks out of his neck, flexing and snapping his fingers just to hear something other than his own voice. He has stopped humming when his throat started hurting from the lack of water. His body doesn’t feel right to him anymore. And more then that, he’s exhausted. He wants to close his eyes and let himself fall asleep but sleep is not coming.

By the time Vader returns, he is too tired to really react to it. He just leans his head to the side to watch them as they do their work. This time however, Vader stays behind after the medics have left the room. He stands next to Luke’s bed and stares down at him, his mask angled towards his face.

“Just surrender, Luke,” he says in his deep voice. “Let it go. It’s all a matter of time anyway.”

“Is that fatherly care I hear from you?” Luke curses the words the moment they cross his lips. He tenses, expecting a blow but it doesn’t come. Without another word, Vader turns to leave.

Luke leans his head back and lets his eye lids drop a little bit. “You could have at least said sorry for Bespin once,” he murmurs into Vader’s direction. It is something that has been weighting on his mind for a while now. No matter how he looks at it, things could have been a lot different if their first real meeting had gone differently. He wished it had been differently. His father doesn’t slow down and in the end, Luke is not sure whether he has even heard the comment.    

 

It gets worse. Luke is not sure if it is a normal psychological reaction to turn insane when left alone to starve in the darkness, with chemicals working their way through your system, but if it is, he sure isn’t an exception to the rule.

He has started talking to himself. In fact, he has started talking to himself ever since he noticed that he can’t remember anymore where Leia, Han and he were supposed to go after completing the mission. He makes it a priority not to talk about anything an Imperial should not overhear but he doesn’t think that the Empire can do much damage with only surnames. And so he names them. He says their names silently, says them softly, mutters them under his breath, repeating them in the lonely hours over and over again. Some he just thinks of, like Yoda, so that no listener would learn of them. At some point, he busies his tired mind with remembering details of their laugh, of their hair and of their way of talking. He nearly sobs when he realizes that he can’t remember Nakari’s eye colour anymore. Had it been green or blue?

He has just allowed himself a minute of silence and simple breathing and wants to start reciting again when he hears the voice.

-“You have done well, my son.”-

He blinks in surprise.

-“We can use this information to stop the uprisal in Uthenia.”-

Pictures start painting themselves behind his eyes and his sore brain needs a moment to connect the voice to the speaker. This is not a memory. This is Vader.

-He smiles, a little viciousness driving away the innocence he usually painted on his face.-

And this is not him.

With a little horror, Luke realizes that all of his mental shields are down. And that he has no strength left to raise them. Instead, hearing his father’s voice, feeling the emotions he sends, is strangely soothing.

He knows that he should fight, knows that something terribly wrong is happening right now. But he doesn’t care anymore. He lets the voice in and listens.

 

He doesn’t realize that he’s not alone in the room until his head is leaned back and there is cold water flooding down his throat. He coughs when it works its way into his trachea instead and opens his eyes. His father is standing above him, blocking out the lights from the ceiling. They have dimmed them, a small mercy in itself.

His eyes find the water bottle Vader is holding. He gulps the rest of the water down when it’s offered. Some of his awareness of the situation returns and with it, his sense of self does.

He wills the weakness in his muscles away but it lingers in his limbs and weights them down. He turns his head and finds that Vader is watching him. Some part of him wonders about the surveillance in this room and whether he has been watching him while he had been left alone, too, whether he knows about how Luke spent the long hours alone in the dark. He tries to glare but his eye lids are fluttering instead in exhaustion. He is fairly sure he is shaking.

Vader abruptly turns his head away like it is painful to watch him. Luke turns his burning eyes to the ceiling. It seems to float far above him. A sense of dizziness washes over him. His breathing is too loud in his ears and he can’t hear anything beside it.

He tries to say his father’s name but no word comes out of his mouth.

The room is black again. Had they left? When had they left?

Luke searches his memory for what happened just moments ago. Nothing but emptiness answers him. The feeling of not knowing evokes panic within him. But even if he’s alone in this room, he suddenly feels that in his mind, he’s not. There is a presence at the back of his mind, hidden, waiting. He knows the presence, even if he knows nothing else.

Father, he cries, he begs, into their bond. He’s too exhausted for screaming. Their link is numb, not even the hint of an emotion, not even a flicker that touches his mind.

He doesn’t feel the force anymore. He doesn’t feel their connection anymore. He doesn’t feel anything anymore. Or does he feel too much, do the despair and fear overrule everything else?

Where is he?

Who is he?

 

Luke resurfaced from the meditational state with a strangled gasp. For a moment, he flailed, his sense of orientation gone and in a state of a mental haze and panic. Then realization truly hit home- what had happened- what Vader, his father, had done-

His feet hit the floor before his thoughts caught up with him. He had to leave, had to get away…-

Over his own panicked panting, he heard a noise that makes him freeze. He raised his eyes to the door and saw Vader standing there. The horror kicked in full-force. Some part of him screamed at him to start pretending, to start acting as if nothing had happened but he already knew that it was too late.

He knew. And he knew that Vader knew, too. The cold and calculating stare seemed to burn through all shields that Luke threw up in a matter of seconds. Vader started moving forwards and panic took over. Luke scrambled to the side, adrenaline flooding his body and defeating the remaining unsteadiness of his legs.

Vader grasped for him but he was quicker- even despite his weakened body, panic and fear were giving him the edge over the man- and he ducked under his arm and ran for the door.

He didn’t get far. Invisible hands grasped for his torso, his arms, his head and held him, lifted him upwards. He kicked uselessly with his legs as he was dragged back to the bed, Vader’s grip through the force pressing down on his torso and limiting his ability to struggle. Luke fought against it nonetheless, tried calling for the force himself but found it deaf to his pleas. Slowly, he was levitated back to the bed where Vader grasped for his hands.

The next moment, cold durasteel touched his skin, his sore skin, and he felt tears of horror and pain sliding down his cheeks.

“No,” somebody murmured close to him. “No, no, no…”

His body was shaking when the door opened once again and the medics filed back in.

His father looked down on him and Luke seriously considered begging for mercy. He knew there wouldn’t be some. He already knew which words would come out of his father’s mouth even before he opened it to speak.

“Again.”

Chapter Text

 Darth Vader stared at the bounty hunters and wondered whether he had heard right or whether the man standing in front of him did not value his life.

 “What is this?” he growled, very irritated.

 “It’s as I said, Mylord! I swear it’s the truth!”

 “You dare…”

“Mylord, please! I swear we had Skywalker! We had him! I don’t know what exactly happened but he is Skywalker! We only left him alone for a moment and then-”

“Unfortunately for you, I do not share your sense of humour.”

The bounty hunter fell to his knees in front of the dark-clothed Sith Lord. His colleagues behind him followed suit. He was shaking fearfully, clearly fearing for his life. As he should. Infuriated at the man’s impudence, Vader was about to strangle his miserable life out of him when the raven cawed indignantly at him. It distracted him long enough for the man to start rambling again.

“It’s true! Why would we lie to you? We knew our lifes would be forfeit if we failed! Please, Mylord, just give us one chance! Take the raven, see what happens! We’ll wait in the cells if you want us to! We’ll leave the ship if you want us to! Just please-”

Vader was about to declare ´The joke does not get any funnier the second time´ when he noticed a shift in the force. The man spoke true. He really believed in what he was saying and while it spoke strongly against his sanity, Vader was not inclined to ignore hints from the force. He looked at the raven.  

The bird looked back at him and ruffled his feathers. Only now did Vader notice the startling blue of his eyes. Uncommon, for a raven. He strode closer. The raven cawed sharply and shuffled backwards an inch.

At the movement backwards, Vader saw metal glitter. His attention awoken, he flung the cage’s door open with barely a thought to take a closer look. The bird’s right wing had a cropped tip. The missing feathers had been replaced with shining durasteel. However, the moment he grasped for the wing, the bird went mad. He croaked loudly at him and spread his wings threateningly, shaking them. When Vader did not let himself be put off by that, and his gloved fingers became reachable, the bird snapped violently at him with his beak and started pecking and scratching wildly at his fingers.

Ignoring the bird’s obvious panic, Vader flung the door back closed. He had seen enough. The bird had a durasteel prosthetic, just where his son would have had it. It was too much of a coincidence for it to be a coincidence. And yet… the very thought was ridiculous. He wondered whether anyone but the rebels would know about his son’s… predicament.

The bounty hunters were still on their knees in front of him, shivering. Vader made his decision in a split second. “Get the raven to my quarters. You will leave the ship immediately and be glad that I won’t have you killed where you stand.”

None of them dared to talk back at him as he swept from the room.

 

It was ridiculous. The very notion was ridiculous. Vader couldn’t believe that he had let himself be tricked into taken in the raven. He should have snapped its neck for their insolence right then and there. Instead, he had made a fool of himself in front of the crew.

Fuming by the end of the day, Vader decided to get rid of the stupid bird as soon as he arrived back in his quarters. He was issuing his last orders to his new admiral when all of a sudden, a bright, achingly familiar force presence flared to life. Vader froze and then he was hurrying down the bridge, not even noticing Piett’s lost and confused exclamation. The impossibility of his hope was taunting him but the brilliance of the presence could only hint at one person…

He arrived at his quarters, threw the main door open and stormed into his quarters. They had put the cage into the main room next to his working space. He stared.

“What’re you looking at?” Luke Skywalker, sitting hunched over in the now way too small bird cage, said defensively. While the cage had been nearly too big for a single bird, it was now unpleasantly constricting. The cage bars pressed uncomfortably against his limbs and he had to make an effort to raise his head to look at Vader.

Vader stared. “How in the galaxy…?”

Luke crossed his arms, defiance oozing out of his every pore. “Like I’m gonna tell you.”

The insolent tone with which he spoke made Vader’s hackles rise. “You will answer me how you came to be in this situation, young one, right now.”

“I will not.”

“Then I hope that cage suits your tastes.”

Angry glaring. “You’re not gonna let me out of here? Don’t you think that an Imperial cell suits me way better than this?”

“I don’t think so, Luke.”

The boy flinched, actually flinched when Vader called him by his name. “Fine,” he then said grumpily. “Obi-Wan taught me. In case I’d ever be in danger.”

“Stop lying to me.” Luke made a face and Vader had to suppress his urge to shake the boy.

“…will you let me out of here if I tell you?”

“Yes.”

The boy wouldn’t agree that easily to anything. “You promise?”

Vader took a deep breath. “I will let you out and you will tell me what I wish to know.”

“That’s awfully vague.” His son frowned. “You will let me out and I will tell you what I know about the transformation.”

“Agreed.”

Vader stepped towards the cage and opened it. Luke slipped through the door before he could stretch out his hand to drag him out and nimbly sidestepped him.

“I know nothing,” Luke said, the truth of the statement awfully clearly resonating in the force, before he made a dash for the door.

Vader had his hand on the back of his sleeve before he could even get two feet away from him. Dumping the boy on the ground before him, Vader towered above him.

“I want answers, boy, and I want them now.”

Luke sighed, passed his hand over his forehead and slumped.

“It’s as I said, father,” he said, the title causing a thrill to go through Vader. “I’m in a deep mess and apparently, it just got worse.”

“I sure hope you do not mean me by that,” Vader said after a short pause.

Luke stared at him like he thought that Vader was an invalid for even asking. “Of course I do,” he said, before having the good grace to cringe.

Vader ignored the reply for his sake. He looked down at his undeniable unhappy offspring vegetating on the floor and decided to bestow mercy on him. He stretched out his hand, intending to at least drag the rebel over to the big, cushioned leather sofa he never used before continuing his interrogation.

Luke flinched and instinctively pulled up an arm in defense. Vader froze. The spike of fear in the force was followed by confused guilt and shame.

Vader drew on the force for a few seconds, making sure he was as collected as possible, when he said “Get up, son, and sit down properly. I would very much wish for some explanations and you gave me a promise to provide me with those. Not to mention that you’re the only one with an explanation for… this.”  

Luke stared warily up at him but when Vader did nothing but stand there, he pulled himself up and moved slowly over to the sofa standing close to the big desk, with its back to the door. He sat there unmoving for a moment, staring into the void before he buried his face in his hands, murmuring something incomprehensible.

“You should not pay one credit to these bounty hunters,” he said at last, face still hidden and his voice muffled. “They were only lucky to get to me at an unfortunate hour. I had only just transformed back at that time.”

“I threw them off the ship, in case you didn’t notice.”

“I did.”

His son’s grumpy reply rose Vader’s interest. “So you remember everything from when you were transformed?”

Luke turned out to be considerate enough to raise his head and look at his father while he was talking. “Obviously I do. I do not actually turn into a bird…”

“Son, you do.”

“… I do keep my conscience and my memories.”

“Thank goodness. Otherwise I would have to assume that even unconscious you would try to attack me.”

Luke hissed at him. “Don’t you dare touch my wings when I’m transformed.”

Vader stifled his desire to ask whether nobody was allowed to touch his wings or whether it was just him. He was careful not to look at Luke’s right hand.

“So why do you transform?” he asked, not noticing that he hadn’t even acknowledged his son’s demand.

“Like I said, I don’t know,” Luke answered back sharply and stubbornly.

Vader’s temper spiked violently and he could literally see Luke shrinking back, trying to fuse with the black cushions behind him. “What do you mean, you don’t know!” he thundered, not happy at all with how his conversation went. “You transformed into a bird and back, son! You better know something about this!”

Luke looked like he was ready to bolt and Vader shifted unconsciously closer to the door. The blond Jedi threw him a look, clearly noticing the movement and then his shoulders turned ever so slightly inwards as he caved in. He breathed out, making it sound like a sigh.  

“Here is what happened, father,” he said. “Only a month ago, I was mainly minding my own business, happily defying the Empire here and there,-“

A plunge in the temperature. Luke hurried up his explanation.

“… and then, one day I woke up as a raven.”

Vader just stared at him silently.

“I know, I was just as dumbfounded as you are right now! Wedge nearly freaked out when he saw me! Was already on the verge of causing a panic in the entire base, searching everywhere for me-“

“Get to the point.” A growl.

Luke scowled at him and Vader refused to acknowledge that it looked adorable on the youth’s face.

“And then, at midnight, I transformed back! I was already thinking, phew, what a freakish nightmare but now it’s over- but no! An hour later, and I had switched forms again. And ever since that day, at those exact same times.”

Vader took a moment to progress this unexpected rush of information.

“So you mean to tell me,” he finally said. “You were transforming this whole time and have neither found out why you are transforming nor how to stop it?”

Luke let loose a noise of indignation. “Don’t you think I’ve tried?! Father, I read through every database I could find in the hours between midnight and 0100 in the morning! My friends searched everywhere. We couldn’t find any information about this!”

Vader bit back a disdainful snort. “I would not put that much faith in the help from your rebel friends. They are barely capable of staying alive, much less of helping you achieve anything at all.”

He could see that Luke nearly rose to the bait but then the boy just pulled a wry face and looked away from Vader. “Well, it’s not like you know more than they do,” he said, with a bitter undertone that had crept into his voice.

Vader started pacing in front of the boy, no longer capable of suppressing this long-imprinted habit. “I do not know more as of yet, son,” he said, noticing with relish the boy shrink some more. “But I assure you that this will change. I will find out what has happened to you and I will free you from it.”

The boy’s voice was nearly inaudible. “You really will, father?”

“Yes, Luke. I promise.”

With a sigh, Luke looked down at his hands. He knew that he should be feeling relieved but all that he could feel was a bone-deep tiredness. Despite his fears, Vader’s first thought hadn’t been to bring him to the Emperor- ignoring his current state- he had even agreed to help him. To be honest, it was more than he had dared to hope for after he had been caught.

He could feel his father’s eyes on him, scrutinizing him. “You look exhausted,” he commented.

Luke laughed shakily. “I’m not,” he answered. “I’m just starving.”

“That…” Vader said. “happens to be one of the things I can change easily.”

 

 

About half an hour later, Luke was chewing down the last bits of his midnight meal, already feeling way better than during the last few hours. They had exchanged few other words, Luke busy with stuffing himself with food and Vader watching him silently. The situation- as it was given- was awkward but not entirely unpleasant.

That is, until Luke put the plate to the side and Vader raised his gloved hand, pointing back at the cage, the meaning of his gesture terribly clear.

“Get in.”

Luke stared at him, incredulity open on his face. “Excuse me?”

“Get back in,” Vader repeated, a hint of impatience colouring his words. He stretched out his hand towards Luke’s shoulder and Luke shuffled backwards.

He paused. “You are going to transform again soon, so I want you in the cage and not have a bird fluttering around in my quarters.”

Luke got to his feet, quicker than Vader had expected him to. “If you think that cage is comfortable, even for a simple bird…”

“Then you will have to be patient and endure your stay in there. You are of no use to me when transformed and I trust you as little on your own as you trust me.”

“Well, isn’t that reassuring.”

“Young one, this is not the time for you to be obstinate. Now get in there before I take matters into my own hands.”

Luke stared at him, aghast, before backing up a step. “Father,” he said once, firmly, a rebellious spark lighting in his eyes, and then he turned on his heels and rushed towards the door.

Vader caught up with him the moment the door slid to the side. Triumphantly, he stretched out his hand and could have, would have caught his wayward son, had he not thrown himself forward, one second wholly human and the next second a black raven, flapping down the corridor.

Stunned, Vader gaped at the sight before rushing after him. As it turned out, ravens could fly very quickly when they wanted to. Luke definitely wanted to. He didn’t flow very steady, swaying slightly from side to side but he had crossed the corridor quicker than Vader could hurry after him.

Just when Vader expected him to make an elegant swoop around the corner, Luke crashed against the opposite wall. He caught himself from tumbling onto the floor through hectic flapping, and disappeared behind the corner.

“Stop right there!” Vader thundered disgruntledly. No response.

Thoroughly displeased with the situation, Vader set forward with huge steps to follow his son. He nearly ran over the group of stormtroopers entering the corridor the same time he did. As expected, a rush of fear immediately rose from the group, followed by sentiments of utter confusion and incredulity.

“Was that… a bird?” one of the white-helmed man uttered haltingly.

“Was that… Lord Vader chasing a bird?” the trooper next to him whispered.

“No way.”

Vader himself didn’t even notice the whispered comments as he was too busy focusing on his dear son fluttering onwards before him. He had left the group behind in a matter of seconds. Mentally, he was cursing the raven’s ability to fly at a quicker speed than he could run.

Luke reached the far corner of the corridor, ready to disappear from Vader’s reach any second now. In one elegant movement, Luke adjusted his wings. And for the second time, crashed against the wall.

Seizing the opportunity at hand, Vader took hold of the force and decisively, yet carefully, extended an invisible hand to hold the raven in place. The response was immediate and violent. Luke started wildly wiggling his wings, his entire tiny body straining against the invisible bonds. It was accompanied by a loud croaking, growing more aggressive the closer Vader got.

Vader ignored the bird’s little riot- in some ways it was strangely adorable, really- and grabbed the raven with both of his gloved hands, trapping the little body. If possible, Luke went even wilder. Croaking like mad at him, he fluttered helplessly in his grip, freed now from the force hold but at the same time even more at the mercy of his captor.

As he marched back towards his quarters, he passed the stormtrooper group from a few moments ago. They stared. Vader leveled his gaze with a jerk up at them and every head immediately turned forwards, making it very obvious that they did not notice the Dark Lord marching by with a madly croaking, scratching and biting bird tucked under his arm.

“Stop it, you’re making a scene,” he growled under his breath. Luke- if he even understood him- ignored him.

Growing annoyed by the struggle- was this much agitation really warranted?- Vader noticeably strengthened his hold on Luke, also an additional measure to make sure that he wouldn’t shake off his grip and escape again.

As if a switch had been flipped in him, Luke went very still. Only now did Vader become aware of an erratic pulse beating beneath his fingers. He, too, stiffened when he realized that what he was feeling was Luke’s heartbeat. The raven was now positively trembling, his heart fluttering madly. His son was… afraid?

Vader abruptly became aware of how Luke basically weighted nothing, his body feeling soft and fragile in hands which were accustomed to violence and war. Suddenly scared of accidentally crushing the tiny bird- he was not, in fact, tiny- Vader softened his grip.

It was then that he crossed the border to his quarters and swept towards the bird cage. Luke made one last effort to express his disapproval, then, with some firm encouragement, he shuffled inside.

Double-checking the door and its lock, Vader leaned back to watch his son who was now edgily shaking out his wings and tripping on his feet, from time to time throwing glances at him. It took the Sith a moment until he realized with incredulity that his son was glaring at him. To be precise, he seemed to have entered a state of indignant sulking.

He shook his head. This day was not going the way he had expected and for the first time in years, this seemed like it could be a good thing. The situation now crushed in on him. His son. He had his son. His son which admittedly very much resembled a bird at the moment. But his son, nonetheless. The seemingly endless chase for him, over three years in total, had found its end. Now all that was left to do was lift whatever curse had befallen Luke and he would have his rebellious offspring standing by his side.

Feeling oddly overwhelmed, Vader took one more, last glance at the raven in his cage and then set out to leave the room. His movement immediately alerted Luke who promptly started cawing again. Did he not want him to leave? Vader dismissed the thought as absurd. It would be contrary to all of Luke’s previously shown behaviour.

“Rest, Luke,” the Sith said shortly. “Replenish your strength and tomorrow, we shall start working on this.”

More upset cawing. Biting back a sigh- annoyed, not happy, he reminded himself sternly- Vader left the room.

He left it for entire five minutes which he spent pacing in front of his hyperbaric chamber, listening to Luke’s sporadic cawing complaints. Then he was back. Entering the room, he crossed it quickly to plant himself in front of the cage.

There, he blinked.

Luke had fallen asleep.

 

 

The next morning came too early. Vader’s temper was at its worst at having received so little rest due to his poor attempts at meditation. This state prevailed until his sleep-deprived brain caught up with the events of the night before and he rushed over to his main room.

The ruckus he made woke the small raven slumbering peacefully in his cage and he blinked sleepily at Vader. Then, as realization struck him, the bird drew himself up and started whipping his wings through the air wildly. His panicked reaction resulted in nothing but Luke hitting his sensible wings painfully against the durasteel bars of the cage. This didn’t stop him from hopping agitatedly from side to side, that was, as far as the cage allowed.

Pretending to not have rushed here for the sudden fear that all of this had been a weird, vivid dream and of finding his son gone, Vader stood awkwardly in the doorway.

Not sure how to proceed for the moment, he intoned firmly “Stay.” Luke’s blue raven eyes blinked at him as he calmed down for a second, then resumed his mission to wake up everybody on the ship.

He left, listening intently to find Luke’s commotion subside quickly.

 

Vader had often been prized for being efficient but today, he decided, he had surpassed himself.

In the span of only one day, he had brought into being a taskforce of his most knowledgeable officers, their assignment a clear objective: To discover all sorts of curses, spells and other possibilities enabling a person to change form. While they had at first stared at him uncertainly, his detailed descriptions of what would happen to them should they fail their purpose had washed away all of their objections. Every evening and whenever they found out something of importance, they were to immediately report directly to him.  

He had also exempted an officer, who he considered to be fairly competent, from his work and had ordered him to learn everything there was to know about ravens. Including their eating habits since he was left in charge of Luke’s future meals.

Making use of his previous preparations for the day when Luke would be his, he ordered the attires which had been handcrafted for his son to be brought into his quarters. The exact clothing sizes were an extensive knowledge he had gained from countless spy reports, the style held in the Imperial fashion, simple, yet high-quality products.

He arranged all of this while perfectly executing his tasks as the Commander of the Ship and as Second in Command of the Galactic Empire. The knowledge of having his son safe in his rooms had quickened his steps and spurred on his actions.

Now, midnight grew closer and with it, Vader grew more and more impatient. When he decided that it would soon be time for the transformation he stormed off the bridge, leaving his officers to wonder at their commander’s apparent agitation. Not only had it kept him pacing around all day but it had also made him strangely merciful as he had overseen a major mistake one of his officers had made.

Vader did not know of any of the confused thoughts his officers harboured. He was too much absorbed in his very own thoughts. Right now, he was focusing on his soon-to-be conversation with his son while fighting the unease he felt cursing through his veins. He didn’t trust his son for any amount of time in his human form inside of his quarters, caged or not, so he hurried.

His cape flapping sharply, he entered the room. On the threshold, he came to stop, needing a moment to take in the hurricane which had been unleashed in his room. He blinked, first once, then twice, at the raven which sat innocently in the midst of the destruction.

“What have you done to my rooms?” he asked the bird. The bird shuffled his wings which he held close to his body and cawed. Vader swore that it sounded like Luke was laughing at him.

He took a second look around. The carpet on the floor lay twisted half on the ground, half on the black sofa, the two black pillows belonging to it had been partially ripped apart, like something sharp had picked at the soft stuffing within. Parts of said filling lay scattered around the room.

The statues standing on his bureau had been knocked over, one lay on the ground. Miraculously, none had been broken. He had left several holopads lying on the table. He could now spot one of them in the bin, one beneath a cupboard, two on the floor and one not at all. The cage had been toppled by something, its door wide open. His favourite painting was crooked. In short, it was chaos and Vader was displeased.

His inspection of the room had given Luke enough time to shift because when his eyes moved back to him, his son crouched on the floor, his face promising Vader more bad temper.  

Feeling his attention on him, Luke puffed up. “If you think I am going to apologize, I am not.”

“What happened here?” Vader repeated his question, fighting to keep his own temper from rising.

“You left me stuck in that cage. Alone. For an entire day.” He said it reproachfully, like these words were explanation enough.

"I figured that you would survive one day of rest without entertainment.”

“I made it till the evening. I was literally bored out of. My. Mind. I’m not actually an animal when I’m transformed, I already told you that, right?”

“I cannot believe that I spent the entire day searching for ways to help you while you were off here…” Vader searched for the right words.

“Redecorating your room?” Luke offered.

“Wrecking havoc!” Vader thundered.

Luke had the decency to wince at the tone. “Your rooms are terribly plain,” he added then with mischief glittering in his eyes. “Very much in need of a redecoration. You see I actually did you a favour by…”

Young one.”

Luke shut his mouth. Vader considered a further dressing down but then remembered how Luke had shaken yesterday in his grip. Him being rebellious and cheekily seemed preferable to Luke being scared out his mind or even denying their relationship.

He was quiet for a second. “For a redecoration, you are required to add furniture, not plainly destroy it.”

“I did not-…well, apart from the pillows I did not-!”

“Be that as it may, how did you flee the cage?”

Luke shrugged his shoulders and looked to the side. “I guess you must have left it open this morning. You were in quite the rush to leave.”

“I have duties on this ship to fulfill, my son, and I did certainly not leave it open.”

He did not miss the way Luke twitched slightly when he called him his son. “Are you sure? Maybe you forgot-”

“Is this the fault of Officer Lancet? Did he neglect to close the door after supplying you with food?” Dark anger began to build inside of him, in search for a target.

A rush of unease and alarm showed on his son’s face. “No! No, of course not! That officer had nothing to do with it.” Luke seemed to ponder about something for a second. “Even though he could have brought better food.”

“Was it not to your liking?”

“Do you appreciate grains as your food?”

It was a rhetorical question, nonetheless Vader saw a reason to answer it. “I, son, am not a bird.”

“Neither am I!” Luke called out, outraged.

“I tend to disagree.” Dry humour laced his words.

“Father!”

They both fell silent immediately after the word had fallen, Luke flushing and Vader admittedly caught off-guard. He then crossed his arms and leaned back slightly.

“You will undo this mess you made or I will call back the food I ordered for you.”

Luke gasped in dismay. “You wouldn’t!”

Vader didn’t answer, waiting patiently and being rewarded with a slung of Huttese curses and Luke scurrying through the room, placing each item where it had been before.

A short time later and his son was sitting across from him on the sofa, munching on the food one of his officers had brought, eying him warily whenever he thought Vader was not watching.

“So as you can see, this group will soon figure out what has happened to you and how we can undo it. There is no need for you to worry about anything, just stay in your cage and wait patiently.”

Luke chewed on the bantha steak he had just stuck into his mouth and then gulped it down. “Can’t I help? Or come with you? I don’t want to sit around doing nothing!”

Vader sighed behind his mask. “As we do not wish for Palpatine to learn of your presence on my ship, no, you cannot.”

“I would be a raven! Nobody would ever even suspect…!”

“Exactly because you are a raven 23 hours a day you would not be able to help. What do you plan to do? Caw at them?”

“I’m sure we can figure something out! Give me a chance! You can’t just lock me in for as long as I’m with you!”

“As a matter of fact, I think I can.” Luke inhaled sharply. “Luke, I am not trusting you outside of these rooms and this is my last word on this.”

His son bowed his head, looking just as frustrated as Vader felt. Vader could feel it burning through their bond, paired with a sentiment more alarming: rebelliousness.

They did not talk much afterwards, neither of them happy about how their conversation had gone. When Vader pointed at the cage nearly one hour after midnight, Luke glowered at him but climbed obediently inside of it. A sound of rustling clothes and feathers and his son was gone until the next time midnight struck.

Vader added three new locks that day before leaving Luke behind.

 

 

The first thing Vader sensed upon entering the bridge was a suppressed, nonetheless burning curiosity. What he was surprised about was that this sentiment not only seemed to originate from the normal officers but from his Admiral as well. Distrustful, Vader wondered whether there were already rumours circulating that the Commander of the Ship had acquired a pet and not killed it, as 9 out of 10 bets had probably said.

If so, it did probably not help that after listening to Piett’s report, Vader ordered his newly nominated bird expert Officer Lancet to his side.

Having spent every waking hour since the nomination with the task of learning everything there was to know about birds, especially ravens, Officer Lancet was tired yet full of vigour. A personal task, to be completed only by him and with the order to report directly to Vader- it was a promotion as he could have never dreamed of. Lord Vader’s new found interest in birds, he decided, was his chance to rise.

And so here he was, having listed every possible source of food which could be acquired for ravens, now moving over to the fascinating topic of how to keep the animal.

“Madam Tarkin,” he was currently saying, “had an entire house filled with the most exotic birds. Of course, she would not include a regular raven in her collection. However, the layout of the birds’ rooms were very interesting. They…”

Vader raised his hand and the officer fell silent immediately as a young captain rushed towards them, completely out of breath.

“My Lord!” he exclaimed. “The raven… we just went to check on it as you ordered us to every hour and…it’s gone!”

“What?!” Vader had closed in on the captain in mere seconds. Had the captain not needed his breath to report further, he might have found himself out of air. “What did you just say?” he repeated darkly.

“The troopers are searching the surrounding corridors as we speak but so far-“

Vader ripped out his comlink. “Admiral,” he grumbled and could nearly feel Piett flinching at his tone. “You will start a ship-wide search. Now.”

In the captain’s defense, he had been completely innocent in this current turn of events. Due to his quick reaction and Piett’s more than competent, immediate response to the unforeseen order, Vader decided to spare his life. Instead, he rushed off the bridge on his seemingly never ending quest to find his son. His problematic, rebellious offspring which had apparently set his mind on defying him in every way possible- even if Vader’s intentions for him were only the best.

