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Comrade & Confidant

Chapter Text

Cover-Art Courtesy Of laivaaja

Cover-Art Courtesy Of laivaaja

 

The interior of the shuttle is dark. He can still hear alarms echoing- but that's wrong. They're not on the Death Star anymore.

The blackness around him seeps into the form on the med-bed. The respirator hisses feebly, and inky tendrils wrap themselves around Piett's wrists where his hands are pressed against Lord Vader's chest.

He can feel his mouth moving, doesn't know or hear what he's saying. The dark is like some living slime, and belatedly he realizes it's working its way up his arms to his mouth. Vader's tabard and chest-piece are covered, the helmet is subsumed and the hiss of the respirator dies. Piett doesn't pull his hands away.

The g-forces increase, and they are hurtling towards Endor's moon, rocked by the explosion of the Death Star. Falling... falling... falling...

*

Impact. Not the surface of Endor's moon, but the unforgiving scream of the morning alarm.

Piett jerks upright on his cot, plastered in cold sweat. Three breaths, and he manages to force down the terror. Only a nightmare. Another deep breath, and he schools his features into their usual calm and swings his legs over the side of the cot.

"Mornin' admiral."

Piett looks up into the optimistic face of a young junior grade lieutenant, his cell mate. He forces a small smile. "Good morning J'ymes."

The alarm turns off. Other inmates start yelling, as do their jailors. His lip twitches. He can understand his comrades frustration, but they should know better than to stoop to the level of the rebels.

J'ymes Rhye and him prepare for the day and pull on their meager outfits- bright orange flight-suits. Apparently they had found a way to repurpose the damaged ones. He smooths the wrinkles down, folds up the cuffs, and cards his fingers through his hair.

The cell door opens with a metallic screech. He steps out into the main holding area with his back ramrod straight and his hands clasped behind himself, J'ymes following him like some lost animal. Piett can't blame him.

Some of the other captured Imperials carry themselves in a similarly professional manner. The majority of them stumble out of their cages without bothering to make themselves even somewhat presentable. Piett bites his tongue and reminds himself that these men had not been part of Death Squadron. He and his own officers were held to an entirely different standard.

The food line proceeds as slowly as it usually does. The droid shorts and dumps half of his gruel on the floor instead of the tray. Piett shows no outward sign of noticing. He and J'ymes take their usual seats, careful not to look at the guards standing around. There's no reason to draw unnecessary attention. They will conserve their energy.

Their jail is a prison ship. Old, decrepit, filthy. Most likely a slaver's ship the rebels either purchased or seized. It's already over capacity, with more officers arriving every day. Piett expects that is due more to sloppiness and panic induced by the Emperor's demise than by any sudden increase in ability on the part of the rebels.

Information trickles in from the new inmates. Imperial Center is in an uproar, the grand moffs are attempting to maintain control of the core, Imperials are defecting in droves- particularly in the outer-rim. The Executor and Death Squadron seem to have vanished. That brings a small flush of pride to him. They are following his last order, and are proving capable even without their admiral.

No news of Lord Vader. Only conjecture. Piett ignores it... rumors have never been accurate in regards to Vader before, no reason to think they'll improve now.

*

Another handful of days pass. It's been four months since the 'battle of Endor,' as it's been dubbed. As far as he's concerned it should be called 'the Endor trap.'

His thoughts still linger on the fate of his commander. He wonders if the rebellion leaders even know he had been acting as a double agent. Despite the rumors he doesn't allow himself to consider if the man still lives or not. His loyalty will remain even in death-

Two quarreling inmates tumble into him and J'ymes, pulling him back to the present. He manages to catch himself, but J'ymes dives headfirst into one of the guards. Before J'ymes can even scramble to his feet the guard has thrown a punch, and the other Imperials around them make a wide circle so as not to be accused of anything.

Piett steps between the guard and J'ymes before the guard can kick him. So much for laying low.