Unluckily for Luke, Vader had a very precise assumption of where the boy would go to. Fly to. Growling, he set out for the hangar closest to his quarters.

By the time he arrived, his men had managed to close off all hangars, preventing all ships from leaving the Executor.

How Luke would have managed to fly a ship in his current predication, he could only wonder. His best assumption was that Luke had planned to become a stowaway. Nobody would have noticed the small raven sitting in the back of the ship and nobody would have known which ship Luke had been in. If nobody had noticed Luke’s absence until midnight, Luke might have even been able to shift and steal a ship.

How bad for him, Vader thought with a growl, that he had been prepared.

And considering that it was his son they were talking about- who had managed to avoid him for years- he had taken precautions. He eyed the ships standing in the hangar and set out with the intention of examining every one of them until he - or someone else - found his son. In the meantime, he entertained different ways of reacting to this unjustified resistance to his continued stay onboard.

Already having prepared half of an angry speech for the moment he found the boy, Vader was not prepared for when he did.

Luke was in the cockpit of the shuttle, sitting hunched over on the dashboard and looking as unhappy and miserable as a raven could possibly look. Vader felt part of his fury dissipate as he took in his son’s pitiful state. Luke turned his head from the view outside towards Vader, only now acknowledging his father even though he must have heard his approach.

Vader slowly drew nearer to his son. Luke croaked silently and miserably when Vader stretched out his hands but allowed him without resistance to gently pick him up.

On a deep, unconscious level, Vader understood his son, understood the need to leave, to have another place calling out to him. Maybe it was this understanding that kept him from dressing him down right then and there.

“We’ll break the curse, or whatever it is, Young One,” he intoned as quietly as the Vocoder would allow. Luke sullenly leaned his tiny head against Vader’s thumb and didn’t give any other indication that he had understood him.

Vader left the shuttle and carried the twitchy raven through the stormtroopers gathering in the hangar. “The search is over, inform Admiral Piett,” he intoned, not bothering to take on this task himself.

The incredulous looks that followed him back made his anger reignite. Luke cringed in his hands when the dark inferno roared up again, knowing for certain that the reason for Vader’s turbulent emotions was he himself.

“Do not think that your actions will not have any consequences,” he remarked bitingly and suppressed a spark of amusement when he felt a flare of horror from a trooper who had just crossed his way. “When I told you to stay in your room, it was not a request.”

Luke’s wings twitched awkwardly. He looked strangely ruffled and it would have been adorable under different circumstances. “You do not want me to break your wings to make sure you will not escape again, do you?” It was an empty threat. The bird in his hands stiffened in alarm and started pecking at Vader’s fingers.

It didn’t hurt due to his gloves and the durasteel of his fingers but it annoyed Vader nonetheless. “Stop it, Luke,” he rumbled. More pecking.

Vader sighed. Would berating the boy even make a difference? The moment he’d see his next chance he would surely try to flee again. And next time, they might not be so lucky as to immediately find out about it. The situation didn’t leave him much choice. He had not wanted to restrain Luke any further than necessary but by now it seemed unavoidable.

He stormed into his quarters. The raven saw the cage and went wild. Not prepared for the sudden onslaught, a mixture of loud croaking, wildly scratching talons and fluttering wings, Vader let go as a wing clashed from below against his mask, throwing off his balance.

Before Luke could make a break for it – not again! – Vader caught the rebellious bird with the force, holding him still. Luke jerked against the invisible grip but could not do more than twitch. He cawed accusingly at Vader.

“Why are you complaining, you are the one making a ruckus.” The Dark Lord was less and less amused by his son’s antics. Projecting a calm he did not feel, he took off his cape and carefully removed the chain which held it together when he wore it.

“You are the only one to blame for this,” he muttered as he closed in on the bird and carefully wrapped the chain around one of his feet. Luke first went stiff, then desperately started struggling to get away. Without any success due to Vader’s unrelenting force grip. He let out a cry that almost sounded human, croaking in loud distress at Vader, and strained against the invisible bonds holding him.

Vader quickly finished his work, then firmly gripped the other end of the chain and yanked it- and Luke with it- down towards the cage. The bird gave out another cry as he tumbled against the door and onto the floor of his prison. Vader twisted the end of the chain through the bars and fastened it expertly outside of the cage.  

With one jump, Luke got back to his feet. He turned down towards the chain around his foot and immediately started picking at it. When it showed no effect at all, he shook his tiny head and tried to flutter away, the chain yanking him back forcefully before he had even made it one foot up into the air.

Tumbling back to the ground, Luke took longer this time to get back up, visibly exhausted by his struggle. He picked once again at the chain, with less vigour than the last time, and then stopped to glance up pitifully at Vader. Vader crossed his arms, refusing to feel any pity for his wayward son.

Luke croaked softly and miserably.

“If you think I will release you if you just look miserable enough, you are mistaken, young one. You need to learn that everything you do has impacts on your future.”

Luke shuffled awkwardly and let his wings drop to the ground. Lowering his head, he scraped at the ground, the personification of misery.

Without him wanting to, Vader’s eyes were drawn back to the chain. He had done most effective work as he was sure that Luke would never be able to free himself from it. Maybe he could order something with a smoother surface which would not scratch at Luke’s sensible skin every time he moved. Something like a durasteel collar, like a…

He froze. Like a slave’s collar.

He looked again at his son hunching up in the middle of the cage. Unhappy, and miserable, and chained to the ground.      

He took the chain back off.

Luke let out a piercing shriek the moment it fell off and lunged an aggressive attack on Vader’s fingers in response before scurrying into the corner of the cage furthest away from the Sith and his fingers still holding the chain.

However, this still left Vader with the same problem as before.

He sighed and pulled out his comlink, rigidly watching his son who was equally warily eying him and who apparently hadn’t forgiven him yet for his most recent actions. “I require three guards,” he told his Admiral. “Three guards in my rooms until I return this evening.”

 

 

To say, Luke’s mood was foul when the Dark Lord returned was an understatement.

Vader was exhausted from the uproars of the day, irritated because he knew his officers were secretly gossiping about it, and concerned about the fact that the continued research of his expert group for curses etc. had come up completely empty.

So when he entered the room to find the three stormtroopers jumping to attention and Luke lying dead on his back, he panicked and rushed over. “What’s wrong with him? Is he alive?!”

A muffled cloud of astonishment and confusion rose up from the troopers as they gawked at him and his unusual behaviour, the panic unbefitting for a Sith Lord.

“He’s just playing dead,” one of the troopers piped up hesitantly. “He’s been at it since two hours now.”

Vader stared at the raven. Luke lay completely immobile on his back, his claws stretched out above, his eyes closed.

“You are telling me…” he repeated slowly. “He’s just pretending?”

“Well, he sure ain’t sleeping,” one of the other troopers answered. “Look.” He picked up a large corn from Luke’s feeding pan and threw it at Luke’s head with a flick of his fingers. Luke rapidly became awake and started croaking angrily at the trooper, lost his balance, fell to the side and wiggled madly with his feet until he had resumed his usual crouching position.

“See?” Vader thought that he felt the trooper smiling beneath his helmet before remembering who exactly he was talking to and he hastily saluted again, his stiff posture conveying his apprehension.

Leave.” It was a growl.

The troopers hurried out of his quarters. Only when he felt safe with the knowledge that he was alone with Luke and that all doors to the room were firmly closed, Vader opened the cage. Luke hopped out in a fluid motion and half fluttered, half jumped on top of the black sofa, claiming it to be his.

A quarter of an hour later, and the transformation began. Vader marveled at the speed with which Luke’s body grew and the feathers shrunk and got replaced by skin and dark clothes and did not see the storm that was coming for him.

“You chained me up,” Luke spit, choked, spit out a feather and continued snarling. “I can’t believe you chained me to the ground!” Vader was startled by the venom in Luke’s voice.

“You escaped from your quarters, despite my stern warnings!” he hissed back, the dark beast in his chest raising its head.

“From my quarters? I am stuck in a cage all day, forced to rely on you of all people to help me! You think I like that? You think I trust you just because you haven’t handed me over just yet?!”

Vader drew on the force for calm and stability. “Son, please be reasonable. This situation is as difficult for me as it is for you.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Vader knew from the moment he saw Luke’s hands clench to fists and felt the rush of hot fury wash through their bond. “Oh yeah? The last time I met you, you tried to kill me and tried to convince me to take over the galaxy! And you cut off my hand!”

Suppressing all emotions which came with the exclamation, Vader tried to stay self-composed. “You refused to yield your…”

Luke flushed furiously. “Oh, don’t you even dare to bring that argument! Maybe if you’d told me earlier who you were, I would have stopped trying to murder my own father!”

"Luke…” He halted, one of Luke’s sentences replaying in his head. “I did not try to kill you, either.”

 In a very animal-like manner, Luke bared his teeth. “Well, it very much felt like that to me.”

Enough.” Vader was growing tired of the argument and his son’s self-righteous fury. He had not known his son to tend to anger and this recent similarity made him queasy for some reason.

With nothing else to do but to meet the accusing stare of his son, Vader started pacing through the room. There had to be a way to make his son understand, to make him realize how needless his consistent resistance was.

“Son, I am only trying to help you. I can expect from you that you revise your attitude and accommodate me here. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”

Luke gasped incredulously. “If you think I owe you anything because…! You only help me because I am of no use to you in this state!”

“I do it because you are my son and I wish to help you.”

“Who are you trying to fool here? I’m little more than a prisoner on this ship! What else is that cage here for? What else was that chain here for?”

“You are not a prisoner on this...”

Luke seemed to only have waited for this answer. “- oh yeah?! Then, if I said right now I wanted to take a ship and leave? Would you let me do it?”

Vader didn’t answer.

His son huffed in disgust. “I thought so.” He turned away to stride into the fresher.

Vader stretched out his hand, Luke’s name on his lips. He halted. Maybe it was better to let the boy calm down for a while. A further argument with Luke while he was upset would not bring any results. He settled down for waiting, not expecting Luke to return any time soon.

His expectation proved to be correct. Luke stayed where he was, his turbulent emotions rolling openly and unhindered through the bond and searing Vader’s mind. The boy was either abysmal at shielding his fury or he simply didn’t care.

Vader clenched his teeth and endured as the silent rage poured down on him. The transition to disappointment, frustration and, at final last, acceptance, was both a blessing and more pain.

In the tangle of emotions, he missed the one, outstanding flare of alarm.

 

 

When Luke reemerged from the fresher, tousling his hair which was still wet from the shower, Vader straightened up. If the sulking silence from the bond was anything to go by, then his son was ready for some more conversation.

He stilled. “Son, why do you have bruises on your arms?”

Luke’s eyes widened as he scanned his bare arms- he had not bothered to wear the long-sleeved part of his uniform– and his torso as well, a glance which Vader did not miss. “I, uh, was captured by bounty hunters, if you didn’t notice.”

Vader narrowed his eyes. “They did this?”

Again a short hesitant pause. “Yes.” His son was lying.

Vader closed the distance between them and used his bulk to intimidatingly tower above the boy. “And now the truth?”

Luke sighed, nervously ran a hand through his hair and looked up at him, irritation bleeding through their bond. “I crashed against some walls while I was… on my short excursion.”

Vader frowned, unseen, as he saw new problems arise on the horizon. “Do you have problems with getting accustomed to your new body?”

“No! I…” Luke trailed off, his eyes wandering distractedly through the room.

Vader remembered the first time he had rushed after a fleeing Luke. He had flown against walls back then, too, not managing to master the curve. “Then why do have problems with flying?”

Frustrated, Luke stared straight ahead, probably not seeing much but the blinking lights of Vader’s control panel. “I have problems keeping the balance, okay?! I can more or less manage as long as I fly in a straight line but maneuvering around is… difficult...”

Vader was confused. “But why?” Knowing his son to be a great pilot, it was difficult to imagine that he had problems flying.

His gaze suddenly got drawn towards Luke’s hands. He had balled one of them into a shaking fist. His right hand.

Vader felt cold as realization finally dawned upon him. “Your hand…” he said hesitantly, thinking of the durasteel wingtip. “It’s too heavy in comparison to…”

Luke stormed past him, a tightly leashed storm shimmering through their bond. “Nevermind,” he snapped. “It’s not like I get to fly around anyway.”

For a few seconds, Vader stood there like stunned, staring unseeing ahead. Then he turned around and opened his mouth to reply. A black raven stared at him with too much intelligence shining in his bright eyes. The raven cawed once in disgust and hopped into his cage, not turning around to face Vader again.

 

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

 

 Vader didn’t rest well that night, instead turning the argument over in his head. Where had he gone wrong? Where had the conversation deteriorated that much? Right in the beginning, he admitted bitterly to himself.

Luke had not taken well to being a raven- how could one hold that against him? Especially considering that none of them truly knew if they could ever reverse it? Vader snarled. He would not accept this possibility. The other problems the boy had- their relationship with an admittedly rough start- they would be dealt with in time. For now, he had to concentrate on the most urgent problem: to hide the boy from his master and to free him from whatever curse had befallen him.

In this time of difficulty, his thoughts wandered to Officer Lancet and what he had told him about his studies. Maybe the research the man had done would not go to waste after all... His head full of new ways of approach, he stood up with new purpose and strolled into Luke’s room.

He found his tiny raven son slumbering quietly with his head sunken on his chest. Careful not to make any loud noises, he stepped closer, watching thoughtfully the small chest expand and exhale. He leaned closer. The bird twitched in his sleep and then started blinking slowly. He became rapidly awake as he noticed that he was not alone in the room and jerked back, unnecessarily expressive when announcing his discomfort at being watched while he slept.

Vader resisted the urge to make a face. Instead, he reminded himself of his good resolutions.

“Good morning, Luke,” he began as neutrally as he could manage.

Luke cooed at him cautiously and tilted his head, taking him his stance and changed behaviour. He picked nervously at the few grains remaining from his meager dinner and shuffled backwards when he felt Vader’s full concentration focus on him.

“I… admit that we did not start out well yesterday.” The words only barely passed his lips.

Something in Luke’s posture changed and he hesitantly scuttled one step closer. This seemed to be going well?

“And it is not entirely your fault that it did.” The raven leveled a glance at him that Vader interpreted as exasperation.

Motivated, he continued. “While I cannot accept you leaving the ship, especially not in your current state, I can try to… make your stay as endurable as possible.”

Luke nervously began picking at his feathers what Vader assumed was his morning cleansing routine.

“Therefore, I brought to you several ideas from a bird expert how to improve your living here.”

Inclining his head to the side, Luke expressed all of the skepticism a bird could possibly express.

Vader drew in a deep breath and recapped the different approaches in his head. “So first of all, how do you feel about… redecorating your cage? A bit cotton? Adding a few twigs you can sit on?"

The raven stared at him in disbelief, shaking out his feathers in severe disapproval.

Vader did not get discouraged. “I guess that is a no. Of course, you are always allowed to change your opinion. Do inform me about this at midnight. Another study shows that with a little mirror in the cage you would feel less lonely. What do you think?”

Angry staring was the only reaction he received.

“I could also get a second raven so you feel less alone and bored during the day.”

Luke crowed loudly and hammered his head softly against one of the bars.

“So I suppose you do not approve of this either.” Vader sighed. “You sure are picky. Well, here is my final offer: I organize holo vids for you to watch.”

Luke hesitated and after a moment of showing no reaction, cowered down droopily, letting his head hang low and thereby perfecting the image of a fully depressed raven. With difficulty, the Dark Lord suppressed the long-gone desire to bury his head in his hands.

“I will think of something else then, young one,” he said and then, having no more to say and feeling uncomfortable at staring at his miserably looking son, swept out of the room.

 

He arrived at the bridge and was greeted by a familiar, calm and proficient person of his trust. Admiral Piett. Of course. When nobody else knew what to do, Piett did. He wondered how he could not have had this idea before.

“Admiral,” he rumbled, setting his quickly-forming plan into action. “Come with me.”

Wonderfully unperturbed, the Admiral obeyed. Vader fought the urge to quicken the pace – they were already moving at an adequate speed – and wondered whether he should already inform the Admiral about the situation before reaching his quarters. In the end, he decided against it. This situation required intuition and spontaneity.

He felt his Admiral’s curiosity blossom as he did not bother to utter a word until they reached his quarters, nonetheless he did not question his Commander.

Ushering the three guards in front of Luke’s cage to a corner of the room while at the same time signaling at Piett to come closer, Vader came to a halt in front of Luke. His Admiral went still, his mind revealing his confusion but also recognition.

“Mylord?” he began, for the first time questioning his reason for being here.

“Piett,” he began his carefully prepared speech. “I have commanded you here for a very special reason. It is currently of utmost importance so I wish for, no, I need your professional assessment and advice.”

Admiral Piett successfully fought the urge to shift his weight from one foot to the other. This did indeed sound serious. And not only had Lord Vader refused to spare a word until they had reached his own quarters but he had even kept the guards which he had ordered just yesterday. Without any doubt, what Piett would hear next would fundamentally change… well, what it would change he wasn’t sure. The way he saw the world? Something.

Vader fully turned his back to the guards and stretched out his gloved finger. It nearly looked like he was pointing at the sulky- looking raven.

“Piett, this is Luke. Luke, meet Piett, my Admiral.”

Piett blinked. The raven blinked back. Had he just heard alright? His relief that Vader had not, in fact, called him here to announce that he planned to overthrow the Emperor, as he had feared, got eclipsed by confusion. Vader surely wouldn’t call him here to introduce him to his new… bird?

The raven crowed at him and it sounded like he was laughing. Vader shook his finger at it. “That’s not nice, Luke, and you know it.”

Piett recovered from the shock and turned his head, fighting to keep up his usual professionalism. “I am… greatly honoured to make your acquaintance.”  The bird had the audacity to raise one wing and to start cleansing himself carefully, ignoring Piett completely.

Then, he suddenly turned his head towards Vader and began croaking loudly, shaking his wings at the same time. Had Piett not known better, he would have said the raven was pointing at the door of the cage.

Not knowing why the strange animal unsettled him the way it did- it was something about his eyes, eyes of the brightest blue- Piett took heart and dared to address Vader who was unmovingly staring at the bird. “Mylord, if I may ask… which kind of evaluation do you wish for?”

Vader turned his full, equally unsettling attention on him. “Yes. In your opinion, what do you think, Admiral, is missing to make this bird comfortable?”

For a few moments, Piett didn’t know how to react. A small part of his brain was screaming at him to reply something, the rest of it was too busy ignoring its responsibilities to work. Piett couldn’t really blame it.

“My…Lord?” he repeated with a dry throat, unsure whether he had heard right.

“The bird,” the Dark Lord repeated with a hint of impatience. “It’s not pleased with its situation and I wish to change that.”

The bird had sprung towards the door of the cage and had started hammering its beak against it.

“Uhm…” Piett forcefully pulled his gaze away from it and himself back together. “I…” What was wrong with him? This was the Dark Lord he was talking to! He had to concentrate! He had no time to wonder about Vader’s newfound love in animals!

He contemplated the question. The bird had gone over to hammering its head against the door. “Maybe give him a bigger cage? And put a small tree into it which it can sit on?” The raven stopped its self-destructive activity for a second and turned minimally around.

The Dark Lord crossed his arms in front of his chest. “It’s being produced as we speak.”

The bird perked up and jumped closer towards them, clearly excited. Then he tilted his head at Vader, making another jerky gesture towards the door. Vader exhaled more noisily than usually- or had Piett imagined that?- and made a step forward.

“Fine,” he growled, causing Piett take an instinctive step back in return. “Stop being such an annoyance. I will let you out while we are here. Do not try anything funny or trust me, young one, the consequences will be grave.”

The bird chirped happily and bounced on his feet.

Piett shook his head in disbelief as the Dark Lord bowed forward and raised his hands towards the lock which sprung open. Locks. There were three of them, one electronic, one classic durasteel and one lock with an alarm attached to it. His eyes wandered to the guards- which were here to guard the raven, he now realized!- and he couldn’t help privately thinking that this was overkill. Yes, the bird seemed intelligent- and yes, he had escaped Vader’s quarters once- but guards? Really?

He discreetly glanced at his Commander. For once, his Commander was too distracted to notice him watching him. He was busy stretching out his arm, standing slightly bowed forwards, producing a strange wooing noise Piett had not known him capable of.

“Come here,” he murmured calmingly. “Come sit on my arm, Luke.”

The raven fluttered excitedly with his wings, then lifted himself up into the air with a mighty beating of his wings. Having spread them fully, he suddenly seemed a lot larger than before. He cackled down on Vader, glided through the air with two powerful flaps and then descended down onto the black sofa. His feet having touched the dark leather and his claws tearing into it, he turned around, fighting for his balance as he folded his wings.

Complacently, he cawed at Vader. Frowning, Piett glanced at the Dark Lord, expecting a storm every second.

The Sith straightened up and raised his mask to look at the raven. “I said ´my arm´, Luke, not the sofa. You can sit on it this evening again, if you wish to. But if you right now wish to stay out of the birdcage, you will sit on my arm.”

The raven’s claws buried itself deeper into the leather and he croaked coarsely.

“Luke.”

Vader made a step towards the bird and the raven soared once again into the air, making an uneven curve before, with a lot of redundant wing flapping, hesitantly, carefully, settling on Vader’s shoulder. Vader turned his mask to look at it and the raven stared back at him, uneasily shuffling as far away from the Sith’s face as he could.

“Very good, young one,” Vader praised the bird, a mocking undertone in his voice. “Was that that hard?”

The bird leveled a murderous glance at him and silently cooed to himself. Piett, who had watched the strange event unfold before him in amazement, remembered his role and stepped forward.

“Well, since he obviously seems to enjoy being out of the cage,” he said thoughtfully, “how about allowing one of the officers to let him out once a day to fly for a short while?”

Vader spun around. “NO. No one is allowed to touch the raven but me!”

Piett locked his knees, noticing that he had instinctively taken a step back at the sharp tone and the sudden rage which felt tangible in the air around them, like a dark cloud centered around the Dark Lord.

“Alright,” he pressed out. “That is of course not the only solution.” The raven, which had stiffened in alarm at Vader’s wrath, slowly relaxed, carefully extracting his clenched claws from Vader’s armoured shoulder. Vader didn’t even notice.

The attention of the Dark Lord latched predator- like on to him and Piett straightened some more.

“As far as I know, Mylord, there are also tethers for birds.” A shriek from the bird and Vader distractedly raised a hand to calmingly stroke the bird’s feathers. Instead of letting it happen, the bird let out another shriek, no less in dismay, and started pecking and scratching madly at Vader’s nearing fingers. Vader snapped his hand back down.

“Keep talking, Admiral,” he said, eliciting more angry croaking from the bird.

“There are harnesses for all kinds of pets, birds included, so if you wish for it, I can organize to have one build.” Piett fought fiercely to keep the image of Vader dragging a resisting bird behind him through the Executor and nearly succeeded.

The bird stared at him in such horror that he nearly believed that he knew of his thoughts. “It would allow you to take the raven with you wherever you liked,” he added.

Vader tilted his head, musing about the new possibility, then threw a look at the raven who ruffled his feathers, looking ready to fight and murder.

“What do you think about that, Luke?” he questioned the raven who croaked, irritated, raising his beak threateningly in case Vader thought of touching him again. Piett couldn’t help wondering why and how his Commander could have picked such a belligerent being as a pet- or even any pet at all! His Commander revealing a caring side for animals was strangely endearing, as weird as it was. Maybe he had just gone insane, as the troopers had claimed who had first spotted Vader chasing the raven, a story which was –Piett was certain of it- completely made up. The Dark Lord again slowly raised his hand towards the bird who was watching him warily.

Maybe the man was also using his superior mysterious powers to talk to the animal, capable of communicating with it, reaching a deeper level of understanding than any other person could ever hope to-

The raven bit Vader’s hand.

Vader cursed- actually cursed, something Piett had never heard him do- and pulled his hand back. His head then swung abruptly around as he grew aware of Piett’s staring.

Piett stiffened. Hastily, before his Commander could react to his audacious behaviour, he raised his voice again. “Since the bird clearly seems nervous and stressed, you could also use blinders. They are often used on falcons before a hunt or to calm them down.

The bird’s head swung around to the Dark Lord, giving him a look that seemed to say ´don’t you dare´. The Sith shook his head. “Do not be bothered by his hostile behaviour, Admiral. It’s his rebellious phase. Luke is still young and unaware of his role in this world.”

Piett blinked, trying to follow his superior’s words, replaying them in his head. He blinked again. Rebellious? Luke? A terrible thought sprung into his head. Hadn’t the bounty hunters who had boarded the ship claimed to have caught Luke Skywalker, the rebel Vader pursued for such a long time now? He had to fight the urge to cringe when he realized that Vader’s obsession with Skywalker had finally bordered to insanity and he had started naming pets after him.

He watched in dismay as the Dark Lord cooed softly at the bird, wiggling distractingly with his left hand in front of the bird’s face while his right hand sneaked up behind its back. Its attention focused elsewhere, the bird jumped as Vader’s right hand touched his back. With more tenderness than he had thought the Dark Lord capable of, Vader softly stroked the raven’s sleek feathers. The raven shrunk together and looked so stiff that Piett thought it would fall dead off Vader’s shoulder any second.

Without acknowledging the bird’s obvious discomfort, Vader continued to slowly and fondly caress its back. Its tense muscles relaxed a tiny bit when it realized that Vader did not intend to harm it, at least for now. It crowed softly in confusion, still ducking as much as it could.

“This meeting has proven to be very informative,” his Commander’s rumbling voice interrupted Piett’s bewilderment. “But now it is time to return to our duties. We will soon arrive over Corellia to stock up on our supplies.”  

All of a sudden, the Dark Lord’s hand- which had continued to pet the raven- clamped down on the still distracted bird, effectively taking hold of its main body, its wings neatly folded up beneath the unyielding grip.

Realizing that he had been tricked, and outraged by the unforeseen betrayal, the bird went mad. Ignoring the huge ruckus which sent the bird’s feathers flying as he fought and failed to get out of Vader’s grip, Vader marched closer to the cage.

When he got close enough, the bird dug its claws around the cage’s bars from the outside, hindering every of Vader’s efforts to stuff him back into the cage.

“Stop it, Luke,” the Sith intoned calmly, not yet resorting to pure force. “You are only delaying the inevitable.” The bird trashed like rabid, somehow having freed one of his wings and beating with it wildly. It turned out to cause more damage than help seeing as it destroyed his entire balance. 

Piett stared in dismay as the Sith started berating the raven like he would a child. The raven gave a last angry croak and then he got finally pushed into the cage, the door closing behind him before he had even hit the ground.

Without responding to the bird’s upset crowing as he shook out his jumbled feathers, Vader turned to the guards.

“Take care, he is shrewd. If that bird escapes I promise you a painful death. Now, Admiral, about the supplies we are picking up…”

 

 

It took a while for Luke to calm down after his father and the Admiral had left the room. His feathers still felt twitchy and he resisted the urge to fidget further. Instead, he eyed the three guards warily. They had been standing stiffly in a corner while his father had been here but now they approached again, their stiff postures slowly relaxing, as the tension bled out of their bodies.

He thought about letting them know exactly what he thought about their presence in his room but in the worst case scenario, they would start shaking his cage again and he did not like that at all.

He was fortunate. Two of the troopers placed themselves at the sides of the cage, the other in front of it, theoretically facing him but practically having his attention turned to his comrades in arms. His helmet distorting the sound, he coughed and spoke first.

“I know you appreciate the guy but he is nuts. If he hasn’t been before, he’s now.”

The trooper to the left angled his helmet at the first one and Luke was sure that he was scowling underneath. “You cannot talk about our Commander like that.”

“It’s true though,” the third one threw in. “I mean, what is this?” The disgust in his voice rising to a maximum level, he pointed at Luke. Mildly affronted at being reduced to “this”, Luke glared at the trooper and cawed in distaste.

Feeling confirmed, the first troopers added “He must have bumped his head somewhere this time. Why else would he have a bird and then lock it up like that? Why would he even have a bird anyway?”

“I didn’t even know you were allowed to have pets aboards,” the right trooper grumbled. “Had I known this, I would have brought Thereesa with me.”

“Please stop right there, nobody here wants to know about Thereesa.”

“She’s such a good girl,” the right trooper mumbled to himself, then straightened up again, his emotional display fading fast.

“I think it’s a very good idea to let us guard the raven,” the left trooper dared to reenter the conversation. “After all, he could caw at the cage.” He presented the statement in such a serious matter that his companions actually needed two seconds to understand that he had cracked a joke. Great. Now they were all in on this.

Luke fluffed up at the insult. He could more than that. They only needed to turn away for a few seconds and he’d be out of here. Surely cracking open these three locks couldn’t be so hard. He only needed to eye them for a second to realize that Vader had been more than careful when choosing them. Unable to sigh, he drooped instead, letting his wings sink slowly to the ground.

“No, but seriously, why is he so obsessed with keeping it safely caged and guarded? It’s not like it could just fly away.”

“Didn’t it do that just the other day?”

“I heard someone say Vader found the raven in a cockpit and berated him on the whole way back to his quarters.”

“That’s impossible and you know it.”

The right trooper seemed honestly insulted by his comrade doubting his tale. “I’m telling you! This bird is intelligent! How else would he have escaped the first time? From someone like Vader at that!”

The first trooper leaned back. “You say that the bird is intelligent? More like it’s as stupid as you are!”

“Excuse me?”

“No matter how you look at it, it’s just a stupid pet. For Vader, of all people! I’ll prove it to you. Look!”

The trooper stepped forward a bit and slowly bowed towards the cage. Luke shuffled back uneasily. Troopers were kriffing tall when seen from a bird’s point of view. He slowly stretched out his fingers, cooing softly at him, eerily similar to how Vader had done it before.

“Who is a stupid bird?” he whispered softly. “Who is a stupid bird?” His fingers passed through the bars of the cage. Luke eyed the fingers cautiously, easily reading the trooper’s intent to pet him.

Slowly, Luke leaned forward, forcing his posture to remain harmless and relaxed. Ready to be petted. Petting was good. Petting was good and he was a good bird.

The trooper’s fingers came even closer, now nearly touching his shiny feathers. He was easy prey. Without giving him a second of warning, Luke clamped down on the troopers hand. As hard as he could.

Yowling, the man hurled his hand back out of the cage, stumbling backwards and starting to curse loudly and in vivid detail.

Luke crowed triumphantly and flapped his wings up and down enthusiastically, making the other two troopers laugh out shortly.

“That little devil,” trooper number two said with something like respect in his voice. “Well, if it is only a pet, then it suits Vader just fine.”

“He sure does,” Luke’s victim growled out, holding his hand tentatively.

Complacently, Luke cooed. Yes, he suited Vader very well. Wait, he did what?

Trooper number one let out a sound of pure aggression. “I will make him pay for this,” he promised darkly, stepping forward once again. Luke’s smug crowing stopped as he grew aware of the new danger. 

“Careful now,” the second trooper warned him, stretching out a hand to hold him back. “Don’t you remember what Lord Vader said? ´If that bird escapes your lifes are forfeit.´ I say if harm comes to that bird, our Lord will not be happy.”

Raising his hands, his posture still radiating belligerence, trooper number 1 stepped back. “Fine. Fine. Since our lifes are obviously worth less than that of a bird.” He snorted and crossed his arms over his chest, careful not to brush anything with his right hand.

Silence fell over the group. If Luke could have sighed, he would have. It was promising to be another long, very long day.

 

 

“My brain is gonna short-circuit,” Luke declared with fierce conviction. “One other day like this and I’m either gonna starve or my brain is gonna short-circuit.”

“Son, that is not possible.”

“Says who?! I thought your clever research team just told you that people being transformed into birds is not possible either?? Sometimes seemingly impossible things are possible!”

“Do spend less time on complaining and more on eating.”

“I am eating! Maybe I wouldn’t be so hungry if you just gave me actual food and not this bird stuff!”

“It was made for birds, so it suits you very fine.”

“So what? I say birds deserve better food, too! The system is wrong!”

“The system is as it is and you will not change it, no matter what you will do.”

“Ha! We’ll see what will happen once I’ve claimed control over all bird food!” 

Pointed silence. Luke heard his own words resonate in his brain and felt himself blushing furiously. “Anyways,” he grumbled and hid deeper behind his bowl of food.

“You could decide to spend your life time fighting for bird rights instead of for the rebellion,” Vader suggested playfully.

“Ha! You’d surely like that,” Luke exclaimed, his mouth filled with buckwheat noodles. Despite his lively answer, he couldn’t help feeling a rush of unease. He felt like this conversation were about to turn much more serious. And that wasn’t good. There was only one thing he could do.

“By the way,” he said smugly, “your own troopers think you’re nuts.”

The black fire that was Vader in the force roared up dangerously. “Repeat that.”

“I just spend an entire day having nothing else to do but to listen to their conversations. They think you’ve gone nuts. Flown off the handle. Gone haywire. Lost your mind. Gone off your rocker. Cracked up. Flipped your lid. “

Finding that self-control was a quality he might have to practice a bit more, Vader forced his hands to unclench. The only way to respond to such an obvious attack was by one of his own. His son wanted to play it this way? Fine.

“I feel like these troopers didn’t appreciate being in a room with you either. The moment they could, they fled the room. If I interpreted their feelings right, they think that you are spooky.”

Luke straightened up, incensed. “They’d better do! They were mocking me! And you!”

Vader felt his already unstable control slipping. “They did what?”

A familiar caution flaring back up, Luke shrank back a bit. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” he murmured sullenly.

Vader decided to reassign the troopers who had guarded his son today- how could they not see the honor which had been bestowed upon them?- to the most unpleasant task he could find.

Luke in the meantime interpreted his father’s icy silence wrongly. “They tried to pet me,” he muttered, irritated. “Pet. Me.”

“What horrible crime,” Vader replied without a second of hesitation.

“Yeah!” Luke confirmed strongly. “I bit them.” He sounded way too pleased about this.

The Dark Lord felt his fingers twitch due to phantom pain shooting up his hand. “Of course you did.”

Luke looked off into the distance, thoughtfully. “I wish I had turned into a kitten instead. Kittens have better lifes than caged birds.”

Vader decided that following his son’s thinking was sometimes too difficult a task. He sighed unheard behind his mask and straightened up to his full height.

“Whatever your wishes are, I…”

A ringing broke through his thoughts. His comlink. During the sleeping cycle. Which meant it had to be important. He shortly considered ignoring the call, sensing Luke’s burning curiosity but ultimately decided against it. He hoped for whoever was calling him that it was indeed important. Disgruntled, he thumbed the comlink’s button.

“Mylord,” a familiar voice said. “The emperor demands for you to make contact with him. He warns you not to delay.”

Vader’s first response was, even though he would never admit to it, a cold fear settling in his bones. Could it truly be that the emperor had found out about Luke? He had been so careful to keep his research as hidden as possible but there was always the remaining risk that he had missed one of the emperor’s spies hidden on the ship. Even if the emperor had only heard rumours about Luke being captured and brought to Vader, it would have immediately alerted his distrustful master.

“Mylord?”

Realizing that he hadn’t responded for several breathing cycles eased Vader back into action. “I am coming.”

When he met Luke’s startled, wide-eyed gaze and felt the sudden rush of unease and undeniable worry flooding across the bond from the boy  he wondered shortly whether he should say something reassuring.

“You will stay here. If you see my absence as an excuse to leave the room, you will regret that decision.”

Luke’s face crunched up miserably but he nodded solemnly. He looked for a second like he wanted to say something but by the time he had dragged the words to his lips, Vader had already stormed out of the room.

 

 

His heart pounding, Piett dropped his hand holding the comlink. He had realized the moment he had gotten the information of the emperor’s summoning from one of his captains that this was his chance.

Merely an hour ago, he had- about to check his tasks for the next day a last time- realized that his datapad was missing. Digging through his memory, he had soon realized that the last time he still remembered having his datapad had been while he had still been in Vader’s quarters. Not wanting to disturb his superior during the night cycle, he had first dutifully checked all other places where he could have lost it. His datapad was nowhere to find, leaving only one place unchecked. Vader’s quarters.

Which were now, that Vader was about to answer the emperor’s call, mercifully empty, unless Vader had ordered the men guarding his new pet to stay during the night as well. His mind made up, Piett strode determinedly through the corridors leading to Vader’s rooms.

Aware that Lord Vader could return any minute, the Admiral took out his ID allowing him access to all parts of the ship and quickly stepped through the opening door.

Hastily he swept into the main room, letting his eyes roam the room. He stilled. Staring at him from the sofa was a blonde youth, slouching there clothed entirely in black, undeniable an Imperial brand of clothes. It was not the fact that there was an unfamiliar habitant loitering in the Lord Commander’s quarters but more the fact that Piett recognized the boy that let his heart stutter to a standstill. That hair, those eyes. Skywalker. He could not be mistaken for anyone else. Piett had spent more than enough meetings in the last months with the boy’s hologram picture floating in the room to doubt.

But how could he possibly be here? The most-wanted rebel in the whole galaxy - who had broken into the safest places of all, the most dangerous places of all- why? To steal information? Sabotage? An undercover  mission to gain access to what only the Dark Lord was allowed to see? An assassination attempt? Piett settled on the assassination attempt.

An assassination attempt which was going to fail. The rebel had been found by the false person. An old training kicking in, he crouched into a fighting stance, and lunged.

 

 

Vader returned to his quarters, feeling uneasy for some reason. The emperor’s call had proven to be nothing, just a fairly disgruntled master demanding a report on why Vader had not made any progress in his chase of the rebels as of yet. Vader had managed to throw him off, providing a detailed report on his doings during the last few weeks, awaiting eagerly the end of the call.

Returning to his quarters to find his Admiral wresting with his rebel son had never been part of the plan. Yet here he was.

Luke had somehow managed to get behind and above the Admiral, holding his neck in an inescapable chokehold. Piett lay on the ground, immobilized by the knee Luke had buried in his spine and gave up the futile flailing of his arms when he grew aware of his superior standing stiffly in the doorframe. Luke’s grip didn’t cut off his air but left him breathing heavily enough that yelling for help had probably been out of the question.

“Mylord!” Piett gasped with all the strength he had left. “I have caught Skywalker! He was sneaking around in your quarters.”

Vader scowled. “It seems more like Skywalker caught you.”

His response startled a suppressed laugh out of his son and a rush of unease from his Admiral, interwoven with confusion at his passivity.

“Mylord,” Piett repeated slowly, his irritation getting the better of him. “I think Skywalker came here to assassinate you! I tried to bring him under control but I failed.” He looked quite miserable at the admission and Vader decided to have mercy with his Admiral. It was unfortunate that he had learned of Luke staying in his quarters but the damage was done. The situation however, could still be resolved.

“Luke, let go of my Admiral,” he ordered shortly. Piett visibly breathed ´Luke´ in the following silence where Luke scowled down at him. “He tried to attack me,” he stated, sounding seriously insulted about it.

“You are a Rebel Commander, he is an Imperial Admiral, what did you expect?” Vader raised his eyebrows. “Now let go of him, he has never done anything to you.”

“He suggested keeping me on a tether!” Luke declared indignantly.

“Can I take that back? Right now I’d prefer cuffs.”

“Ha, there you have it!”

“He assumed you were a normal bird. A perfectly fine assumption at that time.”

“Could somebody please tell me what is going on?” Piett pressed out against the pressure on his neck, writhing helplessly on the ground.

Luke finally took pity on him and released him, stepping away from him and eying him warily as Piett struggled to get back to his feet. Only now did Vader see the bruise that was forming on his son’s face, probably the reason for his resentment.

“Why did he say you were a bird? Why is Lord Vader not surprised to see you in his quarters? Why are you in his quarters? How did you get on my ship? Do you wish for death?”

Luke snorted when suddenly his face distorted in short, intense pain. He first doubled over, his hands grasping rapidly at his chest, and then looked up with an emotion burning in his eyes which seemed not quite human to Piett. A second later, his skin changed colour, turning deep blue and black, sprouting feathers out of nowhere. A mere few seconds and then it was over. Where the rebel had stood, a brilliantly-eyed raven now sat, croaking once and then fluttering up to land on Vader’s shoulder, the highest landing site in the room.

“He said that because you are a bird,” Piett said weakly, his voice breaking. His knees felt strangely weak, too. It had been a long day already and it had still managed to take a turn to the worse.

“You see,” Vader began. “The situation is quite complicated.”

“He is a bird,” Piett repeated with more heat, pointing at Luke, not yet ready to face the situation. “Why is he a bird?”

“That is what we are trying to figure out. He has been in this state ever since the bounty hunters arrived. The transformation is not voluntarily, and it only wears off for one hour a day.” Vader sighed unheard, deciding that Piett had already learned too much. Hiding the entire truth from him would only be a bother and the Admiral was clever and loyal enough to be a valuable asset in his plans.

“We need to find the reason and cure him, there is no other way. This way, Luke is useless, worse, helpless and- ouch!” His hand jerked towards the spot of unarmoured space where Luke had just unhesitatingly bit him.

“Stop it! You know that you are, stop trying to deny it,” he intoned indignantly, raising his finger at the raven. Luke only eyed him through narrow eyes.

“But this is… uh… Skywalker… he’s a rebel! Why would you want to help him?” His Admiral radiated open confusion and incomprehension now.

“He is but he will not be forever. Skywalker holds the power to become a Jedi… or a Sith. In time, he will turn into - Stop pecking at me!”

 Luke burrowed his claws as deeply in his flesh as he could, then indignantly shook his wings and glided over to the sofa where he stalked furiously from one end to the other and back.

“As you can see, he is not very cooperative yet but this will change.”

Piett quietly wondered how it was possible that the blonde boy was still alive. His potential had to be great indeed for Vader to muster such restraint at such open provocation.

“And that is why you needed to put together a group for research.” Piett quickly connected his Commander’s recent orders with the situation at hand.

“Indeed.”

Spending a few precious seconds just breathing and massaging his throat, Piett stood his ground. “Well, then, Mylord,” he finally said. “How can I be of help?”

 

 

Vader was startled out of his surprisingly restful meditation by loud angry croaking. Quickly striding out of his meditation chamber, he walked into his main room to find a crew of three men busying themselves around Luke’s cage.

The raven was positively freaking out, croaking to the maximum, beating his wings against the bars of the cage and also otherwise trying his best to turn into the worst nuisance possible. When he grew aware of Vader’s entrance, he stilled a little bit, sending murderous glares at anyone who came close to him.

Standing behind the three technicians was Piett, his arms crossed behind his back. When Vader marched in, ill-tempered, he saluted.

“Mylord,” he greeted him with an enthusiasm which defied the stubborn determination that bled at Vader through the force.

“What are you doing?” Vader said, not bothering with pleasantries.

“I ordered my men to install a force field around the raven’s cage, to ensure maximum security.”

“That is… very forward-thinking, Admiral.”

“Oh, yes.” Piett bowed forward a little bit and lowered his voice. “We do not want a known rebel to sweep the ship, after all. You can rest assured that there will be no more incidents.”

“I appreciate that,” Vader commented stiffly. “I will leave this in your capable hands then.” He ignored Luke’s incensed shriek at his command and turned around to leave.

The Admiral on the other hand turned to watch the men at work and sighed contently. The next night, he would be able to sleep peacefully once again.

 

 

When Vader returned that evening, Luke wasn’t in his cage.

He was about to com his Admiral to start another ship-wide alarm when he spotted a familiar, drooping figure in the furthest-away corner of the room, looking at him through sad eyes. Vader wanted to feel angry but feeling angry at such a pathetic looking tiny being was just impossible.

“How did you even get out of that cage? My Admiral literally just ordered the installation of a force field.”

Luke didn’t move. Then, he flinched violently, and twisted his wings into an unnatural angle as the transformation began. When it ended, he lay on the ground, breathing in unsteadily.

“Luke?” Concerned, even though he didn’t admit it to himself, Vader moved closer and picked his son up, half dragging, half walking him to the sofa. “Are you alright, young one?”

“Leave me alone,” Luke grumbled, his eyes focused neither on Vader nor on his immediate surroundings. Vader didn’t feel like his son was entirely there just yet.

Stepping back, he stared at his sullen offspring. “I think not.”

“I hate being stuck in there. I will start ripping out my feathers!” Luke pouted. “Birds do that when they are depressed or lonely!”

“Son, stop being so dramatic. And if you are feeling lonely, that second raven lady is still an open option to you, you know?”

“Hell no!” Luke jumped up and nestled himself deeper in between the pillows of the sofa. Somewhere in between the last days, the amount of them had increased. 

“Just let me out,” the pile of untamed blonde hair and pillows grumbled. “How would you like to be stuck in a metal cage all day?”

Vader abruptly stopped his pacing and Luke paled, his eyes suddenly glued to Vader’s armour.  

He turned to his son, resting his hands on his sides. Maybe his son sensed the swing in his mood, maybe he was just especially tenacious today.

“Please, father?” Luke was looking at him in a pleading way, his eyes a brilliant blue, so much like his own had looked, impossibly wide and open and pleading...

“Fine!” Vader ground out. “Have it your way! I’m taking you with me!” 

“Seriously?!” Luke sprung up completely from the sofa. “You mean it?”

“I wouldn’t say it if I did not mean it. But do not be fooled- I will keep a close eye on you and you will follow all of my orders.”

Ignoring Vader’s stern tone and the finger nearly hitting his face, Luke sprinted forward. Vader blinked, first once, then twice. His face pressed against the hard armour on his chest, his son was hugging him. Hugging him.

Belatedly, he awkwardly raised his own arms to lay them around Luke’s back. The boy didn’t flinch this time when he touched him, an improvement that made something in his stomach tingle.

A short time later, his son wriggled himself back out of his arms, his face having taken on a slightly red shade. Vader suppressed his amusement at this, certain that his son would scowl at him the moment he spotted the sentiment.

What will I do with you, Vader wondered silently, staring at the youth in front of him, looking in his cheerfulness more like a boy than a man. For the first time, the thought of turning the boy made something in his stomach churn.

 

 

“What is that?” The officer on the other side of the holo desk stared behind Piett, completely distracted from his previous task. Confused, Piett turned his head, feeling his mouth drop open.

The hissing of his respirator should have warned him of his superior’s entrance but he had been too absorbed in his thoughts to notice. Lord Vader marched across the main walkway on the bridge. It was not what drew the stares. It was the big, majestic raven sitting enthroned on his right shoulder, cawing complacently at everyone who looked in his direction. Seeing the dark beast on Lord Vader’s shoulder, his cape blowing up behind him, none of the officers could help but muse that the dark and mysterious and proud looking being… suited Lord Vader, like it should have always been there, on his shoulder, looking down on everybody else.

That, however, was not at the forefront of Admiral Piett’s mind as he scrambled to a salute in front of his Commander. “Mylord!” he said hastily, staring at the raven, young Skywalker’s face in front of his eyes, and then hastily averted his eyes.

The raven cackled at him. There was no other way to say it. The way he croaked gleefully could only be dark laughter. Piett scowled at him, about to say something, when he noticed how his superior’s attention bent to him.

He hastily straightened even more, his spine protesting. “Is there a problem with… the raven’s cage?”

“No,” Vader rumbled and strode off.

Piett hastily followed suit. “Is there something else? Are the security measures not finding your approval? I could still…”

“Is there something else, Admiral?” Vader questioned in a dark voice.

“The… raven…”

“It stays with me.” No explanation, no nothing. No “because I do not trust the stormtroopers enough to keep Skywalker a prisoner.” But why else would he do this, take Skywalker with him? Carry him around? On his shoulder? Like an actual pet?

Vader turned towards his favourite viewport, his hand absently reaching up to the raven as he stared out at the endless width of space. Piett forgot to breathe when Vader began to carefully stroke the raven under his beak. The bird stared at the mask unblinkingly, unafraid, and then slowly leaned in, softly pressing against Vader’s forefinger as the Dark Lord continued to affectionately pet the raven with a gloved finger.

Piett forced his eyes away, staring blankly at the black of the holo desk, refusing to question or even to think about the undeniable affection he had just witnessed.

The raven’s laughter reverberated in his mind. Maybe the crew’s rumours were true and Luke Skywalker had bewitched Vader.

 

 

Firmus Piett, leading Admiral of the Executor and underling only to Darth Vader himself, balanced a bowl of bird food in one hand and a datapad in the other. He finished skipping through the newest reports he had just received, clipped his datapad back to his belt and entered the large hangar.

Vader was currently standing in front of a troop of dark-clothed pilots, instructing them on whatever of their performance still needed improvement. The raven was busying himself with staring at every pilot, crowing at every one who dared to turn his eyes away for a second.

Vader interrupted himself when he noticed Piett coming to a hold a few steps away, setting the bowl down on a nearby crate. He leaned his head closer to the bird, whispering a few words at him. The bird nudged his mask and spread his wings, gliding gracefully from Vader’s shoulder to the crate.

He cackled at Piett and hopped towards the bowl filled with grains. He took one look inside, and then stared at Piett unblinkingly. Spookily. Piett could see the intelligence behind the raven eyes, the calculating mind, sharp and without a doubt, hostile.

He threw a short look at Vader who had resumed talking to the pilots and who paid no attention at all to what was going on behind him. Hastily, he leaned closer to the bird, resisting the urge to grip it by its neck and hold it in place, maybe a little tighter than it was actually necessary…

The bird shuffled a step back, unnerved by Piett’s intense stare. He inhaled deeply and then whispered, as threateningly as he could manage: “I don’t know why Vader is trusting you, or keeping you at all and not straight out killing you like the rebel you are. He should be capable of seeing that you are no more suited to join the Empire than a mere bird would be. But know this, I am keeping an eye on you, on your every move. Do not even think about doing something on my ship. I know who you are and if you so much as twitch your wings-“

Luke twitched his wings.

Piett breathed in heavily. “Well, be warned.”

He leaned back, crossing his hands behind his back to hide how his fingers dug into another. The bird had the audacity to cackle at him before he jumped forward to inspect his meal.

He tilted his head, looked back at Vader and Piett would have sworn that he was smirking at him. Focused as he was on the bird, the Admiral did not notice the disturbed look in the mechanic’s eyes who quickly hurried away after having heard the Admiral’s words.

 

Vader finished his monologue a few minutes later, joining Piett where he stood. Piett stared straight ahead, avoiding any eye contact.

“I think your bird might have died,” he remarked casually.

Vader’s mask angled down to inspect the bird which was lying on his back, his feet stretched up into the air.

“Do not worry, Admiral,” he said with a rumble. “He merely does not appreciate his food.”

“I do not,” Piett wanted to answer but the words got stuck in his throat. Had that been fondness in his voice?

Vader tilted his head, eerily similar to how the bird had done it only a few minutes ago. “In fact, I feel like you are right, Admiral. We should change his food.”

“I was not suggesting…”

The raven croaked something definitely unfriendly at him.

“Yes, Mylord, as you wish.”

Piett sighed and pulled out his comlink to type in a familiar sequence. Someone picked up.

“James, please connect me to the chief cook.”

“One second, Firmus.”

It took only a few seconds and a new voice answered. “Admiral?”

Piett took a deep breath. “Lord Vader wants better food for his raven. He believes that the raven does not appreciate normal grains.” Cringing internally - he had not wanted to state that last remark- he waited for the chief’s reply.

“What else are we supposed to give him?” was the irritated answer.

“I am not sure, what counts as a feast for a raven?” Piett regretted his words the moment they left his mouth.

“Give him the standard A rations for senior officers,” Vader dark voice interrupted the call, effortlessly heard even in the far distant kitchens.

“Sir?” came the insecure inquiry.

“What part of this order did you not understand?” Vader demanded harshly. “And do hurry, Luke is hungry.”

“Sir, yes, Sir!”

Piett swore that tonight, he would pick up Veers’ offer for a shared wine.

 

 

In the kitchens in a corner of the Executor far far away, the chief cook lowered his comlink.

“Why would Lord Vader order such a strange thing?” he asked into the buzzing room, addressing nobody in specific.

“Don’t you know?” his newest recruit, a former stormtrooper who had been on guard duty before he had somehow brought Lord Vader’s wrath upon himself, asked.

“What do I not know?” Despite himself and his resistance to indulge in gossip, the chief cook was intrigued.

“It’s the curse of the raven,” his second-newest recruit, also a former trooper, entered the conversation. “With its evil superpowers, it has taken control over Lord Vader.”

The chief cook raised his eyebrows. But before he could reply a thing, the first recruit, who was currently busying himself with cutting onions, added “And now, it’s apparently spreading its influence. I heard someone say today that he saw Admiral Piett talking to the bird… like it was a person. And the raven was responding.”

“That’s ridiculous,” the chief said, not entirely convinced though. He decided to be careful and hastily made his way over to the senior officer’s rations.

“See?” the second trooper whispered. “Now it took the Admiral, too. It’s only a matter of time until it has taken over the entire ship. We should all flee while we still can.”

“That bloody bird gets better food than we do,” the first recruit agreed, letting out a string of curse words.

He clenched his hands around the knife. “I swear if I ever get my hands on that bird, it will not see the next morning.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next day came and with it, the raven returned.

Staring inconspicuously at the sinister entrance of the Dark Lord and the beast, Piett turned back to the holo desk, typing in the last frequency needed to unlock the data and pulled up the blue schematics. The crowing of the bird alerted him of Lord Vader’s proximity, as did his Commander’s distinct breathing and he hastily straightened up.

“Mylord.” He greeted him shortly, pointing at the holographics as well as the group of officers which had been assembled. “All is prepared."

“Admiral.” The Sith Lord acknowledged him with a tilt of his mask and stepped forward to survey the data. The bird on his shoulder stared at Piett. Piett stared back, unable to keep from feeling disturbed by the hostile intelligence shining in those bright eyes.

A rebel, in the midst of the Empire. A rebel, about to learn information he should never be allowed to hear. Why had Vader taken him with him? Why would he hold Skywalker close? Why was he not in the brig which was what he deserved, raven form or not?

He shortly allowed himself to imagine what that would be like. A raven crouching in the middle of a room, with Imperials watching his every move and twitch through cameras. A constant flood of wounded officers forced to enter the medcenter due to wounds caused by mad bird attacks. Considering the further damage to his Commander’s reputation that such a decision would cause- Piett was not deaf, he had heard of the first rumours which had started to circulate around the ship- it was probably better Vader had chosen not to do so.

The raven crooked his head even further, like wanting to say “what are you looking at?” Piett turned his eyes away, fighting his uneasiness. His Commander had it under control. Surely he had.

He launched into his well-prepared presentation. “We have new information on possible rebel supply stocks in several systems. The closest ones to us are on Jantal, Tun Shingal and the red moon of Vashlon.” With every system he named he opened up the file about the planet, its qualities and locations and a rotating depiction of it, the three of them floating above the heads of the officers. Details on the planets and the sightings followed.

“What were our sources of information?” Vader questioned.

Nervously, Piett looked up. The raven on Vader’s shoulder leaned forward. “Mylord,” he said tentatively. “Are you sure…” he coughed. “Is it wise to discuss these delicate military matters in front of…” He coughed again and stared pointedly at the rebel hidden in their midst. “You know who?”

A silent whisper rose from the assembled officers as they wondered just who Piett was talking about. The way he had said it had sounded like there was a spy among them. At the same time, others took in the dark shadows beneath Piett’s eyes and the shaking of his hands and wondered about something entirely different.

Vader did not even look at Piett. “What were our sources of information?” he repeated with a low voice.

Piett swallowed and decided that he preferred himself the way he was. Alive. He answered.

Vader listened intently – as did the raven, Piett saw it all!- and then stroked the bird’s feathers carefully. For once, the bird didn’t lean away. “So what do you think, Luke?” he mused loudly, more relaxed than Piett had ever seen him during a meeting. Perhaps that was because he finally had Skywalker in his grasp. “On which one of the planets is a rebel supply stock? Which one should we check out first? Tun Shingal sounds good, doesn’t it?”

The bird shook his tiny head wildly, his wings fluttering nervously.

“To Tun Shingal it is,” Vader decided.

The raven started to croak madly at him, visibly enraged. Swiftly outmaneuvering the bird’s beak, Vader patted his small head, cooing silently in an effort to calm him. Piett wondered how it was possible that his Commander did not notice the entire room staring at him. Maybe he just did not care.

At some point, the bird’s ruckus died down and he silently allowed the Dark Lord to stroke his gloved fingers down his back, soothing its ruffled feathers, while still excelling at looking severely affronted. Vader’s fingers slid to the point right under his beak. The bird croaked silently, keeping up his sulking for a few seconds longer. Then he slowly, hesitantly leaned in, enjoying the caress.

Vader gave him a last tender nudge and then turned his attention back to the officers. The moment the Dark Lord’s petting stopped the raven immediately started croaking again.

With an eagerness that was hard to deny, the Sith Lord obliged and continued with his caress of his new pet. Piett couldn’t help staring incredulously.          

“Is there something else, Admiral?” Vader asked with a velvet voice.

“No, Mylord,” Piett forced across his lips.

“Then we are finished here.” Vader swept from the room, the raven black as the night crowing complacently on his shoulder. In Piett’s ears it sounded like cackling.

Piett closed his eyes shortly when the door closed behind the Dark Lord. “One more second,” he said loudly, before his courage left him. The officers which had been about to leave the room stilled.

“I know this may come as a strange request… but do remain cautious around that raven. It may be hard to believe but he is dangerous. Do not let any sensitive information slip if it can be arranged.” He knew the moment the words passed his lips and saw the reactions on his fellow officers’ faces that his reputation would take a hit from this it would never recover from. But if this meant that Skywalker would learn no more of the inner workings of the Empire then that was a sacrifice Piett was willing to offer.

“With all due respect, Admiral, that is a raven,” Officer Cucam said slowly.

“That’s what you think.” Piett cursed his loose mouth. He turned abruptly back to the holo desk and started fiddling with the controls. He had spoken enough. Nonetheless, he could not help thinking that it would be wise to speak privately to several officers he knew more closely and to repeat that that bird was not to be trusted. He sighed as the familiar weight of a new duty settled down on his shoulders.

When most was done, he left the room, allowing his assistant to deal with the remaining issues.

He found that Lord Vader was standing only a few meters away. Swallowing down the nervousness bubbling up at the sight he was about to pass the Dark Lord when he noticed the uniform of the man he was talking to.

“Mylord, was the food for the raven to his liking?” the chief cook asked the moment he passed the uneven pair.

The Dark Lord’s answer barely reached Piett’s ears, as he continued walking as quickly as he could without it looking like a flight. “It was adequate.”

 

The opportunity Piett was hoping for came soon. Vader and the rebel were in the officers’ lounge, Vader’s duties having taken him there. Whatever the officer whose report Vader was listening to was saying, Vader was not amused. His tone was harsh as he shook his finger at him and the officer looked sickly pale.

The raven croaked from where he sat enthroned on his shoulder and Piett could have sworn that it sounded like laughing. While Piett knew the truth behind the raven’s behaviour the officer could not help but assume the worst. The raven was evil and understood every word that was being said. There was no other explanation. Why else would Vader bother with it? The laughter only supported the thesis which had been heard throughout the base.

Piett waited subtly and patiently in the back of the room until the officer saluted and left. Skywalker had obviously grown tired of constantly sitting on Vader’s shoulder and mocking the Imperials and needed to spread his wings. With a sharp caw he fluttered up to the sole lamp above the bar in the officer’s lounge.

Vader sharply angled up his mask to follow the boy’s movement but when Luke seemed fairly content with his new position and calmly started to cleanse his feathers, he seemed to accept the boy’s action. He noticed Piett standing in the back of the room, clearly waiting for him, and silently acknowledged his presence, keeping an eye on the bird at the same time.

Piett slowly approached, his jaw and intentions set.

“You wish to ask a question, Admiral?” Vader began, unsurprisingly somehow knowing more than he should. “I can sense your unease."

Piett decided to come to the point quickly, aware that his Commander did not appreciate people beating around the bush. He carefully cast a look around to make sure that nobody could listen in on them.

“I was wondering… is it really wise to let Skywalker learn of all this military information?”

Vader considered his words for a few seconds. “Do you think he will be able to leave the ship to tell anyone?” he then said darkly.

For some reason, Piett felt his stomach drop uneasily at the words. “No, Mylord,” he replied hesitantly.

“Then you do not need to concern yourself with this any further. I can keep an eye on Skywalker this way and I have further reasons for what I do which I do not need to justify to you.”

“Yes, Sir. Of course.” Piett sweated, regretting a little bit that he had even started the conversation. What did it have to do with him anyway?

Vader tipped his gloved fingers against his armour, thinking. “Are you free this evening, Admiral?” he asked.

Piett had two piles of reports on his desk, two set conversations with senior officers and hadn’t slept for more than 9 hours the last two days. “Of course,” he answered.

“Excellent. Do come to my rooms at midnight. Also I have a list of things I need you to bring. Unseen, naturally.”

 

 

The raven, exhausted from the events of the day, had fallen asleep. Vader watched him doze peacefully, surrounded by a nest of pillows, unable to concentrate any longer on the holopads on his desks and his piling amount of duties.   

The bird shifted slightly in his sleep, his wings twitching in a way that promised irritation and Vader stared once again in a mixture of wonder and awe as the bird disappeared and left behind the precious, curled up figure of his son.

Luke didn’t appear to be waking up any time soon but Vader couldn’t bring himself to force him awake just yet. Instead, he slowly stepped closer until he stood directly in front of the boy and crouched down. A lock of blonde hair had fallen over Luke’s face and Vader slowly, feeling a strange uncertainty, raised his hand…

“Mylord?” Piett’s voice abruptly tore him away from his son. He had not noticed his Admiral entering and now silently cursed allowing himself to be so easily distracted by the presence of his son. The boy was proving to have a bad influence on him.

He swiveled his head, a warning rush of darkness swinging towards his Admiral. 

A startled voice called out his name and he suddenly felt hands pushing against his bulk. Luke had woken up, clearly none too happy to find Vader towering above him in his sleep.

 “What are you doing?” his son hissed. His voice sounded upset but in his eyes there was some other emotion Vader could not place properly.