The guard stares stupidly for a long moment. When more guards appear in Piett's periphery vision the other man throws his hand up. He means to handle Piett himself then.

"Who do you think you are?"

He draws himself up to his full height, turns his chin up. "Firmus Piett, Admiral of the Executor."

The guard barks out a laugh. "Well you came from Endor so you might be Death Squadron, but you sure as krif ain't Darth Vader." He leans forward, pressing into Piett's space. "I'd simmer down."

Piett almost snorts in his face. Laughable, these rebels. Juvenile. "I might not be Lord Vader, but I assure you my kill count is just as impressive as his."

He can hear J'ymes trying to convince him to stand down. The circle around them is deathly silent. The guard takes both hands to his chest and shoves him a step back. "Oh, so you're a murderer just like him? At least you don't hide behind a mask like a coward-"

Time screeches to a halt. Somewhere in his head Piett knows he should follow his own advice. Lay low, conserve energy. Instead he backhands the guard, and the room gasps collectively as the slap rings in their ears.

Then they all roar, and chaos ensues.

*

Laying in the cot that night nursing his bruised ribs and other scrapes Piett smiles to himself. Perhaps his sudden good mood is what gives J'ymes the courage to question him.

J'ymes is perched on his elbows, studying him intently from over on his own cot. "How long were you with Lord Vader?"

Normally he's loath to discuss himself... not that he's had much of a chance to. But J'ymes is merely young and curious, and even Piett can't stand to dash his spirits anymore than this place already has. "After I left training I served under Grand Moff Tarkin. Following his demise I was reassigned to Death Squadron." Apparently hand-picked by Vader, because I was 'impressive' when I was assigned to him temporarily. But he doesn't say that.

"Only four years?"

"Four years. Yes." A deep sigh. "Two of those as admiral."

"You miss her don't you? The Executor."

Two beats. A loaded answer. "Deeply."

A long silence, as J'ymes seems to consider something. His voice is almost apologetic when he speaks again. "He was your friend wasn't he?"

It doesn't compute, at first. His brow knits in confusion and then he jerks his head to look at him. Four years of lies and secrets cause his blood to run cold at the simple question. He and Vader had both killed people for lesser assumptions.

J'ymes takes his surprise at face value, blissfully unaware of what Piett's overreaction could indicate. "You just... you don't talk about him like anybody else does."

Blissfully unaware of what that sounds like too. "He was my commanding officer. The supreme-commander of the Imperial navy. You know better than to say that sort of thing, Rhye."

J'ymes dips his head in acknowledgement, taking the reprimand in silence.

Piett lies awake long after J'ymes has fallen asleep.

*

After the incident Piett is a little less careful about not drawing attention. The damage is done already, and he's been labeled a trouble-maker. He doesn't regret it. When a new rebel fighter shows up with news, it is Piett that volunteers to slip out of his cell and listen in on the rebel's conversation.

Fashioning something to leverage up the panelling beside the door is easy enough. There are plasticine bits left on some of their flight-suits. He's very careful with the wiring for the lock, and no alarms sound. J'ymes helps him lift the barred door up so it doesn't squeal (much) when they slide it to the side, just enough for him to squeeze himself through.

Guards aren't posted. The rebels are sloppy. They figure there's nowhere for the inmates to go, anyway (the prison has had it's drives removed and can only be moved with a tug ship, leaving it an island in space), so why bother with shifts to watch them sleep. He picks his way carefully through grimey, brown-grey hallways to the barracks.

When he encounters one small group roaming he drops to a crouch and ducks behind a corner. The movement reminds him of many missions, the memories all forming on top of each other. He pushes them away, continues on until he's kneeling beside a broad crack in the wall of the barracks.

"...do you think it's true?"

"High command seems to think it's him. And I mean, why would Commander Skywalker lie about... that?! It makes no sense."

"I would have lied about it the other way. Skywalker's father- who would have thought Darth Vader had a kid."