“I…” He stepped back, momentarily overwhelmed by the situation, and then proceeded to ignore the awkwardness of the situation by turning his attention to the Admiral. “You have arrived just in time, Admiral,” he intoned. “It is time to test the incantation the researchers found. Have you brought the required materials?”

“Yes, Mylord!” Piett pointed at the crate hovering above the ground behind him.

“Excellent. Luke?” 

His mask swiveled to the blonde rebel who had used their short exchange to claim the sofa and lounge comfortable on it, looking at them through lowered lashes. “Boy, haven’t you already slept long enough? Sit properly.”

The boy glowered at him. “I barely slept at all. You just woke me up!”

“You fell asleep during the conference about the military academy and station on Rash Naphtal,” Vader pointed out.

“I did not!” Indignantly, the rebel sprung to his feet and marched over to them, crossing his arms to level another murderous glance at Vader when he came to stand next to Piett.

“Do not deny it, young one. Otherwise you would have clearly complained about me stopping to pet you.”

“That… that is…!” Luke sputtered. “As if I would…!” Unable to form proper sentences at the moment, he glared at Vader, clenching his fists.

“You did during Piett’s lecture on the possible rebel supply stocks.” Vader sounded without any doubt gleeful.   

The boy opened his mouth to deny it, held still for a moment, and then closed it again, looking both grumpy and like he felt supremely awkward and embarrassed at the same time.     

“Don’t you agree with me, Admiral Piett?” Vader added silkily soft.

“Indeed you did,” Piett supplied, not needing any further prompting.

The blonde rebel was now positively squirming in embarrassment, clearly regretting leaving his refuge, the sofa. “Whatever!” he exclaimed heatedly. “Can we now please start with whatever you are planning?! Oh, and if it doesn’t interfere with the ritual, can I eat in the meantime? I gotta make sure to preserve your new binge-eating reputation.”

Vader turned his head slowly to stare incredulously at the rebel. “My what?”

“Remember those officers I listened to in the officer’s lounge while you were talking to him?” He waved in Piett’s direction. “They clearly heard that you were ordering rations to your room every night and were gossiping about it. They thought you didn’t eat at all.”

Piett inhaled sharply at the word “gossip”, quite unhappy about the context it was being used in.

Vader growled. “I will make sure to remind them to hold their mouths closed.” The threat in his words was clear and made even the unabashed rebel fall silent.

Hiding his mouth behind his hand, Piett coughed subtly. “Skywalker, for the ritual, it is important for you to sit down in the middle of the room first. It used to be an ancient tradition among the Nightsisters to cure people from bad luck, evil charms and curses. I studied the ritual in detail and am confident to be able to replicate it.” The change of subject wasn’t very subtle but it worked.

“Why do you need to do it?” the rebel questioned uneasily. “Why not call one of these Nightsisters for help?”

Piett threw a short glance at his superior who hadn’t moved. “I’m afraid dead people cannot help us. We need to rely on whatever descriptions they left behind.”

Luke made a grimace. Then, after throwing Piett a cautious glance, he settled down on the floor, crossing his legs beneath him. Piett drew forward his datapad as well as blue chalk and began sketching the symbols shown in the file on the floor around the rebel. Drawing them was a cumbersome work but finished quickly enough.

Carefully, the Admiral pulled the plavender out of the crates, delicate violet flowers with lots of tiny blossoms and laid bundles of them in a circle around the boy. He then pulled forward a small flacon with a clear liquid inside and stepped closer to the rebel.

“What is that?” Luke eyed him warily when he lifted the flacon in front of his eyes.

Piett glanced at him. “You don’t want to know.” Ignoring the alarm in the boy’s eyes, he sprayed the liquid right into his face.

The blonde yelped and made an effort to swipe it off his face.

“Don’t!” Piett warned you. “This and the plavender cleanse this room from evil spirits.”

“You don’t even believe in evil spirits!” the boy exclaimed unhappily, letting his arms fall back down obediently though. 

Deciding that he didn’t want to know how the rebel knew this, Piett stepped back calmly. “The plavender needs to burn,” he said calmly.

Without a word, Vader drew his lightsaber and ignited it. The boy flinched instinctively and without wanting to, Piett found himself lifting his hand to settle it on the boy’s shoulder.

“Try to calm down. It’s important for the success of the ritual.” Staring at him through brilliant blue eyes, the boy nodded slowly and released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He closed his eyes, his posture slumping slightly as he inhaled and exhaled the air slowly. Piett couldn’t find it in himself to feel bad for the lie.

Vader finished igniting the plavender with his burning blade and stepped back, focusing hard to blend out the flaring brightness in the force that was his son. The plavender glowed ethereally in the darkened room, flaring in bright colours of orange, red and violet.

Piett felt a shiver run down his spine. He raised the holopad once again and, when all had fallen silent, began reading the ancient lines. He had never believed in rituals like this but then again, knowing about the rebel’s curse and the mysteries of his superior’s powers, how could he deny that there was more in the world than what mankind knew of?

Luke shivered when he felt a cold wind whisper over his face.

Piett finished reading out the last line of the incantation and something sweeped through the room, an invisible power that parted around the cursed boy sitting in their midst and then disappeared like the wind.

The ambers of the plavenders died down.

As if resurfacing from a dream, Luke blinked slowly and his unfocused gaze settled on the Dark Lord looming in the corner of the room.

“You…” He cleared his throat when his voice came out coarse. “You think it worked?”

The Sith strode closer, ignoring Piett completely. “Well, we certainly did summon something. But we can only know for certain later.”

“I suppose…” the boy murmured silently. He looked more subdued than Piett had ever seen him and for the first time, he found himself wondering how much of a strain the whole situation put on the boy. Not only was he cursed to change forms on a daily basis but also was he caught in enemy territory, in the hands of the most feared man of the galaxy who had scorched the galaxy for years, searching for him. Rebel or not, the boy looked very young when one bothered to look closer. Piett couldn’t help wondering where the future would lead him, whether he would truly switch sides as Vader had prophesized.

Then, all of a sudden, the boy cried out in pain, doubling over.

“Luke!” The Dark Lord was by his side in a few seconds. The blonde writhed on the floor helplessly, stretching out his hand in agony, and then, from one second to the other, he shed his skin once again.

The raven blinked at Vader slowly, shaking his head like to clear it, and shakily fluttered away.

 

 

The next day came and brought with it an ill-tempered raven and a slightly less ill-tempered Sith Lord who, for a reason he himself couldn’t really name, tried his best to improve the bird’s mood.  

It had improved a little bit when Vader had visited the officer’s lounge once again and given off a sharp comment about gossiping officers which had given the raven the pleasure to see two familiar officers wince in fright who then mentally swore to never talk about Vader again while the raven was close.

It was now slowly improving bit by bit as Vader raised another bite of the best food the Executor’s kitchen had to offer to the bird on his shoulder. The raven slowly bowed forward and gracefully accepted the food.

Piett ran a short conference explaining that their visit to Tun Shingal had proven unsuccessful, apparently there had been no rebel supply stocks or anything similar to find and they were to continue their search by heading to the next planet. The bird barely looked up during the conference.

The dark-clothed Sith Lord stalked towards him after the conference and pulled him to the side. Piett didn’t frown at the order to clear a hangar, instead throwing a knowing glance at the listless raven on his superior’s shoulder.

Despite not having been explicitly ordered there, Piett soon found himself walking to the now deserted hangar. He was greeted by an unexpected sight. Except for a TIE which had been undergoing repairs most crates and utensils had been cleared away. He did not remember ordering that. Vader was standing in the middle of the hangar, his arm stretched out and Luke perching on it.

The blue-eyed raven was shaking his wings in excitement, croaking loudly.

“Yes, Luke,” the Dark Lord said in amusement, a fond smile audible in his voice. “You are allowed to fly now.”

With a triumphant, brilliant cry, the bird raised his wings far above his head and rose into the air. He made a wide sweep and crowed loudly when he spotted Piett standing next to the door of the hangar. Piett froze for a second, then slowly stepped closer when he saw Vader nodding at him generously. The Dark Lord’s behaviour turned out to be even more of a mystery than usually.

Piett followed Vader’s example and swiveled his head up to watch the bird soar gracefully through the air. Luke’s happiness and exhilaration to be able to fly freely - and that after days of being stuck in a cage or staying perched on Vader’s shoulder – were nearly tangible in the air, in the powerful beats of his wings and the way his tiny head turned in all directions to observe his surroundings with the expert eyes of an experienced pilot.   

Piett winced when the bird’s right wing brushed the TIE after changing direction too close to it and tumbled for a few meters through the air before catching himself again.

Vader beside him went very still when Luke did and Piett stiffened at the subtle drop in the temperature.

He was suddenly pulled out of his thoughts when he saw the raven propelling himself further and further up in the air until he was right below the ceiling. The bird cawed once triumphantly and then folded his wings closely to his body, diving towards the floor in a nearly vertical angle.

Piett inadvertently sucked in a breath and then nearly stopped breathing when Luke only spread his wings a few meters above the floor, avoiding a bone-breaking crash in the last second and soaring gracefully through the air close above the ground.

“That was reckless, young one,” he heard Vader chiding the boy beside him.

The raven cackled and rose once more, flipping over in midair to initiate a heartstopping loop through the air. He miscalculated. The ground came up to him quicker than he could react and instead of soaring back up, the bird lost his balance shortly above the ground, tumbling down.

Vader stretched out his hand abruptly and the inevitable fall of the bird was suddenly stopped. Piett, despite being familiar with the Dark Lord’s power, gaped at the sight of the bird twitching in the air, held by an invisible hand.

The Sith then slowly lowered the bird to the ground, stepping hesitantly closer as Luke confusedly shook his tiny head, shaking out his right wing repeatedly and tripping nervously on the spot.

Slowly, in order not to startle the shaken bird, he bowed down and carefully ran his hand over the bird’s back and his right wing, soothing the ruffled feathers. The bird cooed quietly and then hopped onto Vader’s shoulder.

“Be more careful, young one,” he murmured silently, nearly too quiet for Piett to pick up the words. “You don’t need to prove to me that you are a tremendously reckless pilot, I already know.”  

The bird fluffed up for a second, looking severely insulted and then deflated again, calmed and comforted by the one person that he should have wished dead.       

 

 

“And this substance is supposed to hold the power to transform him back permanently?” Not even the respirator’s mechanical tones could hide the skepticism in Vader’s voice. The raven on his shoulder shuffled nervously on his feet.

Piett did his best not to betray any uncertainty. He was already glad that Vader had not wished to know how exactly he had managed to purchase the mysterious substance Vader held now in his hands.

“The inhabitants of the planet believe firmly in its power to return people to their original state, be it in age, in vitality or after a heavy disease… or a curse. I figured that it was worth a try.”

“How do you need to proceed?” Vader questioned, holding the small bottle closer for inspection.

Piett glanced at the bird perching on the Dark Lord’s shoulder. “He needs to drink it while he is still transformed, if possible shortly before shifting.”

He carefully pulled out the durasteel bowl he had borrowed from the kitchens and held out his hand. Vader placed the bottle into it and Piett carefully poured the green liquid into the bowl. Then he placed it on the desk before them and watched as the raven jumped from Vader’s shoulder onto the smooth surface, tilting his head to eye the substance from up close. He did not seem particularly happy and Piett couldn’t blame him, considering the pungent smell surging up from it.

“If it works, he should transform back immediately,” he said nervously, licking his lips.

“Let us begin,” Vader said darkly and gave Luke a small, playful nudge. The bird leveled one last doubtful glance at him and then crouched to drink.

They waited. Nothing happened.

The raven shuffled backwards unhappily, shaking his head slowly, then stalking away to the furthest edge of the desk where he settled down, low-spirited.

Piett prayed that Vader would never find out the price that tiny bottle had cost them.

He strode around the table and eyed the raven, recognizing immediately the bitter disappointment he radiated. Somewhere behind him, he heard the bottle with the miracle liquid shatter on the ground but he refused to flinch.

Not entirely sure himself what he was doing, Piett reached for the raven. Luke eyed him warily, making no effort to shuffle backwards though. His fingers touched the shiny black feathers and he carefully slid them down over Luke’s left wing, barely even touching it. When nothing had happened, he repeated the motion, this time with more confidence. Luke’s feathers were just as soft as they looked, like black silk beneath his fingers.

Luke stared at him through brilliant blue eyes. And bit him.

It wasn’t a very hard bite, more like a short pecking before drawing back immediately but Piett still wrenched his hand away immediately, recognizing a warning when he saw it.

The raven got back to his feet, balancing on the edge of the desk when he suddenly flinched. His body started shaking and writhing until feathers had been replaced by skin and wings had morphed into human arms.

When it was over, the rebel was leaning against the table, still shaking a little bit and breathing heavily.   

Gulping down air, Luke stared up at Piett through the fringe of hair that had fallen over his eyes. “Stop petting me?” he yelped, definitely blushing.

Embarrassed, Piett ran a hand over the sleeve of his uniform. “What can I say, Skywalker?” he commented with forced casualness. “Those feathers just look so sleek and soft…”

Luke glared at him, still a little out of breath. “How would you feel if I did that to you??” he exclaimed heatedly.

Piett cringed internally. What had he been thinking? This was still Skywalker, still a rebel! Maybe Vader’s weird behaviour was rubbing off on him. “Vader is allowed to do it, too,” he argued hastily.

“That’s something else!” Luke cried out. “He’s…!”

A gloved hand settled on his shoulder. “That’s quite enough, young one,” the Dark Lord intoned. Luke glowered up at him and shook off his hand indignantly.  

Piett eyed the mess of smashed glass and green liquid on the floor and sighed inaudibly. “I will take care of that,” he said and used the excuse to flee the room.

The hand on Luke’s shoulder gave a short squeeze before letting go. “You seem to like my Admiral,” Vader commented playfully.

“No?!”

 Ignoring the lie screaming at him through the force, Vader crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Luke sighed and stepped away from the durasteel desk. “So that one didn’t work either?” he mused, his slight depression from before returning. “What else do we need to try?”

Vader resisted the urge to pace. “We can only keep trying.”

Luke clenched his jaw, his eyes harder than usually, and rubbed at his chest absently. The motion caught Vader’s attention.

“You have made a habit of that,” he observed shrewdly, stepping closer. Luke looked up at him, eyes widening at his approach. It had been a while since Luke had shown discomfort or fear at the prospect of being around him and this, combined with a little trickle of suppressed guilt and nervousness flowing through their bond, was enough to spark Vader’s suspicion.

The boy made an involuntary step backwards and Vader came to a halt. Luke was hiding something and he needed to know what it was.

“Luke, what is it? Did you injure yourself?”

“No! It’s nothing!” he said quickly, crossing his arms defensively before realizing that he had just copied one of Vader’s moves and hastily putting his arms down again. The force was lashing at Vader with the unspoken lie.

“Show it to me,” Vader said, coming quickly to a decision.

“No!” Luke backed up, aghast, when Vader started to advance again, and startled when the hard edge of the desk bore into his back. Before he had a chance to resist or to avoid him once again, Vader stretched out his hand and ripped the jacket Luke wore to the side.

“What is that?” he snarled at the sight of the black symbol which covered Luke’s skin right above his heart.

“Let me go!” Luke cried out, shaking off Vader’s grip and pushing him backwards. He stumbled away from the desk, shaking and pulling the cloth back over the symbol.

“Luke.” Vader forced himself to remain calm and not to grip the boy and demand answers. “Tell me about that, son.” When Luke remained silent, he carefully stretched out his hand and took Luke’s chin, waiting with forced patience for the boy’s eyes to flicker up to him.

“I am only trying to help you,” he said slowly, waiting for the words to sink in. The boy slumped, probably sensing the truth in these words.

The Sith let his hand fall back down and Luke shuffled half a step back, then hesitantly pulled back the cloth. It was a clock. A delicately drawn, beautiful clock, its colour as black as the night, as black as the raven’s wings. It had only one pointer and it stood at 0800. The part of the circle between 1200 and 0800 had been filled with black swirls which stood out ghostly against the paleness of Luke’s skin.

“What is this?” Vader repeated with a growing sense of horror, an unspoken understanding rushing between them.

Luke crunched up his face unhappily, pulling his arms closer to his body.

“I don’t know,” he uttered. “It’s been there since I was brought to the Executor. Remember our argument, on the first day? I noticed directly afterwards.”

“And you didn’t tell me?!” Vader exploded, dark rage rising in him.

Luke flinched. “We had just argued!” he defended himself weakly. “I was upset!”

“What does that matter?! You should have shown this to me! Why did you not do so later?” Only when he saw Luke tense up did he realize that he had raised his voice.  

Luke adverted his gaze, looking everywhere but at him. “Just because our argument was over didn’t mean that I immediately started trusting you.”

Vader shrank back, the quiet, pained admission hitting deeper than he knew Luke had foreseen.

“And it’s not like it’s not obvious what it means,” Luke continued hastily, his eyes finally flickering up to meet Vader’s gaze with unnerving precision. “It’s the time I have left.”

“No.” The instant denial did not help though as the very same thought had passed Vader’s mind just seconds ago.

“You noticed it, too, didn’t you?” Luke said with a pained smile, his features strained. “The transformation. It gets worse. In the beginning, it was fluid, one second I was human, the next I was a creature. Now it takes longer, it’s…” He took a deep breath. “It’s getting more painful, too, like it’s slowly tearing me apart. I… I don’t think that my body will keep being able to transform if this keeps up. And you know which form will win.”

The Dark Lord stared at his son, at the pain in his eyes and the resignation that had smuggled itself in when he hadn’t looked.

“I will not let that happen,” he stated harshly. “I refuse to.”

“It may not be your choice, father.”

Vader clenched his teeth, feeling old pain flare up along his scars.

“There is always a choice.”

 

 

Piett did not understand why the mood hanging between the Dark Lord and his rebel pet had grown so tense so quickly. As soon as Vader had entered the bridge the bird had fluttered up from his usual place on his shoulder and had landed on a bar close to the Admiral, watching him now shrewdly through intelligent eyes.

Piett had not had the time to wonder about this as moments later, the Dark Lord had arrived in a foul mood, ordered a report which he barely seemed to listen to, and had rushed off to the other side of the bridge where he had ordered for the leader of his research team to come.

He now had the doubtful pleasure of listening to officer Dafton who was currently openly arguing against the degradation he had received only hours before.

“I was not compromised in the least!” he exclaimed heatedly. “On the opposite, I was simply doing my duty – before you came!”

“Officer Dafton,” Piett said, forcing his voice to remain calm and professional. “There was clearly alcohol in your system and no matter whether you were still capable of fulfilling your duties or not, my decision will not change. Now please leave this bridge.”

The officer built himself up directly in front of Piett, obviously intending to stare down on him. Piett did not let himself be intimidated by such a behaviour.

“Your decision was unjustified and I demand that you withdraw it right now!”

“I…”

A whisper went through the room, getting slowly louder and absorbing all the conversations that had been held. Bewildered, Piett let his gaze wander, quickly spotting what had stolen all attention.

Luke had shuffled closer to Piett and was now holding his right wing directly over Piett’s head, in a matter that could only be described as protective, while he was at the same time glaring down at officer Dafton.

The officer had gone pale and shuffled back a step, his eyes never leaving the raven for a second. Raised to his full height, with his wing stretched out wide, feathers shining in the darkest of black, he looked, without a doubt, intimidating.

Piett stiffened. The quiet that had settled over the room allowed the whispering voice to travel, even though nobody could recognize who had spoken. “He’s under his protection now. And his ban.”

Vader’s voice destroyed the fear cloaking the bridge. “Luke, stop spooking my officers and come over here. I am going planet-side and I will not let you threaten the bridge.”

The raven’s feathers stroke across Piett’s cheek, and then the raven was gone.

 

 

Vader regretted being forced to put Luke back into a cage dearly, he really did. The fact that Luke entered the cage without any resistance did not change the fact. And yet, it was necessary. The shaman the researchers had uncovered was said to have a vast knowledge, possibly grand enough to know a cure. Since all of their efforts to contact him through normal means had failed, there was no other way but for them to check personally.

And since Vader did not trust Luke to not try to make a break for it once he set foot on a planet – with freedom right in front of his eyes – he would not risk taking him with him. Once he found the shaman he could decide whether the man was worth his time and deserved him dragging him to the Executor to help his son.

One last time, he looked back at his raven son crouching motionlessly in the cage, and when Luke refused to return the gaze, he set determinedly forward.

 

He returned many hours later, exhausted and tired and frustrated. The trip had proven fruitless, the shaman an old man who knew none of the answers Vader had wished for and the time he had spent on it lost.

He would have to return to Luke to tell him that the day he had spent locked up in a cage had been for nothing, that he had chased a hope which had turned to ashes in his hand. He would have to tell him that the researchers did not know of any other way to break the curse, that the search for the meaning of the symbol had run empty, that all facts indicated that Luke was going to spent the rest of his life trapped in the body of a raven, that his father was as little able to provide help for him as he had been all his life.

Growling, Vader pushed the door open with the force. And felt all his anger dissipate in an instant. As midnight had already passed, Luke had transformed back into his human form and lay curled up in the cage, the bars digging into his arms and legs.

“Son,” Vader addressed him, letting the locks open as well as the force field perish with a quick wave of his hand.   

Luke gave no indication that he had heard him, staring unseeingly in front of him.

“You can get out of there now, Luke,” Vader tried again, hearing confusion and irritation seep into his voice.

“Do you think I will stay like this forever?” his son answered gloomily, not even bothering to acknowledge Vader’s suggestion. “I think I will.”

“Of course not,” Vader hissed, striding closer.

“Why not? You came back alone, so that means your trip was a failure, right? And the clock has moved even further. There’s only one quarter left now.” His son’s eyes were still glazed over.  

Vader glanced at the spot where Luke’s clothes hid the cursed symbol. If his son spoke the truth, that meant they had even less time left.

Forcing down the rush of unbidden and unexpected fear he suddenly felt collecting at the pits of his stomach, he stepped closer. He projected irritation at Luke to ensure that the boy didn’t sense any of his doubts through their bond. “That does not mean that you need to stay in that cage. Come out.”

Finally, his son lifted his eyes at him. They looked weary, and emptier than Vader ever remembered seeing them. It was a scary sight. “What’s the point?” he asked. “I’m gonna end up in here in the end, anyway. I’m useless to you this way, remember?”

Vader shut his eyes when he heard his past words being thrown back at him, lashing at him with their harshness. He had not been treating the boy right.

Luke curled up even further, managing to bring his arms in front of his legs and hugging them awkwardly.

The leather of Vader’s glove creaked when he balled his right hand to a fist. He was not having this.

“I am not allowing you give up,” he growled and stepped towards the cage, gripping Luke’s collar firmly and dragging him out with one smooth movement. The boy startled violently, then let it happen.

Vader let him drop to the ground in front of the cage, towering over him. “I am certain that we will come up with new methods to try,” he stated with a conviction he did not feel.

“And what would that be?” Luke stated glumly. “I got drenched, powder blown at me, was perfumed, nearly got burned – thanks for stepping in once again – and people read me more so-called incantations than I can count! We’ve traveled through an endless bunch of systems and read through even more books and scriptures and holopads, combing through every archive of knowledge we could find! And for what? Did we get any closer to the solution? Did we find anything, and I mean anything, on this? No explanation, no cure, no nothing! Face it, this is how it ends.”

“You forgot the terribly bad dance the Attlunarier performed,” Vader pointed out slyly.

“As well as the one time you tried to sacrifice that one guy to the Great Raven God, don’t think I don’t remember! I’m so glad I could stop you in time.”

“I do not know what you are complaining about. According to him, it counts as a great honour to serve as a sacrifice for their god.”

Luke’s only answer was burying his head in his hands. He then mumbled something Vader could not understand.

“You are required to leave your mouth free to speak, young one,” he rebuked him gently. 

“Thanks, father,” Luke repeated, his mumbling a bit clearer this time. “For trying to help me out. I know I’m not always the easiest one to handle.” Not that his father was either but he had decided not to add that bit.

“Luke,” Vader said hesitantly. “You are more wonderful than I could have ever expected you to be.”

Luke looked up from his hands and for the first time, Vader could see that his son’s eyes were shining with unshed tears. “Can I have a holo recording of you saying that?”

“No.”

 

 

Things got worse during the course of the next days.

The transformations got worse, heavy shivers wrecking Luke’s body sometimes even minutes before the transforming began. Whatever the shift did to his lungs was not positive either cause it usually left him out gasping for air, a loud ringing in his ears.

Vader had wanted to help, had called a trusted medic for help but the medic had proven to be incapable of doing anything. He had offered painkillers but Luke had refused them.

Luke also begun to refuse to eat, living on as little as was needed to stay alive and hence growing weaker each day. He ignored all food Vader offered him, whether in human form or in that of a raven.

And the clock kept ticking, inching closer and closer to a full circle.

And then the breaking point came.

The circle was nearly completely filled. Both Vader and Luke knew this unspoken truth, had witnessed and observed the speed with which the ink claimed Luke’s skin, signing his fate. This night, the last bit would be filled by, what Luke was sure, was his last transformation.

And so it happened. The shift began slowly, as usually by now. Luke felt the shivering in his bones, the first sign, and then the cold which slowly spread from his heart to his fingertips. 

He looked up at his father who was skipping from datapad to datapad - all of them read twice before - startled and wide-eyed, and knew that his father could easily see the fear within them. Not that he needed to. He could feel it, too, feel it rushing through their bond which had somehow grown even stronger, even more intense, during the last days. Not that it mattered. As soon as he transformed, the bond would be numbed, barely capable of being picked up at all.

“Luke,” Vader said, gripping his shoulder with a gloved hand. “Don’t.” 

He groaned, feeling his bones and muscles twitch the first time, then compulsively contracting.   

Guess that’s it, he thought, his brain woozy and brilliantly clear at the same time. He tried to smile through the pin and needle sensation but wasn’t entirely sure how well he managed. If he interpreted Vader’s surging emotions correctly, not very well.

No, it’s not, his father’s voice echoed through his head.

“You were not supposed to hear that,” Luke said through clenched teeth. He had started shaking, familiar shivers running through his body.

“You’re still terrible at shielding, it’s not my fault for hearing what you project so very clearly.”

“Are you seriously criticizing me? Now??”

Anther shiver of pain wrecked through him and he pressed his lips together, not trusting himself to keep silent otherwise. A sharp sting went through his very human heart and he bend over slightly.

“Luke!” His father’s voice sounded very urgent now. “Resist it! Fight it! If anything can still stop this… it’s you.”

Luke wanted to yell at him, “don’t you think I’m already doing that?” but no words passed his lips, instead an involuntary cry of pain escaped him and he doubled completely over, his knees refusing him their services.

He fell on the ground, panting heavily. His arms were shaking visibly, barely capable of supporting his weight. Hands were on his shoulders, then there was the dull noise of something hitting the ground and the next thing he knew was his father kneeling in front of him, holding him by both shoulders, running his hands over his arms.

“Luke… Luke, no!” The pained words tore at Luke’s heart, or was that the transformation? His eyes wandered to Vader’s, hidden behind the mask, and he shivered when he felt the first feathers move beneath his skin, tearing at his skin, wanting to pierce through. He threw his head back, another groan on his lips and felt the world slide sideways as he fell.

Curled on his right side, the floor impossibly cold beneath his glowing skin, he murmured with a throat that was coarse and changing, turning his voice into a rasp,“Father…” 

“I’m here, I…”

His body jerked once again, and then the final transformation set in, his limbs drawing tighter, his bones, his muscles, his entire being constricting, moving in together, shrinking…

The pain took over and then Luke Skywalker was gone, replaced by a tiny raven lying shivering on the ground.

Vader carefully picked up the bird, holding him as tentatively as a newborn, as if he’d break apart the moment he touched him, holding him in the palm of his hands.

The raven in his hands trembled once more, and then he grew quiet in his arms, the brilliantly-coloured eyes- the only thing reminding him of his son – closing slowly.

“No.” The whisper was nearly incomprehensible, torn words from a torn throat. “No, I refuse this. I don’t allow this.” And yet, the empty denial did not change anything. He had been gifted with a son, a wonderful, forgiving son, and like everything else in his life, he had first driven him away and then destroyed him.

I don’t allow this!” His fingers tightened dangerously around the raven, daring him to twitch, daring him to open his eyes once again and to cackle at him, driving him mad. What did it matter whether the boy resented him, what did it matter whether he resisted him, if only he was still by his side?

This was his son, his, and nobody, no blood magic or other devil’s work was allowed to take him from him. He’d rather rip out his own heart, would rather tear the galaxy apart, would rather give everything he had- rather than to let this happen.

And yet, he was helpless. Utterly and completely helpless, as he had been when the nightmare of Padme’s death had wrecked him, as helpless as he’d been when he’d lain dying on the burning sands of Mustafar, as helpless as when he’d watched his mother dying in his very arms.

His fingers clenched around the raven’s chest, daring his heart to spring out of his chest, to beat with the same ferocity as the fire in his son’s eyes had burned.

He thought about the arguments they’d had in the short time that his son had been by his side, the passionate debates about whether the Empire was wrong or the only solution for this torn-apart galaxy, he remembered how mad he had become, and how frustrated. What he would give to feel this frustration once again.

He thought about how viciously he had insisted that there was no other way for Luke but to fall, to become a Sith, to become like him in the end. He thought about how stubbornly his son had refused, had insisted on going his own path. He’d let the argument die down, knowing that it would resurface when, if, they found the cure. Had allowed himself to envision, to dream of this future, unlike he had ever done after Bespin.

What had all these arguments mattered? Why insist on such details when all these scenarios had based on his son, by his side, alive? What did it matter in what manner he did? Wasn’t it enough that he was there at all? Why force him into a life he did not want?

There was a beating beneath a fingers, so subtle at first that Vader barely noticed up, swallowed by his grief as he was.

Then it got stronger, and stronger, and there was breath and movement and growth, and feathers shifted into skin, into hair, into clothes and what lay in front of Vader was the unconscious form of his son.

And Vader knew that this was maybe the last chance that was given to him, to make right what he had done wrong and his decision stood firm.

 

 

 

It was rare that Mon Mothma fell back to alcohol.

In fact, it barely ever happened considering that she was always supposed to keep a cool head, ready to make important decisions in the blink of an eye.

The cause for this fallback was as simple as it was complicated. What she had done had backfired. Badly. And yet she still couldn’t see where it had gone so wrong.

A good luck spell had no right to go so spectacularly wrong. Sure, her training had never been truly finished, her mother passing too soon to pass along all the knowledge of her kind. She had never picked up apprenticeship under another master either, the pain of her loss still too fresh and later, it had never seemed worth it.

And yet, Mon Mothma sometimes still felt the urge to honour the traditions of their kind, to perform a ritual at winter solstice, a sacrifice to honour the gods at the end of the year and the beginning of the new. And while so far, she had rarely witnessed good emerging from her doings, she had never witnessed bad emerging from it.

That was, until the very day when she had decided to try out a good luck charm, wishing for peace and freedom and the chance for a better future of the galaxy. She had not known that it had had consequences until the next morning, Wedges Antilles had burst into her bureau, yelling about a raven and Skywalker and something that was utterly and completely impossible.

The problem was – there were basically no ways to undo a good luck charm, due to their positive intention there had never been much research or need to do so. That was, usually the witches who did the spells, had experience and obviously knew what they were doing and weren’t half-trained apprentices. Mothma would have never imagined that her spell could turn into something like this, could turn into its very opposite. It seemed more like a curse what she – and it was undoubtedly her doing – had done to Skywalker.

All this shouldn’t have proven to be a big problem in the end. As most spells – and as definitely all spells which she had mastered – this special spell was only capable of working for a limited time. Which meant that basically, they had only had to wait for a certain amount of time for it to wear off. So she had stayed silent when Luke’s friends had searched desperately for a cure, keeping her heritage a secret as she had done all her life.

She just had never imagined that bounty hunters could get Luke in his weakened state into their hands.   And now, it was all over. He was in the hands of Vader, by now probably even in the hands of the Emperor, probably already dead, or soon to be.

There was no way after all that a monster like Vader would spare Luke’s life, much less look after him during this difficult time.

Mothma lowered her head, regret and guilt washing over her in waves. What had she done?

Silently, she swore that she would reject her old ways, her past and all she’d done to honour her mother and her ancestors. She would never fail a spell again, would never allow the consequences to be so grave, so terrible. She had always known that spells were unpredictable, that they sometimes turned out different from what their creators had intended. It felt bitter that she had needed to experience this herself before she had learned from it.

She grasped once again for the bottle standing in front of her, her vision blurring for some reason. Before she could bring the bottle to her lips, her comlink rang.

Irritated, she scowled. Wasn’t she even once allowed to wallow in her own misery? Disgruntled, she thumbed the activation switch and growled something that could, if very freely interpreted, be a “Yes?”

“Commander? Commander! We have a situation.”

 

 

Author's note: Well, in the end, nobody can say with certainty whether Mothma's little spell DID or did not fail. One thing's for sure, she did not expect this outcome. (In times of doubt, always blame rebel command :P)

A last, less happy note: I'm trying my best but updates will get rarer in the near future since I have months of lab, exams and a bachelor thesis coming to claim my life, it'll be a rough semester. Wish me luck! 

Chapter Text

Attending an Imperial ball was awkward. Attending an Imperial ball as a high ranking rebel was both awkward and dangerous, bordering to suicidal considering the astronomical bounty that had been placed on his head.

Considering these facts there should have been no reason for Luke Skywalker to ever find himself on such a festivity, aimed to celebrate one of the Empire’s youngest victories and one of the most painful strikes against the Alliance in the last year.  

Uncomfortably, he picked at the bow tie which was trying its best to strangle him and fought to keep from fidgeting in his dress uniform. He felt ridiculous, being lavishly dressed up, his hair forced back with so much hair gel that he was sure that he would never get it out completely. The strong smell of perfume attacked his nose and made him want to rush over to the closest window. Never would he have thought that Leia would display so much joy at the prospect of torturing him, preparing him, as she had said, for his role. If this was what being an Imperial aristocrat or envoy felt like, he was glad for never having had to endure such a thing.

Nervously, he swept his hand over the stiff texture of the dress uniform and drew a deep breath into his lungs before he began walking, leaving the relative safety of the alcove behind, and entered the hall. As much as he felt out of place in here, at the very least on the outside, he fit in very well. Clothed entirely in black with a white vest beneath, he merged with the dozens of other uniformed men, reveling in the death of his kind.

Luke gritted his teeth for a second as pictures of the massacre which the battle of Suttlun had been rose in front of his inner eye. Then he schooled his face into neutral detachment. This was not what he was here for. This was not what he should be focusing on right now, considering that every thought on something that was not part of the mission could make him slip and cost him dearly.

Somewhere in the crowd, he knew, was Han, as well as three other rebels whose tasks it was to support him in case anything went wrong and who would join him outside once he had found the ´objective´ and guided it out of the room. The next steps were simple, leaving the ball and moving to the shuttle which stood waiting close-by, or rather, as close as the lush gardens around the villa allowed.

Luke let his eyes roam the room. For now, he had to concentrate on the mission, to follow the plan step by step. First step: Find the objective. His brows knitted together as he recalled the young man’s face. Maybe this was the reason why he was so unfocused. Not only did he feel utterly out of place in an Imperial festivity such as this – but this mission, this objective… he did not like it. It was no undercover mission, neither was it an assassination attempt or a data theft. That was not to say that he disagreed with it, it just seemed… extreme. Radical. Unlike the rebellion which stood for equal rights, for the return of justice. This had been one of the reasons why the mission itself had been discussed heatedly among Rebel Command but in the end, they had agreed on it with a narrow majority. And orders were orders.

Luke wished that they had chosen someone else to play the main part in this act. He was no diplomat; in fact, rebel command had been very hesitant to let him go to such an event without any previous political experience. All the other men which were part of the mission were previous Imperials who at the very least knew how to act as one. The choice had been fallen to him in the end because of his recently developed skills of persuasion, a skill he had first seen Old Ben use to get them through an Imperial control and which he had since then struggled to master. Oh, how he wished they had chosen Leia instead. She would know exactly what to do, how to move and how to speak. But Leia’s face was well-known among the aristocracy, something that luckily couldn’t be said about his.      

And just like that, he had ended up here. Moving past a group of old men, he continued his way through the crowd, scanning faces. One man with white hair inside the group was laughing. “And then he said “Darling, you can’t say something like that. Imagine what the Governor would think if he heard!”” The other men started laughing, the sound appearing strained to Luke’s ears. Or maybe he was just projecting.

A young man with dark hair stood with his back to him, clothed in deep blue. Luke moved around him and inconspicuously threw a glance at his face. The nose did not fit.

He continued moving, praying to all deities that nobody would reach out to him. The cover identity they had produced for him was completely secure, they had assured him. Nobody would question his identity or the story he had been intensively briefed about. Nonetheless he would prefer it if he got in here the same way as he would get out of here. Quick. Inconspicuous. Unseen.

“I wouldn’t have come had I known that this gala would be so tremendously dull,” a young voice said fretfully. Something about it made Luke’s head turn. Bullseye.

The man had black, unruly hair and wore the kind of blasé facial expression which the aristocrats seemed to have made it their life’s purpose to perfect. His eyes on the other hand were of a piercing blue as they scanned the crowd, landing at the very end on Luke who didn’t advert his eyes quickly enough for his staring to go unnoticed.

“Well, who do we have here?” the young nobleman drawled, addressing him. “I do not think that we have been introduced yet.” This was going way easier than Luke had imagined it. He let an easy smile play on his lips and drew nearer to the round table behind which the young man and his companion, a man with a sickly pale complexion and short brown hair, stood. The three of them were approximately the same age, standing out because of that in a crowd that consisted mainly of elderly and middle-aged people. They were the part of the elite of the Empire, governors and military leaders, and noblemen from all planets and they wore this importance in their faces, in their attires, in their voices.

Luke let his smile widen, feeling disgustingly fake and plainly wrong in this environment. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he heard himself say, Leia’s words which she had drummed into his brains, easily flowing from his mouth. “My name is Thomas Dyarron. I am Envoy of the Bakudo system.”

Instantly, the man’s smile dropped a little. “The Bakudo system?” he then asked with a half-laugh. “My condolences. Isn’t that close to the center of nowhere? It’s not like you come around much, do you? You must surely enjoy this distraction then.”

Luke felt his smile become more natural as the man’s voice got warmer. They had accepted his fake identity without taking even a second look. “It is bearable,” he replied lightly. “We do rarely have the occasion to join such a grand event as this, that much is true, but our culture does commend several festivities throughout the year.”

“Is that so?” the dark-haired man said cryptically. “Well, I suppose you also need to enjoy the constant buzzing of activity around you. I for example am only here because my father, the governor of Drislup, asked for my presence specifically.”

Feeling his goal coming closer, Luke leaned forward confidentially. “The governor of Drislup?” he asked, infusing awe and hesitation in the words. “The governor who managed to beat down the rebel attack which was led against his security center?”

The man’s eyes sharpened and focused closely on his face. “Indeed. You are well informed, Envoy of the Bakudo System.”

“Call me Thomas,” Luke said amicably and stretched out his hand.

“Lucian van Drislup,” his vis-à-vis replied and shook his hand enthusiastically. “And yes. We were able to quell that sneaky attack. None of the documents the rebels were trying to get ever reached their hands.”

“It must have been truly formidable, to be able to fight off these insurgents so efficiently.” Luke wondered at how easy the words spilled over his lips considering the constricting feeling in his stomach.

Lucian waved his hand. “I wouldn’t know. It was all my father’s doing, I was so far from it that I only heard about it an hour later.”

“What a pity,” Luke murmured, forcing himself to keep his smile up. There was a cold feeling in his stomach, in his head. Being here, talking to an Imperial so easily about the rebels who had died leading this attack… it made him feel sick.

The man looked at him appreciatively, his eyes moving up and down as he viewed Luke more closely. “Everyone here is only talking about the victory at Suttlun. Nobody else mentioned this to me yet.”

“Well, it’s what we are here to celebrate after all,” his brown-haired companion threw in casually.

Lucian turned his head to look at him and for a second Luke saw annoyance flash in his blue eyes. “Of course,” he agreed. “Though I must say, for anyone with that much fire power at their disposal, anything but this result would have been an embarrassment.”

The man flinched a little at the sharp words.

“But,” Lucian continued and his amiable tone returned, “this occasion has brought me the opportunity of meeting the charming Envoy of the Bakudo System, so I would say that this evening was a success after all.”

Luke smiled politely, forcing himself to meet the other one’s eyes while pondering his words. The man seemed to be… interested in his company, if nothing else, and that was a very welcome thing, considering that Luke’s goal was to guide him out of here. He discreetly touched the phials hidden in his left sleeve. And the moment they were out of sight of the crowd, they’d knock him unconscious and take him with them. Luke shied away from calling it a kidnapping even though that was exactly what they were here for. In return against his son, the Governor of Drislup would surely release the group of imprisoned members of the Alliance which had survived the failed attack on the data servers. Nobody would come to any harm and the situation could be peacefully resolved.

Growing encouraged by the twinkle in the other man’s eyes as he winked at him, Luke let his smile spread across his face. “On the other hand,” he said smoothly. “I would have never otherwise gained the chance of getting to know the future Governor of Drislup.”

Lucian hid his laughter in a cough and leaned with his elbows on the table. “May that day be far away.”

Luke faked a smirk and pulled his brows up playfully. “Not that interested in having to deal with all the bureaucratic burdens of the office?”

He didn’t hear the young man’s response. Something cold wandered through the gala room and slid up his back. He drew in a sharp breath, waiting for something –anything- to happen. The force whispered something in his ears but he was not capable of understanding what it was. And that was when he saw him. The black-clothed figure at the entrance of the room. The music which had sounded loudly in his ears before fell silent, hushed by the growing rush in his ears.

Vader. How in all rotten deities’ names could he be here? He threw a quick look around, searching for another rebel’s face, to see the same shock that he was feeling, to see the sign to abandon the mission... His co-conspirators remained hidden somewhere in the crowd, unseen.

“-mas? Thomas!” A hand touched his shoulder and joggled it. Luke jerked back to Lucian van Drislup, feeling weirdly disconnected to his body. The man stared at him in confusion, then his eyes wandered over his shoulder and widened as he spotted who Luke had seen.

“Lord Vader!” he exclaimed. “Now this evening truly proves to be interesting. I didn’t even know he was on the guest list! Not that he usually attends these kinds of events…”

“Indeed,” Luke murmured silently to himself. He hastily raised his gaze to meet Thomas’ again, shifting his body so that he stood with his back to the Dark Lord. He did not know that Luke was here. He did not know and Luke couldn’t allow himself to get distracted. The sooner he got this mission done, the sooner they’d be safe. It was not the time for other thoughts. It was not the time for the burning fury churning in his guts beneath the terror and uneasiness, it was not the time for his father’s murderer to…

He forced air into his lungs and exhaled shakily. Not trusting his voice to be unaffected, he played around uneasily with the cuffs of his dress uniform, feeling once more the phials hidden beneath. It was time for the plan to enter phase B.

To his side, Lucian’s companion had started talking, something about royal heirs and festivities and galas and Luke couldn’t have paid less attention to it. He glanced to the side, searching for an attendant who was holding wine or something stronger. He had been thinking about not using the drug but now it seemed like the best way of getting quickly what he wanted.  

It was then that he heard the mechanical breathing and cold enveloped his body, wrapping around his limbs and slowing his thoughts to a halt. He stiffened, his back straightening painfully while he turned his head to the side. Besides him stood his father’s murderer.

He thought of the sleek blaster which he had hidden underneath the dress uniform and threw the thought out of his head. He then shuffled to the side, searching to stand beside Lucian rather than to face him from up front. The handful of officers which were following Vader filled the space up quickly, leaving Luke wedged in between a bald officer he didn’t know and Lucian van Drislup.

His father’s murderer stood directly in front of him, separated from him only by a small round wooden table. Luke imagined drawing his weapon and shooting despite all the reasons why he should not. The mission, he reminded himself sternly. This is not about you.

“Well, who do we have here?” the deep voice rumbled. Luke nearly startled, for a moment convinced that his cover had been blown and that Vader knew. “The son of the Governor of Drislup, the future Heir to Brandons and… well, you I do not know.” The mask settled on Luke’s face, the Dark Lord’s eyes burning into his. How he knew this Luke didn’t know. He pulled back his shoulders and schooled his face into a neutral expression and opened his mouth to…

“This is Thomas Dyarron. He is the Envoy of the Bakudo system,” Lucian helpfully threw in. Luke almost regretted having to help in the man’s kidnapping.

The Sith shortly turned his head to the side to glance at the governor’s son and then focused back on Luke. “The Bakudo system? You are a long way from home, young Envoy.”

Luke pretended that he didn’t notice the taunting in the Dark Lord’s words. “I am,” he replied, relieved that his voice came out strong and confident. “But how could I miss such a glorious occasion to visit one of the Core worlds?”

“And to celebrate such an honourable victory as the victory at Suttlun?” Luke did not know where the fury came from. As much as it had upset him this evening that the whole reason the aristocrats had assembled here had been the slaughter of the Alliance, he had still been able to push this knowledge to the back of his mind. Now it boiled up, as if bolstered by the cold presence of the force around him.

“It was less a victory than a slaughter of the rebels,” he said sharply.    

“Oh, indeed? I did not know that the residents of the Bakudo system were so well informed or rather... invested in ours achievements in weeding out the rebels. You always seemed like a very peaceful people.”

Luke adverted his eyes to hinder himself from glaring at Vader and blindly waved an attendant carrying refreshments to his side. “Most of us are only interested in peace. Of course there are others who recognize the importance of the war that is being fought.”

“The Envoy knows a lot about the military operations that are currently on-going,” Lucian said with a conspiratorial smile at Luke.   

“Is that so…?” The Dark Lord’s voice sounded surprisingly soft and Luke wished for the man’s attention to land on anything but him.  

“Oh yes,” the dark-haired governor’s son confirmed. “We just talked about how successful my father was at defeating the rebels trying to break into our security center.”

Luke forced a grimace onto his face which he hoped looked like a smile. While Lucian was talking, he hastily grabbed two glasses of wine from the plate the attendant offered to him. After making sure with a quick glance that the attention of all officers around the table was on the other man, he snapped one of the phials inside of his cuffs open and shook his hand inconspicuously. White substance dropped into one of the wine glasses and was swallowed immediately by the liquid.

With a pleasant smile still plastered on his face, he offered the glass to Lucian. “We should still drink a toast to that.”

Lucian looked surprised for a second but then gracefully accepted Luke’s gift. “We definitely should.”

“Wait,” the Dark Lord’s voice suddenly chimed in, his hand raised slightly. Ice pooled inside Luke’s stomach. Surely he hadn’t…

“This is a reason for all of us to celebrate. More wine for the noblemen!”

Surprise lit up in the faces of the officers around. Forced to wait for more attendants to arrive with more wine, Luke glumly set his wine on the table, as did Lucian. All of a sudden, a loud shattering noise and loud cries broke through the noises of the crowd. Luke turned his head to the commotion and saw that one of the plates which the attendants had been carrying had fallen down. The people around were hurrying backwards, the women beating frantically at their silky dresses which had been touched by the wine.

Neither Luke nor any of the other Imperial officers or aristocrats on the table noticed how Vader’s right hand first unclenched and then shot out to quickly change the arrangement of the wine glasses.

When Luke turned back around, people were already starting to ignore the accident, new servants hastily arriving to clean up the splinters of glass and puddles of wine. Two other attendants had arrived at their table and were now offering several plates of different alcoholic refreshments. The men picked their glasses and turned their attention to Vader who had raised a symbolic glass of wine as well.

“First of all, let’s raise a glass to the Governor of Drislup who managed to repel a devious rebel attack, keeping Imperial knowledge safe from those who wish to harm our Empire,” Vader boomed, letting his gaze wander from man to man.

As he raised his glass higher, the Imperial officials followed his move and then drank from their glasses. Forced to fit in, Luke joined, bringing the glass to his lips. He hesitated for no more than a second and then gulped some of the wine down. When he set the glass down, he felt like there were eyes on him, watching him.

“More than that, let’s raise a glass to the reason why we are all here today. A glass to the glorious victory at Suttlun and to the extinction of the insurgents!” Vader seemed to have come into full swing. Luke felt his hands around the glass tightening and forced himself to soften his grip before anyone noticed. His smile was frozen on his face.

“Cheers!” an elderly aristocrat joined in cheerfully and raised his glass even higher. Luke let the wine touch his mouth and swallowed more air than actual liquid. He couldn’t drink to this. He couldn’t- he had to.

“And at last,” Vader rumbled briskly, “a toast to the Galactic Empire itself! May it prosper and bring peace to all!”

Luke felt a little tiredness creeping up on him. Noticing that Vader’s mask was angled toward him at the last words, he managed a shaky smile and raised the glass with the others, taking a visible mouthful and forcing it down his throat. The intensity of the gaze weakened as Vader’s concentration settled on the other members on the table.

He turned his head towards Lucian and felt the world shift a little bit as he moved. Irritated, he shook his head. The wine had to be strong, it shouldn’t have that much of an effect already. Or maybe it was because he had rarely drunken any alcohol these last few weeks, the spirit of the rebels mostly subdued after these last two major setbacks.

Pushing these issues to the back of his mind, Luke pondered on how to proceed next. If would be best if they inconspicuously excused themselves from the table, maybe in order to search for something to eat or to take a little walk…

“You have made me curious just now, Mr. van Drislup,” Vader’s voice slithered to his ear. Luke listened only half-intently. “So you and the young Envoy are interested in military matters? May I ask which operations specifically hold your interest?”

Lucian laughed a little and a bit strained. Luke could understand him well. He would neither enjoy being the subject of Vader’s interest.

“To be honest,” he answered to the query, “I am no true expert. I learn a lot through my father but these are mostly political matters which do not reach the importance of the huge military operations you carry out.”

“You are being humble,” Vader rumbled. “I sense great potential in you.”

Luke clenched and unclenched his right hand. Something didn’t feel right. A strange feeling of dizziness was slowly spreading in his head, making his thoughts less sharp than they had been before.

“And you, young Envoy,” a voice said. He needed a moment to understand that the Dark Lord was addressing him. Slowly, he raised his head, eyes flickering to meet the masked eyes.

“Me?” he echoed unintelligently. “What about me?”

The Sith tilted his head a little bit. “I asked which unknown interests you do harbour.”

Luke blinked in confusion. “I like flying,” his mouth answered before his mind caught up. Vader had asked for military operations, not general interests! Hastily, he tried to correct himself. “All operations in space, I mean. The Imperial Fleet’s capability is very impressive.”

“Indeed.” Vader sounded content.    

Luke wanted to punch himself in the face. He had sounded like a fool. Get yourself together, Skywalker!, he thought furiously.

“But it’s too widely spread in the Outer Rim,” he found himself adding. “Rebels can act out there because it takes too long for the Imperial Fleet to arrive and stop them.”

The dark-clothed Sith leaned forward, his gaze not leaving Luke’s face. “And what do you suggest how to compensate for this disadvantage?”

Luke cursed himself for ever starting this conversation. “I… do not know,” he said plainly. “It’s the governors’ task to control their domain. If they are overcharged with that…” He shrugged.

“You seem like a bright young man.” Vader sounded contemplative. “Someone like you could surely reach a notable military position quickly? Yet it seems you never harboured any interest to join the Imperial Fleet.”  

“I applied,” Luke answered, then cursed himself once again. What was going on with him? He was not usually this chatty in dangerous companionship, was he?

“You did?”

The Sith’s stubborn questions nagged at his already frayed nerves. “Yes. I mean, I wanted to. My u… father disagreed with me.”  

“Oh, I cannot believe that.”

Why couldn’t he just leave him alone? A sudden burst of anger gave Luke new strength and focus. “Well, that is how it is.”

He vehemently turned his head towards Lucian. “You mentioned some interesting architectural studies just before. How about you tell me something about it… once we have visited the excellent food buffet I saw over there?”

Lucian stared at him in confusion. “Which architectural…”

Luke wiggled his eyebrows at him, pleading silently for him to understand.

“Oh!” Lucian exclaimed. “Of course! The ancient ruins of Altroah, you should have said so before! How about we…”

“Surely you two don’t want to leave us so early,” Vader interrupted them. Luke felt the first signs of a headache. He was also feeling cold and a little drowsy.

Heaven forbid, he thought silently. Why would we possibly want to leave this homely round? The aristocrats and officers around the tables exchanged some glances amongst themselves.

“No, of course not, Lord Vader,” Lucian said eagerly, obviously not wanting to alienate one of the galaxy’s most powerful men. Luke’s pity at the prospect of kidnapping Lucian took a dive. He extended a hand to the table to stabilize him. The world tilted a little bit to the side and turned back to a horizontal position. This wasn’t right. None of this was right.

He threw a glance at Lucian who was laughing at something one of the other officers had said. He didn’t seem affecting in the least. The drugs should have long since taken effect. He turned his head back to stare at the glasses. He couldn’t have mixed them up accidentally, could he?      

A new wave of dizziness crashed over him, leaving him struggling for air. He felt heat emanating from his skin, piercing like the gaze he felt on his... He looked up and found Vader staring straight at him.

He stumbled a step backwards, backing away from the table. “I feel a little dizzy,” he said, rudely interrupting whoever was speaking at the moment. “If the gentlemen would excuse me, I will go taste some fresh air.”

All eyes of the table turned to him. Lucian glanced uneasily at him and opened his mouth.

“I shall accompany you then, young Envoy, to ensure you will be fine” a deep baritone said benevolently.  

Luke exhaled hot hair, fear seizing his heart with cold talons. “That is really not necessary, Lord Vader, as much as I appreciate the offer.”

“I insist.”

He wondered how the clenching of his teeth wasn’t audible to everyone in the vicinity.  Lucian visibly backed off, turning to his brown-haired companion and starting a conversation with him. Several eyes were wandering from Vader to Luke and back. Luke successfully fought back a little bit of the dizziness.

“As you wish,” he gave in. It was not like he could have said anything else. And he could still turn this into an advantage. First he had to get a little fresh air to clear his head, then he would have to get away from Vader. Maybe he would allow himself to be distracted by someone else? After that, he could go find Lucian once again and give him a signal to join him. The rest was a piece of cake.

Luke breathed in deeply. He could do this. He picked up his glass and, his father’s murderer at his side, they set out, the crowd splitting up in front of them to let them through. In his head, he tried to list up the symptoms the drugs Leia had given to him would cause. A little bit of tiredness. Then a slowly increasing amount of dizziness, combined with the inability to keep thinking clearly. It was supposed to make the victim succumb to persuasion more quickly, to lower its guard and ultimately, its ability to struggle. If overdosed, it could cause difficulties in breathing and in the worst case, unconsciousness. Luke mentally went through all the curses he knew of. By now it was clear to him that he had mixed up the glasses and had ingested the drug instead of Lucian.

Leaving him in this situation. He glanced at the masked Sith Lord by his side and decided that he undoubtedly had the worst luck of all times.

They stepped through the doors and entered the expansive terrace leading to the gardens, Luke concentrating on keeping his steps even and straight. He glanced longingly at the way which would lead through the gardens and to the ships and shuttles which had brought most of the guests here. Their own was hidden close to them. He stepped closer to the balustrade next to the stairs, settled first his glass, then his elbows on the cold stone and leaned forward. Standing on his own seemed like a taxing task at the moment and he was relieved to be able to lean against something. Vader stopped beside him, looking out at the gardens as well. Luke took a deep breath, enjoying the sensation of cold air on his skin. The pressure behind his forehead began to lessen a bit.      

“So, young Envoy,” Vader began slowly. “Are you feeling a little better?”

Luke nodded hesitantly. “Yes, thank you.” He could feel his brain slowly starting to work again, encouraged by the relative quiet after the noises of the crowd and by the wind caressing his skin. “Maybe it just got a little too hot in there for me. I don’t do well in crowds, with many people around…” He trailed off.

The Dark Lord nodded. “Quite a few people feel that way. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Little by little, Luke’s sense of alarm returned as he realized how comfortably he was conversing with his father’s murderer. And he was close. Way too close. Nervously he searched for something to distract both Vader and himself.     

Vader beat him to it. “I had no idea that the attack on the security center on Drislup created such a stir that even the Bakudo system heard of it,” he said. “I had thought that the Governor had made an effort instead to keep this knowledge from spreading.”

A strange kind of cold caressed Luke’s arms, wrapping around them. He shivered a little and resisted the urge to rub at them. At the same time, he tried to fight his uneasiness und to pull his thoughts together. “Like the young van Drislup said I am interested in news like that. I… must have learned of it shortly before the Governor decided to keep it under wraps.”

Luke turned his head slightly and became suddenly aware that Vader’s mask was fully angled toward him, the Sith’s concentration not wavering for a second. The realization made several alarm clocks in his head start to ring, and actual fear was starting to form in his stomach.

He nervously licked his lips. The dizziness was starting to act up again, painfully slowing down his thought progress. This was bad. The Dark Lord was already way too interested in him and if he slipped up…

“I… actually, I am feeling way better already,” he lied. “I think we can go back inside.” He turned half around, intending to stride back to the mansion. A vice-like hand closed around his upper arm, hindering all progress. He stilled.

“Oh, but I would hate to return to that celebration when what’s outside is so much more interesting.”

Luke tugged at his left arm but Vader’s grip didn’t budge. “Let me go,” he said, terror rapidly building and opening an endless pit inside of his stomach. The world wavered shortly in front of his eyes and he fought back the blinking lights.

“I don’t think so,” the Dark Lord said in a silent voice. Luke stiffened at the undeniable threat in the words. It was only then that the realization fell like scales from his eyes.

“You swapped the drinks,” he said, shock and disbelief fighting in his mind for control while his voice remained completely free of emotions.

“That is correct, young Skywalker.”

Maybe it was his name that brought Luke back to his senses. Maybe it was the terror that was building in his chest or the sudden fury at himself. With his right hand, he ripped out the blaster hidden beneath his dress uniform and leveled it at Vader. Before he could press the trigger, an unseen force ripped his arm to the side. Before he could even realize what was happening, Vader was moving, was behind him. A kick hit his hamstrings and his knees buckled, sending him to crash against the balustrade. Next thing he knew was that he was fighting for breath, the world wavering fitfully in and out, and both of his arms were held firmly behind his back. His blaster was twisted out of his hand and he could hear it as it hit the ground somewhere far away.

He gasped and struggled against the hold which in return only tightened more. “You did not truly think that I did not recognize you, Envoy of the Bakudo system? I recognized you the moment I entered the room.”

Luke clenched his teeth. “Let me go,” he repeated, a mindless refusal to recognize the situation as it was.

Vader blatantly ignored him. “I admit I was at first confused as to why the rebels would send you here, in the midst of your enemies. But it all became very clearly when I saw who you were conversing with. Lucian van Drislup, son of the Governor of Drislup. Who very recently took a group of rebel prisoners… I suppose there is some kind of connection to the white substance you tried to dump into his drink. I am convinced for example that the Governor would rather have his son at home than a group of insurgents in his cells…”

Luke stiffened, then continued his efforts to wiggle out of the Dark Lord’s grip. It shifted and softened for a moment when the gloved fingers touched the hidden phials underneath his cuffs. The next moment the phials were ripped out of their hiding place and Luke’s upper body was lifted from the cold balustrade beneath.

“You know what else is interesting?” Vader’s voice said too close to his ear. “It appears that you have not come here alone.” Luke drew in a sharp breath and tried to turn his head. He flinched at finding Vader’s mask in close proximity to his face.

“There are three, no four rebels in the crowd. They saw you exit the room with me but know no more. Right now they are pondering on what they should do.” Luke held his breath. “Furthermore, this mansion is housing several stormtrooper troops which will move out the moment I give a sign. Now if your friends find you like this, what do you think they will do? Don’t you agree with me that it would be better if they thought that everything was still under your control?”

Luke’s mind spun. Vader knew too much, had known way too much all along. There was a short pressure on his limbs as Vader left him to ponder on his words and then his arms were released.

Luke slowly straightened up. “What do you want from me?” he hissed.

“I want you to come with me. Refuse, and I will go after your friends and they will die. Do as I tell you to, and I will let them go. You will come with me either way.”

Still fighting against the influence of the drug which kept his thoughts sluggish, Luke glared distrustingly at Vader. “Why would you let them go?”

“I am solely interested in you, Skywalker. The lifes of a handful of rebels do not concern me.” The Dark Lord loomed in front of him. Luke was aware that it would be easy for the man to overwhelm him once again, weakened as he already was. Furthermore, he could sense no lie in the man’s words. “As it stands, what is your decision?”

Clenching his teeth, Luke threw a glance at the open entrance to the gala room and one glance back at Vader. “Fine,” he ground out. “I’ll do whatever you say.” For now, he had no other choice. But later, if Vader left his guard down for only one second…  

“Excellent,” Vader said in a terribly gleeful tone. He took the still filled phial which he had ripped out of Luke’s cuffs and examined the white powder inside of it carefully. He then grasped Luke’s glass of wine which still stood on the balustrade and dumped the substance into it. Luke stood there stiffly, not yet understanding.

“So it appeared to me just now that this works very well already in small doses. You have chosen your drugging mixture well. I wonder how it would work in a bigger dose?”

The Dark Lord held the glass out to Luke. Luke blinked at it slowly. “You are trying to drug me. Again.”

“Yes, and you will drink it.”

Luke was not stupid. He was very aware what Vader was doing. A further dose would certainly incapacitate him fully, allowing Vader to do whatever he wanted with him without having to expect any resistance. Unconsciously, he clenched his fists and thought of Han and the other rebels still inside the mansion. Then, hesitantly, he took the glass from Vader, imagining smashing it on the ground. How had this whole situation deteriorated this quickly…?

Vader was still watching him intently and he could somehow sense his impatience growing. “Well then, Skywalker, drink,” he said. “Let us see what that little concoction of yours does.”

Luke leveled the most irate glare at Vader he could manage. Then he slowly set the glass to his lips, stared for a long moment at the innocent-looking liquid, and took a long sip. Swallowing it made him want to choke. He had to cough and set the glass down, feeling irritatingly shaky.

“All of it, Envoy,” Vader said in a low voice. The relish and dark threat in the words made Luke want to attack the man with bare hands.

Luke leveled a glare at him, took the glass and started drinking again.  

“Good boy,” Vader commented, his masked gaze not leaving his face. Fury drove out Luke’s fear and he gulped the entire rest down in one go. The slow terror at the realization what he has just done only came afterwards. With shaking hands he tried to set the empty glass down onto the balustrade. Instead, it ended up falling and shattering on the ground.

He stared up at Vader. Oh, how he wanted to launch himself at his father’s murderer. The world tilted and he winced slightly as he waited for it to readjust. Knowing that he had ingested the drugs, he knew it was only a matter of time until he could no longer fight them. If only Vader would stop watching him so closely.

“Very well, young one, now come. I remember you being keen to leave earlier, surely you do not mind leaving the party now?” the Sith said lightly, put his hand on Luke’s shoulder and half dragged, half guided him towards the stairs. Luke shook the hand indignantly off, a movement which caused his head to swim dangerously. The stairs seemed like an unmanageable obstacle.    

“When the governor said he invited important people to this banquet, I admit that I didn’t quite expect the most famous rebel of the Alliance to attend the festivities. Had I known, I would have come way earlier,” Vader said spiritedly. Why did he have to be so chatty? Luke wondered silently. He felt a headache beginning to form at an impressive speed.

They had reached the bottom of the stairs and now set out the long path through the gardens towards the shuttles which Luke had eyed yearningly before. It seemed endlessly long now. Every move he made caused Luke’s vision to waver precariously. He concentrated on setting one step in front of the other, fighting to keep Vader from noticing how much the drugs were already affecting him. How long until they would fully incapacitate him?

“What I was also not expecting,” Vader said, a grim undertone slipping into his voice, ”was you using your looks to make the young Lucian go with you.”

Luke blinked at him incredulously. “E-excuse me?” he said. Were his words starting to slur? He cursed internally.

“Do not think that I am unaware of the way he was looking at you. And I know that you only did encourage him, your own intentions in mind.”

Luke didn’t know any other reaction but to stare. What in the Force’s name was Vader getting at? He couldn’t seriously be berating him for…for… He exhaled slowly, feeling heat building up in him and not being sure whether it was the influence of the drugs or his own embarrassment at this weird interrogation. “I do not think that you have… any right to judge me. For anything. Besides, he sta-started it, and I just went alon’ with it and it was perrfectly working, and everything would have worked out just fine had you not appeared!” He stumbled.

Vader caught him by the arm before he could hit the ground. “You don’t know anything about my rights, young one,” he said with emphasis as he set him upright again. Luke nearly fell against him before he jerked back and with difficulty, managed to find his equilibrium once again. His face was burning. He didn’t even feel the wind anymore which had brought him relief before, instead waves of heat brushed through his body. He thought about his blaster which lay somewhere discarded on the ground, and the one chance he had had to kill his father’s murderer.

“So how does drinking your own poison feel like?” Vader inquired mockingly. “You would do well to remember this, young one: Never let another one beat you with your own weapons at your own game.” Only later would Luke realize that Vader’s chatter probably had had no other function but to keep him awake and focused for a little while longer.

As it was, the words only incited fury inside of him. He opened his mouth to snap something back and the next moment, the world went black for a second. When his eyes started functioning again, he found himself leaning against the Dark Lord, breathing heavily and clutching the thick material of the Sith’s clothes.

Not far away from him, he could see the Dark Lord’s lightsaber dangling from the man’s belt. It seemed impossibly far away. He remembered his plan to get away as soon as they had left the mansion behind- it seemed like a thought from ages ago. His hands refused to move.

A strange noise rattled the respirator and then gloved hands were supporting him, one hand clutching his left shoulder, the other placing his own hand on top of the Sith’s right shoulder plate.

“Let me go, I can walk on my own,” Luke said angrily, or at least he intended to do so. What came out was an angry slur of barely comprehensible words. Barely capable of staying on his own two feet, he ripped himself free from the Sith and marched on, stubbornly clinging on to his pride. He would not allow his father’s murderer to help him, especially not after causing this sorry state he was in. In retrospect, he saw with clarity how the Sith had played him, recognized the falling plate as the distraction it had been and how he had forced him to drink a toast –several times- to ensure that Luke would digest the drugs.

Vader of course noticed his silent fuming. The Sith’s undivided attention had never left him since they had begun walking, but who was he kidding, even before that he had shown an unhealthy obsession which Luke was sure would soon mean his end. “You are proving to be unusually quiet today, Skywalker,” he said. “Not feeling like shouting at me today?”

Luke felt very much like shouting at him. Which he felt very much like communicating to Vader. It simply proved impossible considering the fact that he was spending all of his concentration on setting one foot in front of the other.

They left the buzz and the chatter of the celebration behind completely as they kept on walking, the rush of his blood and the throbbing of his heart in his ears replacing these noises. Luke began struggling to pull enough air into his burning lungs.

The Sith Lord walking next to him abruptly angled his mask toward him. “You seem quite of breath, Skywalker,” he said, and was that an undertone of worry underneath the taunting? “Are we walking too quickly?”

Luke pulled in a deep breath and turned to him to tell him exactly what he -

Blackness.

He drifted back into consciousness sluggishly. His balance was off and he was leaning against something hard. He could hear the even rhythm of feet on damp ground. It was only then that he realized that he was being carried, scooped up in somebody’s arms. When he realized who exactly was carrying him, he wanted to object but his limbs were too heavy and his mouth simply refused to work. So he closed his eyes and waited for the journey to end.

The next thing he noticed was sitting in the copilot chair of a shuttle, safely strapped in and secured. Vader checked the straps one last time and then climbed into the pilot seat. Helplessly, Luke watched him go through the pre-flight circle with his head leaned back, unable to carry itself. He wished to prevent it but even stretching out his hand to push the Start Abort- button was impossible.

Do not worry, young one, it will all be fine, a deep voice said inside his head. He hadn’t known that hallucinations were part of the side effects.

Vader finished running the starting sequence and they lifted off. He tried feverishly to watch his father’s murderer even though his vision kept swimming, his father who would have taken him to the stars had he only lived.

That will never happen now, he thought, and then thought no more.

Chapter Text

Luke hadn’t pulled his punches.

Disgruntled, Vader stared at the odd angles his prostetique ankles newly sported. Broken and useless as the rest of his body had become, and fully incapable of supporting his weight as he had been forced to realize and accept in the last minutes.

It shouldn’t have been a problem. There was an Imperial facility only a few systems away from here, the distance barely worth considering. Even though the squadron he had led had been destroyed after he had gone down, he could have easily waited until the last rebel ships were gone and then contacted the base to send a squadron to pick him up, no matter how mortifying such a thing would have been.

It wouldn’t have been a problem. Broken bones and crashed ships had never stopped Darth Vader before. His glare at the comlink in his hand deepened. At first, he had thought that he could fix it. A short inspection of the damage however had revealed that there was not much to save about it. The battery must have short-circuited when Luke’s shot had fried his electronics. Even if he had replaced the battery, the display was undeniable no longer utilizable, its surface area dull and cracked and adamant against all of Vader’s tries to get it back to a functioning mode. And without the comlink, he was stranded. Stranded somewhere in the wilderness without being capable of movement.

He threw a glance back at his ruined fighter, its smoking hull and the damage it had taken at the crash- he couldn’t call it a landing, really- very visibly stating that it wouldn’t become airborne any time soon. He could have tried to bring the ship’s system back to work- after dragging himself there- but he remembered all too well the unresponsive electronics underneath his fleeting fingers as he tried to bring the ship back under control. No, Luke’s shot had hit true and formidably. Had it not left him in such a poor situation, Vader would have been proud of his son for displaying such skill.

If he had hit just a little further to the side, your fighter would have gone up in flames, a voice that he did not want to listen to whispered in his mind. Luke had missed. Such a close miss but in the end, he had still won. Vader’s fighter, clipped at the side, with fried electronics which left him incapable of properly maneuvering the ship, had fallen, the pull of the planet’s gravity taking over the rebel’s work. He should probably be grateful that his descend had taken him to an open landscape, the ground littered with rocks and rubble but far away from the imposing mountains in the distance or the ocean that loomed behind.

The crash would have probably not even been that bad, had his fighter not hit one of the huge boulders which dominated the area with their sharp edges and the deep red colour of the stone. This at last had done the final damage to his fighter, had ripped apart the already cracked canopy and had catapulted Vader out of it. He wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the crash or him landing on the rocky ground which had broken his legs but in the end, it really didn’t matter either.

He frowned, the gesture pulling at old scars, and huffed. In the end, they would come to search for him. When they learned of the attack, when they figured out where he could have crashed, when…

He stilled. There was a presence that was coming closer, an all too familiar presence, blazingly bright and – his son. His son was coming closer. He had figured that the rebels- after taking care of the last of his squadron members- would leave, jumping to hyperspace and safety and leaving him behind in the dust (as usually, the voice whispered), but a small group of fighters was lingering, and there was an X-Wing breaking through the outer spheres of the atmosphere...

He concentrated on his son’s presence but could pick up nothing but an undercurrent of fierce determination and some residues of adrenaline underneath shields which had become strong and unyielding ever since Be-

He refused to finish the thought. Instead, he raised his mask to the sky until he spotted the small form of the ship as it neared and he followed its descend. Luke passed far away over his head and turned his fighter into a narrow curve, losing both speed and height quickly. Vader did not let himself be fooled. He knew that his son had pinpointed his position just bare moments after he had broken through the atmosphere. Just as predicted, the X-Wing dropped even further and with screeching engines and shaking wings it slowed down even more, aiming clearly for Vader’s broken wreckage of a ship. Vader did not even notice the other ships above their heads entering hyperspace.          With a high-pitched whine, the X-Wing descended onto the ground, its landing struts extending and setting down gently with the help of the thrusters.

The Dark Lord watched silently, unmovingly- he couldn’t have moved even if he had wanted to- as the ship’s engines fell silent. There was a moment of complete silence and then the X-Wing’s canopy flew open.

A blond mop of hair appeared. Barely a moment later, the slim figure of his son launched itself out of the cockpit with a fluid movement. The boy was still separated from him by a distance of at least 20 meters, nonetheless Vader could immediately spot the first differences in his appearance. While Luke had worn typical rebel fatigues during his rescue attempt on Bespin, he was now clad in black clothes which hugged his limbs closely. His hair was less shaggy than he remembered, now worn shorter and in something that might have faintly resembled a military cut. The boy’s hand dropped to his side as he stared over at him, taking in his demise, and Vader nearly startled. At the boy’s hip hang a lightsaber. His fingers brushed over it, shortly, fleetingly, before he pulled back his shoulders, and stepped closer. His son had come to kill him.

Vader straightened up as much as he could, his own fingers itching towards his own lightsaber at his hip. Half lying, half sitting on the ground as he was, it would be nearly impossible to defend himself against an attack. There was a confidence in the boy’s steps that led him to believe that Luke knew that as well.

Nonetheless, the slim rebel stopped several meters away from Vader, letting his gaze wander over his father’s body slowly, his eyes lingering shortly on the lightsaber and the Dark Lord’s clearly broken legs.   

Vader raised his chin higher to stare at his son. “You’ve come to finish the job?” he rasped, unwilling to show how much his own vulnerability in this situation unnerved him. A Sith never showed any vulnerability. A Sith did not have-  

“You think I’m here to kill you?” The boy’s voice traveled far in the flat, softer than he remembered it, and yet underlined with a tone of steel and iron.

“Are you?” The vocoder did not manage to filter out all of the distrust in his words.

When Luke did not answer immediately but stared at him with an illegible expression on his face, he dug further. “Or did your rebel commander sent you here to do it?”

Now there was irritation flashing in his son’s eyes. “I am their commander.”

“Then I suppose that made it easier for you.“ Vader could not stop the words from passing over his lips. He watched his son’s face closely, for any indication of what he would do next, for the inevitable confirmation that this was indeed what he had come here for. He steeled himself as Luke turned his face shortly away from him, his shimmering force-presence darkening with a flicker. 

The words stumbled over his son’s lips, like he couldn’t get them out quickly enough. “I sensed that you were hurt during the crash.” Finally, he turned back to face Vader.

Vader figured it out in a heartbeat. “And you thought that you could use this opportunity.”

Luke knit his brows as he figured out what Vader was implying. “What? No! I…”

“Then what is it, young one? You made it very clear to me over and over again that you did not wish to have anything to do with either me or the Empire. So unless you are planning to turn me over to your rebel leaders-”

“Why are you making this so hard?” Luke threw his hands up. Now that the mask on his face had slipped, Vader could finally see the boy from Bespin underneath. “What do you think I’m here for?!”

Vader would have held his breath, had it been possible. “Do enlighten me, young one.”

“You are impossible,” Luke muttered. “First you nearly shoot me from the sky and now…!” Without showing any more signs of hesitation he stomped closer, halting only few precious steps away from Vader, yet keeping the distance. He stared at Vader, then glowered.

“Apart from the legs, are you alright?”

“Excuse me?”

“Apart from the legs? Did you hurt anything else during the crash? Geez, don’t pretend that you’re not hearing alright!”

The Sith Lord in front of him was at this point very sure that he, in fact, did not hear correctly anymore. It seemed like his first interpretation of the boy’s intentions had been tremendously false.

When he failed to answer in time, Luke snorted. “Good, then I’ll leave.” Like on an after-thought, he added “There’s an Imperial base close-by, they will find your position soon.” He turned on his heels and started stomping away.

Vader finally found words again. “Wait!” he rumbled. Luke stilled but didn’t turn back around.

“Just because I did not come here to kill you doesn’t mean that I am here on friendly terms,” he said, and his voice was like ice. “I haven’t forgotten what you did the last time we met, and I certainly haven’t forgotten what you have done to Han or intended to do to Leia.” The fury in his words was unmistakable.

The hope that had raised its head for a tiny second in Vader’s black heart, shriveled and died a quick death. Had the situation been different, he might have reacted differently, his temper drowning out the hurt the boy’s rejection caused. But like this, there was nothing he could do but watch as the blonde rebel threw him a last cold glance, pushed back the hair in his face and started walking again, each step bringing him further away from Vader and closer to his X-Wing. Suddenly he stopped.

Turning his head, his eyes wandered once more over Vader and came to rest on the comlink that lay broken and useless next to him where he had dropped it. He hesitated.

“Is that thing even still usable? It looks broken. And my X-Wing did not pick up any signals.” His words trailed off slightly at the end.

Vader didn’t answer. The comlink went flying through the air and snapped into Luke’s out-stretched hand. The boy inspected it shortly, poking at one component or two, all the while throwing several distrustful glances at Vader. Probably making sure that the Sith hadn’t moved. Vader couldn’t help but feel pride at his son’s easy skill, no matter how simple the act of levitation had been. The ease with which Luke had done it spoke of training- had he received more training? Had he trained, for this day, or maybe a day not just like this, where he would face him again, prepared to-

Luke cursed and drew Vader’s attention back to him. “That’s unusable,” he said shortly, and threw the comlink to the ground.

Vader watched the boy cautiously, curious as to what he would come up with next. Certainly he’d simply turn back around and-

Luke started fiddling with his sleeves, pulling them back and up. He then took off the small comlink he carried over his left wrist and weighted it wistfully in his hands. Muttering something Vader did not understand, it might have been a frustrated “Fine”, he turned most- not all- of his attention to the small object in his hands, turning it over twice and then starting to type in several frequencies quickly.

Unable to keep the question back, Vader opened his mouth. “What are you doing?” The words sounded harsher than he had meant them.

His son threw him another irritated glance but answered. “Deleting all of my contacts and making sure that nobody” –a pointed glare- “can reconstruct them.”

“Why would you…”

“Done.” Luke pursed his lips and opened his hand, allowing the comlink to float slowly towards the fallen figure of the Dark Lord. He clearly did not trust him enough to get any closer, or maybe he just didn’t bother.

The comlink dropped onto the rock before Vader, or would have, had he not stretched out his hand in time and caught the communication gadget.

“I will go now,” Luke announced. “The others will soon start to worry, and I promised to only check this out shortly. I don’t,” he glared, “have any other intention of staying any longer anyway.”

“Luke-“

 His son shook his head shortly and now really turned to leave.

“Goodbye, father.”

 

Later, he would tell himself that the form of address had startled him badly enough that he just let his son go. Even later than that, he would admit to himself that even if he had wanted to, he would have been incapable of holding the boy.

As it was, Vader watched quietly as his son disappeared back into the cockpit of his ship and few moments later, it was gone.

It took several minutes- until the brilliant presence in the force had disappeared as well- until Vader looked down at the comlink, intending to make the call. Not knowing what drove him to do it, he called up the contact list. Indeed, all numbers that had once been saved on it were deleted now. All except for one. He stared at the name.  

Luke Skywalker.

 

Truth be told, Luke had simply forgotten to delete his own name from the contact list.

 

 

“You did what, kid?!” The exclamation startled Luke but he stubbornly raised his chin, not intending to let it show.

“You remember what happened the last time you went after Vader?”

No matter how tense he was feeling at the moment, the question still made his temper rise. “Han, what kind of question is that?! Of course I do!”

“You were lucky you got away alive!”

Luke clenched his teeth, carefully schooling his features into neutrality. “Han, I didn’t even see the guy. If he was around, he was either hiding or I was searching in the wrong place. So there is really no reason for you to still be so upset about it!”

The man pierced him with a stare that could have scared off slave drivers but Luke met it without flinching or giving away with even the slightest change of mimic that he was lying.

Something about the way Han looked at him changed, softened, and Luke knew that his friend wouldn’t manage to stay angry with him for much longer. “The next time, you’ll think- what would Han do? And then-“

“And then I’d run away as far as possible?” He made sure to keep his voice soft to keep the edge away.

“You hurt my feelings, kid.”

Luke narrowed his eyes. “It’s what you want me to do though, right?”

“Yes, of course! No one gets away from Vader and lives, and nobody does so twice! You are already unnaturally lucky as it is!” Luke uneasily flexed the fingers of his right hand.

“Lucky. Right.”

Han stared at him as if he could feel his mood dropping. “If you’re gonna say now that the force was with you, I’m gonna hit something.”

Luke winced. “As long as it’s not me…?”

“Of course not but you get my point.”  

“I do.” Luke sighed, searching for words to mollify his upset friend. “I… I’m sorry, Han, for worrying you.”

He regretted that he had to lie to him, he really did, but he had no other choice, not when he was-

“Sithspawn. You’d better be,” Han grumbled. “I’ve just gotten unfrozen. I don’t want you to stop my heart from beating any time soon.”

Luke’s heart beat too quickly in his chest. “Now let’s not let it come to that. Also, your heart did not stop while you were frozen in carbonite. As far as Leia told me, your life signs were closely monitored.”

“Well, that sounds reassuring,” Han remarked bitingly.

Luke wished that he could use the force to make the floor swallow him whole. Well, maybe he could. He hadn’t tried it yet. Maybe if he… “You have to understand, I just had to check it out. I had to know whether he was dead or… Listen, I promise to you that I will do my utmost best to make sure Vader will never reach me.”

Like often, his words had the tendency to come back at him.

 

 

Vader had prepared carefully what he would say to his son. His son had left him his comlink number. This could only mean one thing: Even though he had still put up a fierce front- he was, mildly understandably, still upset about the whole Bespin event- he evidently did wish for contact to his long lost father. Maybe there was still a chance to salvage what had been done, to establish a connection which had been lost long, if both sides desired it to be this way.

It was unfortunate, really, that in the moment he decided to call, Luke happened to participate in a meeting with Rebel High Command.

They were at this point discussing the attack Luke had led against the TIE fighter squadron, as well as the other, similar attacks other squad leaders had carried out in different systems.

He greeted him with his deep and sonorous voice. “Hello, my son.” His mind was already focusing on the words he would say next, formulated perfectly in hours of thinking and meditation. He never got to say any of them.

Luke listened to the breathing noise for about three seconds- that was about as long as it took him to realize that this was, indeed, happening- then he rapidly pushed the button to end the call. Luke would later thank all gods he knew about that he had turned his spare comlink’s volume down. As it was, nobody but him had been able to truly understand the words the comlink had spit out. How had his father even-  

His thoughts came to an abrupt halt when he noticed Leia’s irritated side glance. Standing close to him, she had obviously noticed the interruption – who else had?- but as she continued to look at him, her facial expression turned from annoyed to worried. “Luke? Are you fine? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Must have been my dead father’s,” Luke replied weakly. “Coming to hunt me.”

“Coming to haunt you?” Leia inched closer to him. “Luke, what is it? Did something happen?”

“A lot of things happened,” Luke said in a strangled and strangely weak voice. “I guess I must have been an idiot.”

Leia knit her brows. “Please explain.”

“Wedge told me that he could down six bottles of Correlian whiskey and still count to ten properly. I believed him.” His voice sounded empty even to him.  

“Luke, are you okay?”

“Sure?”

Leia was about to ask whether or not that counted as a question when she was beaten to it by Mon Mothma.

“Commander Skywalker,” she said, her grey eyes flashing at him from over the room. “I heard that after the attack you led, you separated shortly from the group to search for their leader. Wedge told me you thought it was Vader. Would you like to tell us more about that?”

Luke swallowed and clenched his fingers closed around the comlink, banning all thoughts of it from his mind. “It was nothing. I had hoped I could get a visual on him to estimate the amount of damage he had taken through the crash. But I could not find him.” Lying the second time was easier.

Mon Mothma’s eyes were uncomfortably sharply searching his face. “That was risky, Commander. But I assume if you had found him, you could have used the opportunity to finally bring him down.”

“Exactly,” Luke lied. “I did not want to miss the opportunity.” Despite of what everyone thought of him, he was capable of lying. He had grown up on Tatooine. Once again, Mothma’s unwavering gaze found his. He stared straight at her and in the end, she was the first to advert her eyes.

“But how did you know that it was Vader in the ship?” Leia asked confusedly. “Couldn’t it have been another Commander as well?”

Luke shrugged. “He’s a Sith. I can sense his presence in the force. Also I’ve never seen anyone fly like he does.”

Mon Mothma stepped forward. “Such a thing is possible even at such great distances?”

One moment of hesitation was all that betrayed that there was more to Luke’s answer than he let on. “Yes. He is strong in the force and therefore, I could notice him easily.”

He only realized his mistake when he saw Mon Mothma’s eyes narrow. “Could you not have found him like this on the planet then?”

Hastily, Luke searched for a reasonable explanation. “It’s easier with visual contact. I’m afraid I lost contact when he fell through the upper atmospheres.”

“How unfortunate.”

Luke held his breath but this seemed to be all Mon had to say to his failure.  

“Let’s now come to the next topic of our meeting…”

 

 

Unhappily, Luke stared at the comlink in his hands. He had managed to leave the meeting without causing any more questions but now, that he had retired to his rooms, he found his head buzzing with questions of his own.

How had Vader been able to call him? He had made sure to delete all the numbers on his comlink before handing it to Vader, there would have been no way to reestablish a connection to the rebel base, no matter how talented a technician Vader-

Luke stilled. He had deleted his entire contact list. But his own contact data, saved in a single sheet to keep it separated from the other numbers…? Had he…? Now that he was thinking about it, he couldn’t say with absolute surety that he had deleted his very own contact data.

Suppressing a groan and the need to rest his head in his hands, he hunched forward. What if this was indeed what had happened? What if Vader didn’t give up? What if he called again? He couldn’t refuse to answer his calls, only because he didn’t recognize the calling number. This was turning into a mess…    

“Geez, Luke, what is it? You have been staring at your comlink like it’s a snake that’s going to attack you- for 10 minutes now, and I swear, it was without blinking.” Wedge’s sleepy voice reached him through the dim light of the night cycle.

“Didn’t you want to sleep?” Luke grumbled, and shoved the comlink to the side.

“I sure as hell wanted to. But you’re behaving weird, like you’re brooding over something, and it’s irritating.”

“Well, thank you, Wedge.” Luke infused his voice with as much sarcasm as he was capable of. “How about you just go to sleep now?”

“Alright but is something bothering you, Luke?”

“Why is everybody asking me that today?” Luke snapped, testiness overriding his uneasiness. Only seconds later, guilt swept over him for yelling at his friend like that. “I’m sorry. I guess the last mission took more out of me than I thought.”

“ ‘s okay,” Wedge murmured, accepting the apology in less than a heartbeat. “Sleep…”

 

Luke, surprisingly, did find sleep.   

That was, until exactly six hours into the night cycle. Then there was a ringing beside his head, accompanied by a flare in the force that shook him awake and-

He sat up, cursing, his hand already going for his ringing comlink as he tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. The encryption looked uncomfortably familiar. Without giving himself a second to think his actions through, he blindly thumbed a sign. The ringing stopped and the comlink’s display grew dark once again.

Holding his breath, Luke stared into the darkness where Wedge lay somewhere, hopefully still asleep.

“Who the kriff even calls you at this awful hour of day?” It seemed his hope had been in vain.

Someone who doesn’t know which planet I’m on and what time it is for me? Luke silently answered in his head. Not that the answer did anything to dull the anger slowly rising in his stomach. What reason did his father have to believe that Luke –ever!- wished to speak to him? It wasn’t like Vader hadn’t made his stance very clear during their duel! It wasn’t like Luke had any intention of changing his mind!

Remembering that Wedge was still waiting for an answer- and he deserved that much considering that the call had dragged him from sleep- Luke huffed in a breath. “It’s really not important,” he said.  “Just… uh…”

“Yes?”

“Wedge, you have to promise me something.”

Wedge sighed tiredly. “Sure, what is it?”

Luke breathed in deeply and leaned his head back. “Never, ever, answer my comlink when I’m not there.”

Wedge’s voice sounded clearer now, suspiciousness slinking into his voice. “What’ya have to hide, Luke?”

“Promise me.” He didn’t even try to explain, didn’t know how.

There was a short pause in which Wedge obviously considered whether he should interrogate Luke further, replaced by silent acceptance. Whatever was Luke’s secret, it was his to keep. “Fine. I promise.”

Only a few minutes later, Luke noticed Wedge’s breaths slowing down and he realized that his friend had fallen asleep. His own eyes stayed wide open.

 

The next day found Luke with darkly-rimmed eyes, a proof of too little sleep and too many thoughts on his mind. However, the person standing in front of him, proved to be little impressed by this.

“I do not see why you are asking for a new one,” the technician said with a frown. “You already have one and it seems to be perfectly working. Why are you asking for another one?”

Luke sighed. He had known that this might become a problem and unfortunately, he had been very right about it. “Listen, I’m really not asking for much, I just want one new comlink number? Or a new comlink with a different number? I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important.”

“Oh?” The technician pursed her lips. “Well, and why would that be?”

“It’s hard to explain but-“

“Either you explain or you will not get a new number. Did you leave your number lying around during your last mission? No?”

Luke considered to lie and to tell the woman that he had lost his comlink in enemy territory. The logical conclusion would be that every contact number he had saved on his comlink would have to be reprogrammed. Ignoring the time and resources it would take, people would start asking questions. Leaving valuable information like that lying around… no, he couldn’t lie.

“No,” he murmured. “But could you please make an exception and just this once, help me out?”

He must have looked truly miserable because the technician’s gaze softened as she eyed him. But apparently it wasn’t enough to change her mind.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I’m not gonna do so unless you give me a good reason to.”

Luke turned on his heels and left. It seemed like he would have to solve this problem differently.

 

“And then he said ´You really want to do this? Well, fine with me!´and he threw himself at the guy, tackling him to the ground and knocking him out!” Hobbie’s narration was accompanied by wild hand gestures, imitating the fight.

“Ha! You should have seen it! He didn’t even get a moment to scream for help but was down in a second and- Luke, your comlink is ringing, why are you not answering it?”

Luke Skywalker was in this very moment busy setting down a cup of hot chocolate without spilling the liquid over his fingers. “I’ll go, I’ll go,” he murmured hectically. “Don’t mind me, I’ll just-“

Seconds later, he had thrown back his chair and had reached the door. It closed behind him with a loud thump and seconds later, his quiet voice could be heard, the words inaudible.

Wedge stared at the door with a strange expression in his face. “Guys. Something is wrong with Luke. Is it just me or has he been acting weird lately? Anyone having a hunch what this is about?”

“You’re the one sharing a room with him,” Zev replied sourly. “Why don’t you tell us?”

The door reopened and Wes Janson strode in. “Luke’s outside and he’s arguing with someone over his comlink? Anyone know what that’s about?”

Han Solo, who had been silently listening to the conversation between the rogues, with an increasingly worried frown growing on his face, now leaned forward. “What did he say?”

Wes shrugged and sat down, shoveling some sausages onto his plate. “Something like ´Leave me alone and stop calling me! I don’t want to talk to you´? He didn’t sound very happy. And he didn’t even allow the other person to speak?”

Han furrowed his brow. The smuggler was brooding about something, that much was for sure. “Leia mentioned that Luke had been distracted during a meeting with High Command as well,” he stated thoughtfully. “And he’s been like this for a few days now, probably since he returned from his last mission.”

Wedge swallowed the pitiful rest of his caf. “You have a theory?”

Han’s worried frown eased slowly and instead, a wicked smile grew on his face. “Indeed, I do have a theory. It’s obvious.”

The rogues, even the ones which hadn’t been listening closely before, leaned forward, curiously. “Keep going?”

“Luke has had an argument with his girlfriend!” Han blurted out triumphantly.

Wedge nearly coughed up his caf in a fit of laughter and only pressing his hand tightly on his mouth avoided a catastrophe. Wes in the meantime was choking on his sausages.    

“What girlfriend?” The words were barely audible.

“His secret girlfriend,” Han repeated, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“I hate to tell you, Han, but Luke doesn’t have a girlfriend.” Wedge had regained his balance.

“That’s what he wants you to think.”

Wedge stared at him incredulously. “Han, I literally live with Luke, and trust me, I would know if he had a girlfriend…!”

“Not if he was keeping it a secret. That’s what secret girlfriend means.”

Wedge buried his face in his hands. “Where did you even get this idea? Luke – a girlfriend? It’s ridiculous!”

Han raised his hands, affronted. “It’s the only thing which makes sense! Whatever this is about, he apparently keeps quiet about it and won’t tell you and now, he keeps receiving calls nobody is allowed to listen to and he refuses to talk to her, so obviously he has a girlfriend he didn’t tell us about and he just had an argument with her.”

Wedge peaked at the man through his fingers. “I’ll just pretend that what you just said makes any sense- which it does not- what would you do about this?”

Han smiled in a way that would have frightened any man with some common sense. “I’ll confront him about her.”

The door swished open and Luke strode in with a red head.

Han shoved Wes into the side conspiratorially. Had Luke been paying any attention at all, he would have noticed the stares following him and the sharp nudge of the force, warning him of a coming danger. However, he did not. His mind was preoccupied with other matters.

 

Luke sighed, feeling more tired than -by any right- he should be feeling. He blinked slowly at the mirror in front of him, leaning heavily on the sink. The past week had exhausted him. It seemed that he had truly inherited his stubbornness from his father. Constantly staying vigilant, in case Vader tried again to reach him, had begun to slowly fracture his nerves and patience into tiny pieces.

There was no regularity in when Vader would call. Luke had doggedly ignored all attempts, except for voicing his opinion once non-to friendly when he had been interrupted during breakfast and during ´the snub fight incident´ as he’d begun to call it.

He had been stuck in the middle of a dog fight, an Imperial TIE hot on his heels, when suddenly his comlink had rung. The sound was too loud, too distracting, considering that Luke was submerged deeply in the force to avoid being blasted into star dust.

Risking immediate death, he whacked on top of the comlink. With a sputter, the communication connected. “Young One, you-“ his father’s voice started speaking but Luke didn’t even listen.

“Do you want to kill me, not now!” he panted, narrowly avoiding a green shot missing his right wing by only a few meters.

For a few, blessed seconds, there was silence as Vader obviously processed the noise coming through the comlink- beeping, Luke’s cursing, and other pilot’s voices giving sharp commands and warnings-

“You are in a snub fi-“ Vader didn’t even get the chance to finish his question. Luke had already swiped his hands over the comlink, thumbing it off, and then he had turned around in a sharp angle and blown up the other ship, its debris raining against his duraglass pane.

Inhaling a deep breath of fresh air and refocusing on the present, Luke splashed some water into his face. At least for the next minutes he would be safe from Vader’s continued pursuit, he thought, and stepped into the fresher.

 

What Luke had not considered in his assessment was the undying curiosity of a certain smuggler. Ever since Han Solo had first figured out the cause behind Luke’s distraction and behind the mysterious, unending calls he seemed to receive at the moment, he had set his mind on finding out about the girl’s identity.

Surely it was someone from the base or maybe it was someone he had managed to charm during a mission? Han had already nagged Leia about it until she told him all she knew- which turned out to be nothing. She was as uninformed about the affair as he himself was. And it bugged him. Did Luke not trust them enough to tell them about her? Was her identity in some way critical? Was it a Twi’lek? Han wouldn’t mind if it was a Twi’lek. What he minded was that Luke even concealed it from them, his best friends.

In conclusion, there was only one thing to be done about it. He had to confront Luke about it. Surely he wouldn’t lie to his face about it. He would maybe stutter, and it would take a while until he got all the details, but in the end, Han was sure that he could make his friend tell him all. After all, it wasn’t like he didn’t trust Luke with everything.

With a rush of fresh enthusiasm, he knocked on the door of Luke’s and Wedge’s shared room. There was no reaction, no rustle in the room, no hint that the room was occupied at the moment.

“Hello?” he called uneasily. “Luke? Wedge? Anyone there?”

Still no noise. Deciding that maybe they weren’t hearing him or ignoring him, he spontaneously pushed the door open and stepped in. The room did, in fact, turn out to be empty. Wedge was nowhere to be seen and Luke- there was a noise, however. The faint rush of a sonic shower leaked out of the small fresher and a small smile spread on Han’s lips. There would be no more escape for Luke. He settled on one of their beds and leaned back, fully intending to wait until Luke emerged from the shower to then catch him off guard with his questions.

It was in that moment that the comlink lying next to one of the beds rang.

Han winced in surprise and threw a short look at it. Blinking in red letters at him was a strangely coded calling sequence, no name attached. From the sonic shower, he could hear Luke silently cursing. There was no doubt. The caller could only be one person- Luke’s heartbroken girlfriend.

With only one second of hesitation, Han grabbed the comlink- and connected the call.

“Hello, darling, I’m afraid Luke is at the moment not here. But don’t you want to talk to me for a moment until he arrives? I am Han Solo, captain of the Millenium Falcon and one of Luke’s best friends. And who do I have the honour of speaking with?”

He was very self-satisfied with how smooth and charming the words had left his lips. His introduction seemed to have blown the caller away because for a few moments there was only silence. Then he became aware of a background noise.

“Where is Luke and why do you have his comlink?” Darth Vader’s bass rang through the room.

Han was glad that he was already sitting or he might have just landed on the floor. He coughed, incapable of reacting properly in any matter.

“Va- Vader?!” he blurted, aghast.  

“Solo?” the Dark Lord of the Sith replied dryly. “Shouldn’t you be still frozen in carbonite?”

Han nearly, nearly, stuttered. “How even dare you- shouldn’t you be… shouldn’t you be on board of some Super Star Destroyer or something?!” Looking back, it was probably not the cleverest answer he could have come up with.

“I am.” The Sith nearly sounded amused, then his voice turned cold as a glacier. “Now where is Luke and why are you answering instead of him?”

Han froze on the spot at the tone before he reminded himself that Vader was most likely lightyears away and had no way of attacking him over here. “Now how about you first answer some of my questions before I tell you anything, your Lordship? Why are you calling Luke? How did you even-“

Suddenly there was a crash from the fresher, followed by something that sounded suspiciously like “No no no no” and few seconds later, Luke stumbled out of the door. He was wrapped only in a huge towel which he clutched tightly around his chest, his hair was disheveled and his face was wild with panic.

“Han!” he cried out, his voice several octaves higher than normal, and his eyes darted hectically between the comlink in Han’s hands to Han’s face and back. “What are you doing?! Give me that!”

“Oh, hello, Luke, nice of you to join us,” Vader greeted him smoothly.

“You-! How can you-!”

“You should better blame your smuggler friend,” Vader sounded unapologetic. “He decided to answer your comlink when I tried to reach you. I had no intention at all of speaking to him. Then again, it is probably your fault because you refused to answer my calls.”

Luke continued to look panicked enough to collapse on the spot any second. Or maybe scream, Han wasn’t sure. It did not calm him as much as he’d like it to, considering that his own mind was currently screaming at him. ´Treason´, it screamed, ´Danger´, ´Run´, but this was Luke and there was no way that he was-

“Could you please explain?!” he wheezed out, staring at his friend. Luke stared right back at him with wide-blown eyes.

“I… I don’t… I… I swear this is not what it looks like… why the kriff did you even answer my comlink, Han?!” Redirecting the topic of the conversation and the blame was easier than to try to find a good explanation- or any explanation at all, really.

Han exploded. “I just thought it was your secret girlfriend calling you!”

“My secret what?!” Luke wasn’t sure his ears were still working correctly.  

“Luke, are you indulging in an affair I do not know about?” There was a new undertone in the Sith Lord’s voice now, low and dangerous.

Before the situation could get any more out of hand, Luke threw up his hands in exasperation. “Han, please, explain what are you talking about??”  

Han shrugged nonchalantly, pretending that he was more in control of the situation than he felt like. “I just figured… you kept receiving these calls? And nobody knew who was calling you? And then Wes heard you arguing with the caller? So obviously, the only logical explanation was that you had some kind of affair ongoing! And you had just broken the poor girl’s heart! So she kept trying to call you! But you didn’t answer!”

Luke groaned and burrowed his face in his hands. “What even…how…” He raised his head abruptly. “Do the others believe this nonsense as well?!”

“Well,” Han said pointedly, “it’s way better than them guessing the truth, right? You, conversing with Darth kriffing Vader? On a daily basis? You are aware that such a thing would be considered treason, Luke? What are you doing?” Despite his best intentions, he could feel his body tensing, ready to jump up and – do what, fight?     

Luke turned pale. “I am not conversing with him! I’m ignoring his calls, if you haven’t noticed! Wait. You don’t think… you don’t think I’m his spy, are you? ”

“I don’t know what I think!” Han yelled. “Tell me what to think, Luke!”

Luke straightened up. “Fa-Vader, tell him that I am not an Imperial and that I am not working for you!”

Han had nearly forgotten that Vader was still on the other side of the comlink and at the very moment intently listening to every word they said.  

“He’s working for me,” the Sith Lord replied without a second of hesitation. Dark satisfaction emanated from his words.  

Luke sputtered. “I’m no- Han, don’t believe a word he says!”

Han jumped up. “Then just stop avoiding the question and answer me truthfully, Luke! What is going on? Why are you in contact with Lord Vader?!”

“Because he is my agent,” Vader supplied helpfully.

“I am not!” Luke cried out, backing off two steps. For the first time during their conversation, Han thought that Luke actually looked terrified- terrified of him? He raised his hands calmingly, not wanting his friend to get even more upset, not wanting for this situation to get out of control...

“I’m not trying to put you before a court martial, kid. I’m only trying to understand!”

The words came out in a rush, Luke nearly floundering while speaking. “It all happened during the mission in the Aeroba system! I had shot him down, and I went to search for him, stupid, I know, and his comlink was broken, so I left him mine, and now he keeps calling!” Less than half of the explanation was even coherent and Luke seemed to realize that as well because he deflated with a sigh.

Han searched through the newly-gained, incomprehensible information and picked out the most important one. “You gave him your comlink? You found him? I thought you told High Command that you didn’t? You lied to them? You helped him? Why?

“Because he is my agent,” Vader said gleefully.

Luke clenched his fists, his breaking point reached.

Because he is my father, kriffing hell!”

“Oh.”

Luke’s mouth dropped. Oh.

In the following quiet, you could have heard a needle drop.

“So, uh, your father, huh?” Han commented nervously when the silence started choking him. He wrung his hands and scratched his head awkwardly, wondering whether now would be the right time to bolt. The kid didn’t exactly look like he was ready to attack him. More like he expected it to be the other way around.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Luke said. “I did not just grow a second head. And it’s not like I knew. I’ve only known since Bespin. And we haven’t exactly been on friendly terms since that.”

I had shot him down, reverberated in Han’s head. Whatever this was, it was no complot, and the kid was nearly as much in a fix as he was. More so, if what he said was true. Darth Vader, his father? Kriffing hell. Han had always considered his own family to be messed up.

“So you see, I gave him my comlink so that his troops could find him. Cause he couldn’t move on his own, and-“ He threw him a helpless glance. Without Luke having to explain it, Han understood. He had been presented with an opportunity to kill Darth Vader, the Second Commander of the Imperial Forces, and he had not taken it, because he was his father, and no matter what had happened at Bespin, Luke still somehow clung to the only family connection he had left.

“-and I made sure to delete all numbers on it before I gave it to him, so that he couldn’t trace it back to the base, I swear, I just… uuh… I might have forgotten to delete my own number?”

“You forgot?” Vader interrupted, suddenly, startling both Luke and Han. “I thought you had done that on purpose, young one?”

Luke gasped. “Of course not! Why would you even think that?”

Silence answered him from the comlink, broken only by the Sith’s distinct breathing.

“Now you’re being cruel to your father, Luke,” Han said, a shaky smile forming slowly on his face.

And just like that, Luke knew that it was going to be alright.   

 

 

 

@everyone who is surprised that Luke got away this time (well, more or less): Check the summary :)))) 
I never SAID he was always gonna get kidnapped :)) Gotta keep up the suspense, right? :))

Chapter Text

The first time Han laid eyes on the blonde boy that would change the course of the galaxy, said boy was busy emptying the pockets of a bunch of low-lifes.

Chewie and him had just delivered the goods to their client, most legal, some not so legal, and while Chewie had wanted to finish some much needed repairs (improvements) of the Falcon, Han had decided to hit the town before they left the planet for their next job. It wasn’t everyday that one could plunge into the inner city of Coruscant, enjoying its vivid and colourful (nevermind dangerous) nightlife.

And if he got the opportunity to polish and show off his amazing sabbacc skills- well, then that would only be a further benefit. They could very much use the cash, considering the huge amount of debts hanging threateningly over their heads. If they didn’t find a quicker way to gain enough money to pay Jabba, they wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore in the near future.

The bar where he ended up was located in one of Coruscant’s less praised corners, with dark alley ways and the kind of company you didn’t look in the eye. Han blended in perfectly, knowing his way around in situations like this. He had just spotted the corner of the room in which people of several species sat around lacerated wooden tables, cards in their hands and credits piling up in front of them. He decided against a table where a Bith seemed close to murdering his opponent, an elderly man with a scandalous hat.

His gaze wandered to the next table, calculating his chances against the Chiss, when a soft chuckle reached his ears. He followed the sound and his eyes found the table furthest away from the door and closest to the back door. A hooded figure sat there, a dark cloak wrapped around narrow shoulders. The figure looked up as if he had felt the eyes on him and Han stared in surprise at the youthful face, framed by a mop of unruly blonde hair which peeked out from under the dark hood.

The man sitting on the right to the boy leaned forward and said something, a nasty smile on his lips. The kid turned his attention back to the other players and responded. Whatever he had said obviously didn’t please the man. Pulling his lips into a sneer, he threw down his hand of cards. The boy gave no sign of being alarmed even though Han could recognize the unmistakable forms of Moderation, Demise and The Queen of Air and Darkness even from the distance. His sabacc face was phenomenal. The second man next to him cursed, vividly, and threw down his cards. Han didn’t need to look at them to know that he had lost. The last man on the table, a dark-haired pilot which Han felt he should recognize, grinned triumphantly before he showed his cards. A Pure Sabacc hand. Han looked at the amount of credits lying in front of the boy and his companions and felt his heart go out a little for them. They had just gotten beaten spectacularly. The boy chuckled, again, and threw down his cards.

Han gaped at the Idiot’s Array over the loud shouts from his companions. The kid had either the dumbest luck or he was an accomplished cheater. There was no way there would be both a Pure Sabacc Hand and an Idiot’s Array in only one game. The likelihood of such a thing would be…

The man which had held the Pure Sabacc hand turned red in the face and, unsurprisingly, started shouting at the boy accusingly. The kid did not seem particularly bothered by it but offered a few words, accompanied by a small smile. Han watched incredulously as the boy stretched out his hands to collect the credits while the man’s head turned an even darker shade of red.

The smuggler decided that he had been watching for long enough. Whatever table he decided for, it was certainly not that one. One of them certainly did… cheat. The boy looked up at him again, his eyes sharp and wicked, and smirked.

 

 

“One Mind Eraser,” the young voice said and then there was the sound of a body slumping lazily on the bar chair beside him.

Han glanced over absently, turned his head back to swirl around his Wookie-Wango, and then looked again. Lunging comfortably by his side was the kid from earlier. He had thrown back his hood and long strands of hair fell into his eyes. From up-close he seemed even younger than he had before, caught somewhere between the age of a teenager and a young adult.

“You should pick the Eyeblaster next time, kid,” Han commented chattily. “Won’t knock you out as quickly but the taste’s pretty much the same. Less expansive, too.”

The boy raised his eyebrows at him, probably considering whether or not to answer. Considering the establishment, it would seem wiser not to. Han nearly felt uncomfortable, confronted with those piercing blue eyes scrutinizing him intently.  

Then the boy relaxed, his posture going a little limp and a lazy smile appearing on his lips. “That will not be a problem to me,” he declared.

“Whatever you say, kid,” Han replied easily. He stole another glance at the boy, irritated by his new company and yet curious. “That was a pretty lucky Idiot’s Array earlier,” he remarked casually and took another sip.

The boy shot him a glance. “Interested in a match?”

Han coughed. “Hell no. I’d like to keep the credits I earned just now.”

A wolfish smile appeared on the kid’s lips. “Good choice, probably. I have a winning streak today.”

“Don’t doubt it. So what’s a young man like you doing in an establishment like this?”

The boy’s smile fell a little. “Having fun?”

For some reason, Han felt like this was the only answer he was going to get. He hadn’t really expected more. Everyone had a reason to appear in places like this one and rarely, they were good ones. Whatever the boy’s background was, it was his to keep. They would both forget about this encounter soon. Nonetheless, Han felt drawn to the young man, curious in a way he could not explain.

He stretched out his hand. “My name’s Han Solo. Captain of the Millenium Falcon, the quickest ship you’ll ever have the chance to see. And what can I call you?”

The boy curled his lips, scrutinizing him once more with sharp eyes. Considering that he had just downed about half of the Mind Eraser he had ordered, a valid merit. “Luke,” he finally answered.

“Luke…?”

“Just Luke.”

Han shrugged. “Alright, just-Luke. You wanna tell me how you managed to get that Idiot’s Array? I’m not easily impressed but your little performance over there managed to.”

Lazy blue eyes found his. “Order me drinks for the rest of the evening and I’ll tell you.”

Han huffed, suppressing a laughter. “Then I’d have to trust that you can still remember your little trick at the end of the evening.”

“Surely.” Luke nipped at his drink.

Han considered it for a moment, then shook his head. “Nice try, kid.” He glanced at the boy, finding himself wondering once again how the kriff the kid had ended up in a place like this. He lounged on the chair like he felt perfectly comfortable, confident like he owned the place.

“Shirking responsibilities,” Luke said easily.

“What?”

“You were wondering- before- what I was doing here. I’m shirking responsibilities. It’s the perfect place to hide for a little while until someone catches up with you.”

“I see,” Han commented. “Nobody looks too close at someone in these kind of establishments.”

“Indeed,” Luke chuckled. “That, and they figured out my usual hiding place at the Sailor’s Bar last week. I am gonna figure out how he tracked me.”

Han stared at the boy. His face looked fairly grim at the last sentence. His eyes flickered down to the empty cocktail glass. Luke was playing with a second one in his hands. Han had not noticed him ordering it.

“Listen, Luke, I…”

He never got to finish his sentence. The boy suddenly went tense, his eyes flicking towards the entrance of the bar. Luke cursed, silently, the words nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowd, and then a murmur went through the room.

Han stretched to get a look at what people were staring at and stilled. A group of Imperial storm troopers, clad in immaculate white, had entered the bar. The leading officer, easily recognizable by the bar on his uniform, stepped forward, his mask fixed on them. They couldn’t have possibly found out about the goods, Han thought numbly, and considered the way to the back door. When he looked there, he spied more troopers filing in through the back door.

The officer marched forward, followed by half of his group while the other half stayed behind in the entrance. He was coming directly towards them and then stopped directly in front of Han.

“Your Highness,” he said. “I have to ask you to please return to your father’s manor at once.”

Han stilled when he realized his mistake. The officer wasn’t addressing him. He was addressing Luke. Then the words replayed in his head, causing shock to course through him. Your Highness?  

“Why?” Luke pursed his lips, looking both miffed and offended. “He thinks I can’t spend an evening on my own?”

The officer cleared his throat. “Your father is thoroughly displeased with your, as he called it, childish rebellion, and you are supposed to return at once.”

“Tell him I don’t need babysitters to find my way back.”

“I am afraid this was no request. Your Highness.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed and all of a sudden, there was a tension in the air that hadn’t been there before, like a rush of cold air through the room. The officer took a step back, almost involuntarily, and eyed the boy- the prince!- warily.

Because there could be no more doubt. They had been only rumours at first, people whispering that Lord Vader had acquired a shadow who followed him everywhere, gifted with abilities just like his own. There had been many guesses on the man’s identity but it had taken an official announcement from the Emperor to clear out all doubts. Lord Vader’s son, Luke Vader, had joined the ranks of the court. Since Lord Vader was officially named the Heir to the Empire after the Emperor himself, this did give the unknown boy a legal claim to the throne. Nobody knew where he had come from or why he had been hidden before- maybe for the boy’s safety- but even after the announcement, the boy had been merely more than a shadow, his face known to only a trusted few.   

The very thought of Darth Vader having a son was ludicrous. The very thought of meeting said son was-

Han gulped, uneasiness churning in his stomach, and leaned unconsciously away from the boy while at the same time trying to catch another glimpse on his face. Blue eyes, now narrowed in anger, glared heatedly at the officer. Then, all of a sudden, the tight lines on his face relaxed and he leaned back.

“You will let me leave this place alone,” he said and the words floated in the air, soft and pulsating, and there really wasn’t any reason to not let the boy go alone, his person safe through the anonymity of his disguise…

The officer nodded once. “I will let you leave this place alone,” he repeated in a monotonous voice. Han blinked.

“Great!” Luke smiled gently and stood up from his chair. It looked like a cat uncoiling from its seat, or maybe a snake, fluid and a certain danger in the gracious movement.

The kid threw a short glance at him, probably reading him like a book- Darth Vader’s kid, Han thought, Darth Vader’s kid!- and then he glanced away again, his face withdrawn and closed off. No wonder his sabacc face had been spectacularly good. Han wondered randomly whether Darth Vader knew how to play sabacc.

Luke rolled his head back a little bit and then he jumped through the air. Describing it as jumping was actually a rather bad description. It would be more precise to say that the boy catapulted himself into the air and landed only seconds later elegantly more meters away than any human had any right to jump. The first trooper went as far as to approach the boy, the next moment, he lay on the ground and the boy pushed out his hand and the other troopers stumbled backwards, nearly falling. A flash at the door and then he was gone.

Han gaped. The officer next to him still stood there, not having moved even the slightest bit when the boy, the prince- the prince!- had made his move. Deciding that he had had enough excitement for one evening, Han stood up on unsteady feet and left the establishment. The troopers raced after the prince.

 

He hadn’t planned to meet the boy again. He really hadn’t. He had just dropped out of the sky as Han had walked along the lonesome street, only two more blocks away from the Falcon.

Han startled so badly that he instinctively went for his blaster.

“Woah,” the kid exclaimed, alarmed. “Put that away! You don’t want to shoot anyone, right?!”

Han stared. The prince’s hair was disheveled, more than before, and his breath came out a little bit ragged but apart from that, he didn’t look like he had just escaped a whole bunch of Imperial patrols wandering through the worst part of the Coruscanti underworld.

“Sorry for dropping by but you don’t have a place to sleep for the night by chance? My dad feels kind of angry right now so I’d rather only go back tomorrow. Returning now might not be too pleasant.” The kid smiled and it was such an open smile that Han’s mind that screamed- ´Danger! Danger! Danger!´- fell silent for a moment. There was also part of his mind which highlighted the words ´My dad´ which made him feel a little bit dizzy.

“Sure,” he said, faintly, raised his blaster and pulled the trigger.

The boy fell like a tree.

Han startled, then cursed, stepped forward two steps, stepped back, and cursed again. What had he done? What had he done? He hadn’t really planned to pull the trigger, hadn’t really planned to do anything but some part of him had acted instinctively, still reeling from the revelations and the shock of seeing the boy again, and the threat he undoubtedly posed…

Cautiously, he neared the unconscious form. The stun bolt had hit him head-on, taking him down effortlessly. He hadn’t even tried to defend himself, the attack coming too quickly, from up too close and too unexpectedly.

Realizing very suddenly that he had just attacked and taken down an Imperial prince, something that would be considered treason and punished as such, Han became aware of the significance of what he had just done. As he bowed down to inspect the youthful face, he became aware of a very dangerous idea forming the deepest abysses of his mind. The kid was Darth Vader’s child- a prize like no other. Should Vader ever learn that he had raised his hand against the boy, he would be a dead man. Turning Luke over to the Imperials would mean calling the wrath of Darth Vader upon him.

But there was a possibility, to turn this macabre situation to his favour, a way to solve all of his problems with only one hike through the galaxy… he didn’t really like the idea but business was business and the times were as the times were.

 

 

Luke woke up slowly, his senses coming back to him one by one. There was a certain stiffness in his limbs, like a tingling, like being hit by a-

He sat up abruptly. Like being hit by a stun shot. At least he would have liked to sit up properly. Instead, he lost his balance halfway and started flailing helplessly as he found himself unable to support himself with his bound arms. Cold heavy binders held his wrists in an iron grip in front of his stomach.

Pushing the adrenaline forcefully back down, Luke inhaled a deep breath of air, and took in his surroundings for the first time. Even without recognizing the interior of the ship- maybe an old freighter?- he would have known that they were flying through hyperspace. The deep hum of the hyperspace drive permeated the air, and he could feel it, the emptiness around them in the force, void of the buzzing of hundreds of life forms around them. The freighter itself was not very impressive, its walls somewhere between white and grey and the furnishment slightly worn. The most interesting feature was the dejarik board, close to the seating area he was currently lying on.  

He scowled down at the binders and contemplated taking them down with the force. Solo- that had been his name, right?- had been a fool to think that these were a hindrance to him. Then again, thinking that he was in control might loosen up the man’s tongue. The man’s attack had come as a complete surprise- the only reason why he had been able to take Luke down- and he was at a loss as to what motives were driving the man. He had assumed that Solo was a pilot, maybe a smuggler considering what kind of scum was usually spending his time in locations like the Twilek’s Girl. But his first impression of him, aided by a short dip into the man’s mind, had not set any alarm bells ringing.

The door to the cockpit opened with a low hiss and the object of his contemplations stepped through, his eyes settling on him quickly. Luke scrambled into a fully sitting position, refusing to lie down for whatever came next.

“I see you are awake,” his kidnapper greeted him finally.

Luke didn’t even bother to acknowledge the obvious statement. “Where are you taking me?” he demanded impatiently. He stiffened when the man stepped closer and he spied his lightsaber hanging from Solo’s hip. Even now the force was irritatingly calm, not a whisper of danger carrying towards him.

Solo must have noticed his staring because his hand dripped towards it. “Sorry for knocking you out like this. It’s nothing personal. But you see, it’s just not every day that you encounter Darth Vader’s kid. I don’t know how much the rebellion will pay to get their hands on you but it should get Jabba off my back.”        

Luke inhaled sharply. The rebellion.

“You’re with the rebels?” he snapped, angry with Solo, angry with himself for not noticing such a thing when his father had always warned him of-

“What, me? No. I like being alive,” Han sputtered. “I’m just a pilot. A very good pilot if I may say so for myself, with a very fast ship. People hire me to transport stuff for them.”

“So you’re a smuggler,” Luke huffed, tried to fold his arms over his chest and failed.  

Solo looked so offended Luke nearly had to smile. “Why do people always look at me and assume I am up to something?”

“You just kidnapped me,” Luke pointed out.

Han opened his mouth as if to reply something, looking like a fish stranded on the beach. “I… that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.”

Luke sighed. “Listen, Han- I can call you Han, right? You seem like a decent fellow. Turn your ship around now, bring me back and I can assure you that my father will pay off your debts with Jabba.” 

The answer was quick this time around. “Thanks, kid, but I prefer myself breathing.”

Luke tried again. “He won’t harm you if I am pleading for you.” He hesitated. “Wait, what did you just call me?”

“Can’t say I’m really convinced by that. After all, I just intended to turn you over to the rebellion. So no, I don’t think that’s happening, your Highness.”

Luke hunched over a little, making himself seem a little smaller. Considering his slim statue, it wasn’t a hard thing to do. “Reconsider. What do you think the rebellion would do to the son of their most vile enemy? I am lucky if I even survive the day!”

He glimpsed up at the smuggler and saw the indecision on his face. Of course, there was no doubt that Vader would not leave the smuggler alive. Not after what he had done, what he had intended to do. His wrath would only serve as a warning to others. He didn’t feel obliged to plead very profoundly for the man’s life.

“I don’t think so,” Han replied after a long pause. “There’s no real gain in killing you off. They’d be fools not to use you as a bargaining ship instead, for Vader to release some prisoners or to hand over control on some planet.”

Luke for one moment allowed himself to imagine such a thing. He didn’t doubt that his father would have done it, if his son’s life was at stake. Palpatine, no, but his father? There was only one thing where the smuggler was terribly wrong. He thought that Luke would just let it happen. He thought that Luke was helpless in his binders, that he had control over the situation. Solo was a fool.

He nearly took off the binders then and called for his lightsaber. It would have been easy. Slice down the smuggler, take control of the ship, fly back. His father would be angry with him, sure, but also relieved that he had returned safely.

It would have been the easiest way. But there was an alternative, a tempting one, and the moment he had thought of it, it refused to leave his mind. Solo was flying him to the rebellion. There was no doubt that he would bring his prisoner straight to the rebels’ High Command, among the inner circle to let them decide his fate. It was an opportunity like no other. He knew how long his father had hunted the rebellion, how long he’d sought to bring down High Command. What better way to prove his growing skills, his worthiness for greater things, than to bring him the heads of his worst enemies? For too long now had his father and the Emperor stifled his efforts, had refused to let him leave Coruscant on his own? If he could prove himself worthy, they would finally recognize his abilities and complete his training to become a real Sith.

He hastily hid the smile starting to form on his face. No. He had to keep playing the scared prisoner in front of Solo, hiding his true abilities from him. Let Solo bring him to High Command… and he’d lay their heads to his father’s feet.    

Straightening up, he stared up at the smuggler. “I’m sure my father could offer you more than whatever these pitiful rebels can.”

He allowed himself to relish in Solo’s flinch when he said ´my father´. The smuggler was way too terrified of Vader to ever consider this possibility.

“I only need to stop Jabba from sending his murder minions after me,” Han said, looking stressed. “I’m sure you never even needed to worry about financial problems, your Highness.”

Luke bit back two sarcastic remarks lying on his tongue and decided that he had pleaded enough for his release. Even an insistent prisoner would at some point give up.

“How long will we still need to travel?” he asked. “I can’t say that I am looking forward to spending several days in this heap of trash.”

“Careful what you call my ship! It could easily outrun any of your Star Destroyers.”

Luke carefully filed the information away for later contemplation. Speaking of Star Destroyers, he idly wondered whether his father had already found out that he was missing. Surely he would assume that Luke disappearing for a day would only mean that he was sulking off somewhere in the city. Then again, any trace of his force presence vanishing as if he had left the planet… it was well possible that his father was already pulling all the levers at his disposal to find out what had happened.

Any doubt for his plan vanished when he contemplated that his father would never let him leave his sight again when he found out the truth. To be knocked out by a mere smuggler- how embarrassing!

His face must have darkened because Solo stepped closer still, his unease and a soft undertone of guilt singing at him through the force.

“You alright, kid?” he asked. Luke nearly snapped at him for the atrocity of the address. “I can’t take off these cuffs for now but, uh, I could offer you some caf?”

Luke snorted. “That disgusting stuff? You want to poison me?” He turned his head away demonstratively. “But you might as well take off these cuffs. Where do you think I would run to? It’s not like I can get off the ship and you have all the weapons.”

Han’s face hardened as he recalled the scene he had witnessed at the club. “Don’t you dare try to use of your little mind tricks on me,” he warned. “I can promise you that Chewie will take you down quicker than you can react.”

Luke nearly chuckled, doubting this very much, and then stilled at the growl reaching his ears. He twisted his head around to see the tall, armed Wookie who had just entered the area through the cockpit door.

“Oh, hello,” he said, allowing a nervous undertone into his voice. “Didn’t see you there. My name’s Luke but you have probably already heard of me. You’re one of his friends?”

As the Wookie let out a low howl, Han translated quickly. “He’s my co-pilot. And he’s warning you not to consider any games. He says sometimes I’m a gullible little- wait, what? Chewie!”

Disguising his sulking by crossing his arms over his chest, Han leaned back against the ship’s wall. The Wookie rumbled something else.

“No, the kid doesn’t want any caf, I already asked him. Stop fussing, he’s the son of a Sith and if I hadn’t knocked him out and disarmed him, he would have probably murdered us both already. Also- wait, are you judging me for this? We talked about this!”

A high howling from the Wookie.

“You know very well that Oriana refuses to lend us any more money. Now stop complaining and make yourself useful! Have you finished the hyperdrive fine-tuning by now? … you thought I would have fun doing that? What do you mean I’m the only one small enough to crawl in there?”

“I could do it,” Luke offered slyly, enjoying the exchange between the unlikely pair more than he would have admitted to.

His offer was turned down, twice.

 

“He doesn’t look like much,” the rebel sneered into his face. Luke clenched his fists within his binders, flexing them playfully and imaged snapping the rebel’s neck where he stood. The thought calmed him enough to continue to play the image of a docile prisoner.

“Talking about yourself?” his mouth replied and he bit his tongue when he saw the man’s hand coming up rapidly. Before it could hit him, a second, very hairy hand rushed up, capturing the fist.

“You are supposed to hand him over to High Command, not have your fun,” Han Solo drawled slowly. The rebel stared up at the Wookie looming over him and decided to take a step back.

“Whatever. We’re taking it from here, Solo. High Command is very careful with whom they tell where the Command Ship is and you’re not on the most-trusted list.”

Deciding that he didn’t want to drag this out any longer, Luke turned towards the smuggler. “Well, I guess this is where we go our separate ways.”

The smuggler looked unhappier at his words than he would have expected. The bad conscience he had felt through the force several times during their short travel now leaked out openly.

“Maybe we’ll meet one day again and you can give me that sabacc game you still owe me. If I decide not to murder you on the spot.”

Han laughed uneasily, clearly wondering about how serious these words were. “If you insist.”

They didn’t get to exchange any more words as two other rebels marched forward and took hold of Luke’s shoulders and upper arms. With more force than strictly necessary, they dragged him forward, towards the exit of the Millenium Falcon and into the rebel ship behind.

“Now to your payment,” he heard the dark-haired rebel say behind him, and then the doors closed off behind him.

He inspected the rebel ship curiously, taking in the narrow hallway he was being lead through, and experimentally broadening his perception in the force, feeling for more life forms on board. There were at least 20 rebels, their feelings spanning from nervousness to glee and triumph.

He should have expected that they wouldn’t just bring him to High Command directly and yet the detour annoyed him. Their carefulness and evasiveness had sustained them so far- no longer. He would-

Luke.

It was like a shuddering in his bones, like the distant call of the waves from the beach, like a dark beacon on the coast. The dark possessiveness reached for him, and caressed his mind, settling its dark wings around his shoulders. Luke felt his breath leave his lungs.

Luke, where are you?

Answer me.

Luke.

He closed his eyes briefly, concentrated on the opened connection at the end of his mind and allowed it to grow wider.

Father, he acknowledged. He had expected for his father to contact him soon, noticing his prolonged absence, but even so, he felt unprepared.

The tension that had been pulsating at the back of his mind fell away, turned to relief. It was followed by an impulsive flare of anger.

Where have you been? Do not think that I cannot tell that you have left Coruscant. To run away because of a childish argument like this is-

Luke hastily interrupted his father before his father could begin a proper scolding. I didn’t… I didn’t run away.

Silence.

Then the same question again, this time entwined with a rush of unease. Worry. Where are you, Luke? What has happened?

Luke set out to answer the question when hands yanking at his upper arms catapulted his focus back to the rebels. They had arrived in front of a fortified door, one of his guards entering a code into the pad next to the door. Luke tried to glimpse the row of numbers and received a painful blow to his temple for his trouble.

Luke! There was a new feeling pouring into his mind now and it took Luke a few moments of incredulous gaping to understand what it was. His father was afraid.

The rebels pushed him into the room beyond the door and Luke blinked against the harsh lights from the ceiling. There was a rack at the end of the room, apart from that, it was eerily empty. He stumbled as they pushed him further forward, fighting to keep his balance with his hands still bound.

I… I got knocked out when I was on the way back, he hastily explained as he felt his father’s emotions grow more uncontrolled.

One of the rebels held something cold against his neck while the other restrained his arms painfully behind his back. Distracted by his mental conversation, Luke only realized now what was happening and he bucked, alarmed, but it was too late. The syringe slid under his skin and emptied whatever it carried into his bloodstream. He shuddered, feeling numbness spreading up his neck.    

They handed me over to the rebellion, he sent hastily, not knowing how much longer he had to explain his plan to his father. His knees felt strangely weak beneath him.

They did what?! His father’s shout was loud and the panic that flooded into Luke’s mind, combined with his own alarm, threatened to overwhelm him. Where are you? What did they do to you?!

Father, don’t worry. I intend to… It’s all part of… He tethered off, the drugs sweeping away his consciousness in a rush of all-encompassing darkness.

 

 

His consciousness returned in flickers, his head still swimming like he had been hit on the head. People were dragging at his arms and he was standing before he became aware of being awake.

He groaned, deciding that the next time, he preferred to decide himself whether or not he wanted to go to sleep. A hand gripped his chin and forced him to look straight forward. Blurred lines turned into a grim rebel face and then he was being pushed forward, back the same way he had come from.

Still dizzy from whatever they had injected him, he tried to stretch out his mind, to find his father’s familiar wildfire at the back of his mind. He must have startled him badly, to drop unconscious without being to explain that this was all part of the plan, that this would bring him in the midst of the rebels where he could-

He couldn’t. Luke pushed stronger as the panic of the realization set it but found himself incapable of contacting his father. The drugs were still effectively clouding his mind, interfering with his connection to the force. It was not blocked from his mind, no force-suppressing drugs, but they were still strong enough to keep him dizzy. Fighting to keep up with the speed of the rebel soldiers, he staggered after them.

His father was close. He knew it, he could feel it, his presence stronger than it had been before and yet he was incapable of…

Luke breathed out deeply. This was not helping. He needed to stay calm in order to carry out his plan. His father had taught him how to clear drugs from his blood. They were only a hindrance, shortly keeping him from unleashing his powers. An annoyance, not more.

He drew himself to his full height and reached for the force.

 

When they lead him into the Command room, his triumph was close. The influence of the drugs had been pushed back, barely noticeably now clouding his perception. He was certain that contacting his father would now work easily.

The Command Center was a square room, a long table displaying strategic outlines on one side and a large viewing port on the other side. Luke disregarded the electronical installments.

Instead, his attention latched onto the people he was walking towards. They were few. A red-haired woman, a white-bearded man, a Mon Calamari with deep red skin, a young woman with sharp eyes and some others. Luke recognized Mon Mothma, General Dodonna and Admiral Ackbar easily from his father’s datapads, the others were harder to guess. At the corner of the room stood a young girl, surely no older than he himself was, her dark hair pulled into two tight braids. Her gaze found his and burned into him.

Keeping his face a neutral mask, Luke allowed his eyes to sweep from one person to the next, strategizing his next course of action. It would be wisest to attack the person closest to the door first, then to march forward, effectively blocking their escape way.

He reconsidered. If he used a bit of his concentration to keep the door blocked, it didn’t actually matter. Wiser to first go after the ones who were most likely to put up resistance. Even though in the end, it wouldn’t matter.    

“Luke Vader,” Mon Mothma’s voice finally broke the silence. “Son of Darth Vader and apprentice to the ways of the Sith. Led two small military operations against the Alliance near the Imperial center, both with excruciating success. Otherwise rarely seen at court or official festivities, though always accompanied by Lord Vader himself. Named second heir to the throne when he was first introduced to the court a year ago.”

Luke leaned his head to the side, painting a lazy smirk on his face. “You did your homework, Mothma,” he drawled. “Was that supposed to impress me?” He drew on the force, allowing its pulsating energy into his limbs and felt it twitching against the binders on his wrists. A mere thought, a nudge at the force, and they would fall off…

The girl stepped forward, the girl with the dark eyes, resting intently on his face. There was a brush against his mind, soft and hesitant, and familiar, and he concentrated on pulling up his mental shields. He couldn’t allow his father to distract him now.

“It’s easy to see that you are the one being groomed to become the next Emperor, the next Sith in line on the throne. It’s ridiculous, really, considering that your entire life is based on lies.”

Luke stared at the woman. This was not what he expected to hear next. He had expected to hear threats, Mon Mothma revealing whatever sinister plans they had in mind now that they believed to have caught him.

“I knew your mother.”

One sentence. One sentence was all that it took to throw him off balance.

“I knew your mother and I even knew your father, a little, before he became the Sith known as Darth Vader. She was a fierce defender of the Republic, just as we thought him to be. Do you want to hear about her?”

Luke swallowed, desperate to regain some control of the situation. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” he said harshly. “And I have no intention to listening to anything you say. You want to use me as hostage against my father? You want to kill me for revenge? Go ahead. You will regret ever letting me set foot on this ship.”

The dark threat in his words was undeniable, the force coiling darkly around him, pushing up against his calves, swirling in anticipation at the bloodshed he already envisioned in his mind.

“Her name was Padme Amidala, a Senator of the Republic. And his name, his full name, used to be Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi in the service of his order.”

It was the girl who was speaking and now stepped forward with confident strides, the girl with the dark eyes and the braids. Luke cursed himself, for listening to her, for hanging on every word on her lips, for this situation to be so very different from what he had expected. He had always wondered about his mother, had nagged his father with endless questions, over and over again, yet he had never received an answer. Over time, he had learned not to mention the ghost they were living with, not to question whatever lay in the past. He knew that it hurt his father even to think about her, and so he had stopped asking questions.

And now this woman, this girl, came here to- “I don’t know why I should believe a word you are saying,” he intoned coldly, channeling his father’s condescension as well as he could. “If you are trying to convert me, to turn you over to your side, I can guarantee that you are fighting for a lost cause.”

The girl paused. Then she stiffly leaned forward, her hand reaching for him but dropping before she could touch him. “Search your feelings, Luke,” she said. “You know it to be true. You are standing on the wrong side of this war. Your father has fallen. The Emperor is an evil man. Listen to the force, allow it to tell you the truth.”

Luke jerked back from her as if her near-touch had burned him. This girl… He stretched out with his mind and pushed against hers, feeling it shudder at his touch. It was well protected, a structure as crystal clear and strong as frozen ice and it felt disturbingly familiar. Worse, there was an alarming, warm light leaking out to the outside. She was force-sensitive. She was trained. His eyes fell on the lightsaber half hidden beneath her tunic. She was a Jedi.

And she was wearing his lightsaber alongside her own.

His cuffs were off before the thought had even fully formed inside of his head. He stretched out his hand, intentions all out in the open, and his lightsaber flew into his hand, unerringly, and hissed to life.

The other members of High Command gasped and scrambled back, half of them rushing towards the door. They pushed at it but the control didn’t respond. Luke didn’t allow it to. They would be stuck in here, with him, while he finished the Jedi girl, for sprouting lies and for attempting to turn him against his father, and then they would all die in here.  

He surged forward and slashed viciously at the girl.

The attack could have, would have, taken her head off, had she not recoiled abruptly. Her own lightsaber lit within her hand, a bright, blazing blue, and she set her feet in anticipation at his next attack.

A part of him was delighted. A Jedi! His father would be thrilled when he offered him her corpse. And what opportunity to test his skills- skills which had only ever been challenged by his father or by mere training droids!

“Stop this!” she shouted and he shook his head, smiling, predator-like, as he set forward again. His next attack did not lack in ferocity, wild, yet powerful and precise, three long slashes, from the side, below and up high, parried in the nick of time, before he drew back once more, twirling his lightsaber playfully. They had been a fool to bring it here. They had been a fool to bring him here.

The force push hit him squarely in the chest and sent him flying. His head hit the wall with enough impact for him to see stars. Instead of allowing himself to sink down along the wall, he cowered down, holding his lightsaber low in a distinct Shien defensive position.          

The girl stepped in front of him as he fought for the breath which had been pushed out of his lungs. Her voice sounded more agitated than before. “Your father, the Emperor, they intended to form you into one of their own. To raise you to become a Sith like themselves. To throw the galaxy into even deeper darkness.”

Without wanting to, Luke found himself banned by the intensity of her gaze. She was strong, and willful, and she would be dead before her time. “But we cannot let this happen. The both of us, we have the power to stop it from happening. I feel the good in you, Luke. Join me.” She stretched out her hand, a foolish thing to do in the middle of a fight.

Luke tore his eyes from hers. The situation was too absurd. He threw back his head, and he laughed. It was an ugly sound, even in his own ears. “Oh dear me,” he drawled, his voice cold and scornful. “Now why would I do that?”

She leaned even further forward, completely neglecting her guard. Luke itched closer, his lightsaber tight in his hand.

“Because,” she said, and the words fell like a sigh from her lips, like a prayer. “Because I am your twin sister.”

It was a lie. It had to be a lie. The silence in the room was too loud, and spinning around, and then there were noises around the door and Luke was distantly aware of guards streaming inside of the room. His mind felt numb, like someone had dunked him underwater and left him out of control of his limbs, fated to drown. 

“It’s a lie,” he stated simply. “You’re lying. I don’t know why you are lying about this but you are lying.” The force was screaming at him, at his words. He knew it, even then, could feel it in the air and in the substance of the universe and the stars, felt the knowledge settling in his bones,  and the bond flare alive in his mind, just like the one he had with his father, or maybe not just like it.

“My name is Leia Skywalker,” the girl announced doggedly. “And you are my brother. And Darth Vader is my father even though nobody in this room likes to hear it very much.”

Luke shook his head, still refusing to see reason, still refusing to acknowledge how the force danced and sang alongside the two of them.  

Leia sighed, and changed the grip on her lightsaber. It was typical of his father, Luke decided later, to barge in at the least appropriate time.

 

The Fleet dropped out from Hyperspace all at once. One second before, there was nothing in front of the viewing port but a few small rebel freighters and ships accompanying the Command Ship. The next thing they knew was the tall and intimidating form of the Devastator towering above them, by its side three other Star Destroyers Luke had never seen outside the Deep Core.

His father’s force presence rushed against his mind like the waves of the ocean, waste, and powerful, and wrathful.

Luke, the voice called.

Luke. Luke. Mine.

Leia recovered quicker than he had, pushing herself up and staring wide-eyed at the viewing port. Again, there was noise at the door and the words of a rebel reached Luke’s ears, reporting to the scattered group of High Command next to the door. “They are hailing us. The Devastator is hailing us.”

For a second, deadly silence cloaked the room. Then a furious voice- the young woman from High Command- rose above it.

“This is his fault! He contacted them somehow! I told you it was insanity to give Leia’s plan a try! He is just like his father, and he should be treated as such!”

Luke instinctively took a step back, raising his lightsaber minimally higher as he felt a wave of uproar surge through the room. It seemed like the woman was not alone in her judgement of the situation. He supposed that even with the guards which had invaded the room when his concentration and control on the door controls had slipped, he could still easily get rid of all of them. But then there was Leia, and he could impossibly…

“Quiet,” Mon Mothma hissed. “This is not helping.” She stepped forward and the confidence she radiated helped to calm the others’ tempers. “You two! Put down your lightsabers! You-“, she pointed at a bearded rebel- “get me that connection to the Devastator! Everyone else- step aside, there’s no need for Vader to see all of your faces!” The sharp words had a marvelous effect on the surrounding rebels. Even Luke could not help feeling a reluctant respect for the iron self-control the woman kept in a dire situation like this. He felt his sister’s eyes on him and despite his unwillingness to back down, his lightsaber hissed out barely heartbeats after hers.

Seconds later, the connection established and his father’s hologram appeared over the long table. Even in hologram form, the Sith Lord managed to tower over everyone else, the threat emanating from his broad form tangible in the air. They would be even more scared, Luke thought, if they could see the barely leashed storm his force presence presents to anyone even remotely force-sensitive at the moment.   

“Mon Mothma.” He didn’t bother with any greetings, nor did he care to hide his distaste at seeing the former Senator’s face.

“Lord Vader.” At the very least she still cared to add the correct title. Her past as a politician showed in her diplomatic neutrality as she nodded at him politely.

His father was known to get straight to the point, today didn’t prove to be an exception. “I think you have something on board that belongs to me.”        

“Ah, where would you have heard that?” Luke wasn’t sure whether Mothma was stalling in order to figure out a plan out of this or whether even she couldn’t resist the opportunity to rile up the Sith Lord like this.

Vader’s patience ran out quickly. To be honest, Luke was mildly impressed it had lasted that long. His temper spiked, violently, and Luke nearly drew back from the force at the murderous flames licking towards them. “Quit playing games, Senator. I demand that you hand over my son immediately.”

Feet shuffled over the floor and Luke kept a wary eye on the other rebels, his sister most of all, as he tried to get a reading on their reactions. It was harder to concentrate with his father so close-by but the collective thought rose as clearly as Mon Mothma’s voice over the electric tension in the air.

“And what would stop you from blowing us into pieces the moment he left the ship?” the red-haired Senator questioned.

Vader’s hissing breath crawled over Luke’s skin.

“You have my word that you will remain unharmed- should I find him returned to me the same way.”

The words were too easily to dismiss. Even Luke who had known his father for nearly all his life could not say for sure that Vader would remain true to his word. His fury was too strong, too unpredictable when it came to things he considered his own, and Luke had been his since the moment his father had found out about his existence.

Mon Mothma seemed to share his assessment. “You won’t be surprised to find me unconvinced,” she stated matter-of-factly.

The flames roared higher, the threat undeniable in the following words. “You require incentives?”

“Father, no- you can’t…” The words had left Luke’s mouth before he could filter them, before he could take them back. He couldn’t even say for sure why he would have bothered, why he would have cared, but all he could think about was the widening of his sister’s eyes, and the sudden realization that once Vader turned his ship’s canons on one of the rebellion’s smaller vessels, a bloodshed would be inevitable.

Luke,” All of a sudden, Vader’s head was swiveling around, searching for him, even though Luke knew that he stood just out of reach of the holo projection field, and he imagined that only he himself could hear the worry beneath the heat of the word. It appeared he wasn’t the only one.

Leia pushed herself forward before he could react, sliding her arm around his shoulders and his neck in the split of the second. When she raised her lightsaber, he nearly reacted, nearly twisted his own around to meet the soft, unprotected flesh of her stomach.  

But he had caught a glimpse at her intentions, the moment she lowered her shields, allowed him in for the barest of seconds. Trusting him. He would have called her a fool for it, but deep down, beneath the still howling denial roaring in his chest, he knew that he would not have used the opportunity to harm his sister. It seemed that Palpatine’s assessment remained true, that he indeed allowed familial attachments to weaken his strength. Nonetheless he kept a strong grip on his lightsaber, kept within the hand she now twisted behind his back with painful strength. The pain on his face was not entirely faked as she dragged him onto the hologram projection field, her lightsaber hissing to life in a blinding blue.

Unwillingly, Luke twitched away from it, missing entirely the moment Vader’s attention latched onto him.

“Luke!”

His throat was tight as he replied. “Ah, hello, father. I figured you might show up at some point.”

His father’s mind reached for him, desperate, and wrathful, and terrified and Luke shuddered at the helpless terror he could sense beneath. Leia should better not let her grip slip, or the rebellion would see its last day today. He prayed that she knew what she was doing, even as he was sending some basic reassurances at his father.

I’m fine. Don’t worry. It’s all alright.

The inferno cooled the barest bit and then fury replaced his father’s worry.

“If you so much as touch him, Jedi, I promise you that you will beg for death before I am done with you,” he growled. Leia possessed the audacity to smile, yanking Luke even closer to herself. He projected a warning at her through the force, not liking at all how close the blade was burning to his neck. Just because he was playing along to her little game didn’t mean that they stood on the same side of the war, nor did it mean that he was afraid of using the blade he was still holding hidden in his hand. Their momentary truce was fragile, breakable at the tiniest sign of betrayal.

Trust me, she thought. Please trust me.

He relaxed shortly, then growing angry at his own reaction. He wasn’t about to let a stranger influence him like this! He might have reacted badly, had he not been able to sense the wild beating of her heart against his back.

“I don’t doubt it,” she said ferally. “But I think the risk is one I’m willing to take.”

She released one of her hands’ grip on him and slid slender fingers along his jaw, tipping his head back ever so slightly. Luke jerkily sucked in a breath.

You’re going too far, he sent, wrathfully. A warning.

She dropped the hand. I just need him hooked.

I think you’re managing just fine.

The fleeting contact of their minds was intoxicating, like two halves of one whole intertwining, and melting together.

Luke felt like the temperature was dropping even here, out of Vader’s direct reach. He didn’t dare to reach for his father’s mind, both afraid and thrilled at his and his twin’s daring. She was brave, even if foolishly so.

Burying any wisps of guilt deep within the abysses of his mind, he forced the words out. “How about we… all come to a conclusion that leaves every one of us alive and well?”

“And what would you be envisioning?” Leia’s words slid around him like honey.

“An exchange,” he said, before he lost the courage to dare and try. “You, me. On a ship of the Alliance. You bring me back to my father, and the Rebel Fleet will take the opportunity to leave.”

“Which would leave me on an Imperial ship, with two Sith Lords after my head” Leia scoffed, disdain apparent in her voice.

“I give you my word,” Luke gasped out. “My word that you will not be harmed. And my father will, as well. Your ship will return safely to the Alliance.”

Her mind nudged at his, demanding entrance. He clenched his teeth, allowing only the most fleeting of thoughts to pass his iron shields. Safe. You’ll be safe.

She caught the statement, caught the honesty behind it, and softened the grip she had unconsciously tightened on his wrist. He allowed himself to breathe again, a breathless sigh leaving his lips.

His father was still staring at them, so stiff he might have been a ghost or a statue.

Fine,” he ground out, and Luke could sense the effort the word was taking him. “You have my word.

Leia loosened her grip a little bit and Luke relaxed his shoulders before they could start hurting from holding the tension within them.

“But no further delays,” the dark-clothed Sith warned. “You try anything, and I mean anything, Jedi, and our pact is null and void, and of your precious little Rebel Fleet nothing will remain but dust.” Of course, that’s how it’s going to end up anyway. The words stayed unsaid but Luke could hear them dancing in the air around them.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be any different,” Leia remarked easily. Luke couldn’t help but wonder about how frightening his sister would be, had she been grown up to be a Sith. She tugged him backwards, a little bit, and he knew that the conversation was over.

Mon Mothma nodded at the man controlling the projection field, and his father’s hologram perished.

 

“This is madness,” one of the men from High Command said. “He’s going to attack us, no matter what he just agreed to.”

“No,” Leia said softly. “Not when he has so much to lose. Not when I’m going, remaining a threat to his son.”

“We should just take the Sithspawn out and jump to safety,” another one agreed with the first man.

Alarmed, Luke pressed his lightsaber against his sister’s stomach and she sent him reeling away from her, narrowly avoiding the red blade that flared to life behind his back. He could have sliced her in half without any warning, and they both knew it.

“I don’t think so,” he hissed aggressively. “I have been playing along nicely to this because it served my goals but don’t you think for a second that you ever had me under control. I could end you easily from over here, it would be as easy as blinking to me.”

“There you hear it!” the man cried out. “We should just take him down!”

“Did you overhear the part where he threatened to murder you?” Mon Mothma asked with barely concealed sarcasm. Luke blinked, feeling uncomfortably relieved at her support. He knew he had them then.

“It’s our only valid option. Vader won’t allow any deal beyond this and you all know it. Anyone but Madine still having objections?”

A whispering went through the room but nobody dared to raise their voice.

“Then it’s decided,” Mon Mothma announced. Luke did not miss the glance she exchanged with his sister, nor did he miss the barely noticeable nod his sister gave back. Mothma trusted his sister, trusted her Jedi’s intuition. It seemed the woman was smarter than the rest of them. Well, he allowed, smarter than most of them.

As if on cue, Leia stepped forward, nodding at him.

“Let’s get this over with,” she said, and he smelled the defeat in her words. She had come here to claim her brother, and she would leave him back in the hands of those she had intended to rescue him from.

He acknowledged it with a slight tilt of his head, eerily aware of the person he had copied this from, and allowed his lightsaber to hiss out of existence again.

“After you,” he smirked at her.

“After you,” she replied pointedly, and gesticulated ahead of her. “We’re gonna have to keep playing this game.”

"Oh, I am already playing."

 

 

They entered the shuttle in tense silence, neither of them very intent on making conversation. Luke wouldn’t have known what to talk about on the short way anyway. Dear sister, how was your life so far? Why did you know about me but I never did about you? Where were you, all this time?

He kept the questions in the darker corner of his mind, somewhere where nobody, not even he himself, could catch a glimpse on them. He needed his focus, and if only not to run into Leia who held her lightsaber pressed closely to his neck when their small vessel landed on the Devastator’s main bay. It remained unlit, a small blessing. Luke could do without more sizzled hair. He did not appreciate the smell.

The ship’s main doors rushed open, allowing a gust of fresh air to soothe Luke’s flushed skin.

“Keep walking close to me,” his sister’s voice growled into his ear and he suppressed a shudder at the closeness and the veiled threat in her words. He wasn’t sure it was so much a reminder to him as a farce for his father who was waiting for them with several squadrons of stormtroopers in front of the rebel’s vessel.

He had monitored the descent of their ship closely through the force and Luke had shrunk back from the touch of his mind, unwilling to allow his father’s roiling emotions to get in the way of his own cool. The truce they had bargained for between the Alliance and the Empire was too fragile, had threatened to explode any minute until even the last of the rebel ships had vanished into the safety of hyperspace, leaving only space dust in their wake. He had felt Leia’s relief, just as much as her growing tension the closer they came to their father. But she had agreed to his plan, had agreed to trust him. And he intended to keep his promise.

“Vader,” she called out loudly, icily, any emotions she might be feeling for their father buried in the depths of her mind.

His father stepped closer, a calculating sway in the way he moved. Luke had learned to interpret every movement his father made over the years. In his step lay the readiness to kill.

Don’t, he projected at his father, allowing Leia to drag him forward a little rougher than her previous handling. Don’t provoke her.

The sway turned smoother, revealing more of his father’s eagerness to end this quickly, to leave behind the festering unease at seeing his son held at gun-point. So to say, Luke pondered, irritated despite himself at the feel of the lightsaber against his skin.  

I swear you are intending on poking me to death with this thing, he sent at Leia, feeling unreasonably resentful. The words had the intended effect.

She relaxed marginally, allowing her grip on the lightsaber to soften, if only a little bit. He widened his awareness in the force, brushing shortly over the minds of the two rebels which had accompanied them to the ship. Their brimming nervousness made him shift his weight tensely but he drew back reassured nonetheless. They had barely left the ship, not emanating any more hostility than he could have hoped for from rebel soldiers.    

His father, however, was a different matter entirely. His presence in the force was vibrating, swelling with barely restrained hostility- a bitter anger at anyone who had dared to lay his hands on his child.

“Hello, father,” he picked up the conversation. Keeping his father calm could prove vital now. “Gotta say I’m quite happy to finally see you. Turned out my little excursion wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped for. You were right, the rebellion can be a rather nasty plague.”

His father did not bother to acknowledge his words, all of his attention- for now- still lying on the threat he believed Leia to pose to him.

“I don’t know where your teachers managed to hide you, little Jedi, but I assure you that they will not remain safe any longer,” he intoned instead, glaring at her with all the passion a man behind a mask could offer. Luke shivered involuntarily, for once relieved that his father’s focus did not lay on him.

“Trust me, I wanted to know that, too, when I first met her,” he commented casually. “She’s quite talented with the blade, I was surprised.”

Leia startled a little at his praise, clearly not having expected it.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here,” she quirked back, finally breaking the ice.

Luke smirked, the gesture more a grimace than anything else.

“Oh, but I was better at it nonetheless,” he said gleefully and turned on her. The attack against her mind left Leia staggering back, viciously battering at her defenses as it was.

People had always assumed that Luke’s strength lay in battle, in the excellent control his teachers had remorselessly drilled into him, or in the instinctive knowledge he was gifted with through parentage and his connection to the force. Luke knew better. His gift lay in the lies he was able to offer up to the Emperor, in the shields which were just strong enough to conceal the other row of shields, beneath, hiding treasonous thoughts, hiding where his loyalties lay in the very end. Had Palpatine ever known the threat father and son posed to him united, he would have ordered Luke executed the very day he arrived on Imperial Center. Luke’s mind was the sharpest weapon at his disposal and people were foolish not to use all weapons they had.    

Caught unprepared by the onslaught, Leia was never able to react to the physical attack Luke followed up with heartbeats later. Her lightsaber was knocked off course before sister could turn it against brother, speared to the ground by a mere thought, and that-

That was his father moving-

And the next thing he knew was that he was kneeling over her back, her arms twisting and turning desperately against his, her back bucking, attempting to throw him off. He drilled his legs into her spine, feeling her shrivel in pain, and to keep fighting despite it- oh, she was furious, his equal in so many ways- but he had had the shock effect on his side and he had played it perfectly.

The moment his father’s feet stilled in front of the struggling pair on the ground, he knew that he had won, and Leia must have known it, too- or maybe she just choked at the triumph he allowed to overrun his shields- because she stilled, terror flooding from her in the force. Luke threw his head back, reveling in his victory, before he forced himself back under control.

Focus. The rebel soldiers who had accompanied Leia lay motionlessly on the ground in front of the shuttle, their limbs spread in strange ways which had Luke squinting up at his father, but they were still alive, the force pulsing with the remnants of their alarm.  

“I have to hold you up on your promises,” he told his father, breathless after the short struggle. “I gave my word that their ship would return safely to the Alliance. Might as well add two of its passengers.”

Leia attempted one last, futile attempt to throw him off balance but he pushed back down, both physically and through the force, twirling her sleek lightsaber playfully in his left hand. Feeling his father’s strength rush into him added an additional boost to his power.

“I never gave such a promise for her,” Vader growled darkly, the dark side roaring in anticipation around him.

“Indeed!” Luke smiled brightly, unbothered by Leia’s murderous wrath. Oh, how betrayed she felt, the emotion blaring out at him, entwined with an increasing amount of despair- so foolish to trust him, had nobody warned her of it?- and a spark of fear.  

Father, he said cheerfully, opening his mind for every force-sensitive in the room to hear. Meet my twin sister, Leia Skywalker.  

  

 

 

To clear up some things about the background of this story:
Leia was raised and trained by Obi-Wan, or maybe she was raised by the Lars’ and later taken away to train with Obi-Wan who then tragically died of old age or thermal shock, I don’t know. Either way, he cautioned her to never approach the Siths controlling the galaxy but who would Leia be to listen to him.
And yes, he revealed the truth about Luke and Vader, undoubtedly for her to use as a weapon against Luke should the need ever arise. Or maybe she found out on her own. Who knows, honestly. Either way, there’s no way Leia would just let an opportunity like this pass. How unfortunate for her.
As for how this story continues? Well, I can’t decide on the details but I am very sure that Palpatine will not remain the Emperor for much longer. Imagine three pissed-off Skywalkers planning to murder you. Fun.  
About Han. Uuh. I felt REALLY bad for giving him such a terrible role for this chapter but it couldn’t be helped, I NEEDED him to do it. I hope he’ll forgive me. Maybe I’ll make it up to him some other chapter. Who wants Han to kick Vader’s ass.
Also I intended to turn Luke into an actual Sith for this chapter. He refused to. This boy is infuriating.