"The princess too, unbelievable."

"Have you met her? She's just as terrifying as he is."

"Hyperbole."

"Barely..."

Piett stifles a sigh. Stares up at the ceiling. Apparently the rebels are more concerned about the family soap-opera than politics. Unsurprising. He tries to ignore his own relief at the fact it seems Vader is indeed alive.

"...What do you think they're going to do with the Executor ?"

At that, Piett freezes.

"Dunno'. It doesn't seem like Vader is trying to become the new emperor. Not sure I believe that, but supposedly the Executor has returned to Coruscant only as a protective measure- big ugly ship too! Blocks out the sun for a quarter of the planet with where they've got it stationed!"

He takes a deep breath. Considers if it's worth the trouble of getting a beating again for the chance to sock one of them in the jaw. In the end he decides his lady is too noble a creature to want him to squalor himself in their filth on her behalf.

"...Commander Skywalker says his father will disband Death Squadron once the new government is established..."

Something in his chest does a flip at that. He tries to stay and listen to more of their conversation, but all he can hear now is static.

After he makes his way back to his cell he reports half-heartedly. The others talk amongst themselves as Piett retreats to his cot. J'ymes gives him a look, but mercifully doesn't question him further.

*

Over the course of a couple more months the guards are replaced by less brutish ones. The ship is cleaned. Their cafeteria droid is replaced and the gruel becomes proper rations. J'ymes is practically giddy with excitement, sure that their luck has turned. More news drifts in despite the sudden stop in the flow of inmates.

Apparently when Rebel High-Command decided that Vader should be executed for war crimes and serial murder, despite knowledge of Skywalker and Organa's true parentage, Commander Skywalker chose to defect with an injured Lord Vader in tow. Organa had worked valiantly toward maintaining some level of order and hope for peaceful resolution until Commander Skywalker and Lord Vader showed up again several months later with most of the Imperial Navy under their command. At that point Rebel High-Command had been much more willing to negotiate. Said negotiations are currently underway.

Piett leans on the bars of his cell, listening to the amiable chatter between the new guards and his fellow Imperials.

He should be happy. He should be proud. This is what he and Lord Vader had committed treason for, to unseat a tyrant and rebuild the Empire. Instead he doesn't feel much of anything. 

*

Shortly after news of the negotiations has reached themed they are awakened well before the morning alarm sounds. The guards are still present, but they are joined by a great many aids and sentients saying that they are all free to go.

As part of the negotiations every Imperial soldier not found guilty of corruption or some other crime is to be discharged with honor, and will have the opportunity to re-enlist with the New Republic. Those that were interred not only get all of their assets back, but compensation for unlawful ('unsanctioned,' supposedly) treatment.

J'ymes beams beside him as they listen to the announcement, clapping him on the shoulder as they move into line for the transport ships.

*

The first transport drops them off on a nearby station. They are all provided with new clothes, identification and other essentials, and given a selection of planets that they may be transported to courtesy of the New Republic. 

J'ymes hasn't stopped talking since they got on the ship. Piett's only half listening, walking slowly down one of the station's corridors with the other man at his side and his little care-pack held against his chest.

Then a question catches Piett's attention. "Are you going to Coruscant?"

"No. I'm going to go back to Axxila." Finally, Piett turns to look at him- finding his eyes full of hope and promise, contrasting Piett's feeling of profound blankness. "But you should go to Coruscant."

J'ymes shakes his head, obviously disheartened he and Piett will be parting ways. "Oh, I don't know sir-"

"You're a brave young man, J'ymes. You handled yourself with composure during our entire ordeal. Re-enlist with the New Republic- you have your whole career ahead of you."

J'ymes's expression turns unusually solemn. When he speaks it is if sharing a dark secret. "I'm not brave sir. If I were brave I would have joined the rebellion..." He hangs his head, seeming prepared for another one of Piett's reprimands. "I know we won, in a way- or at least lots of us were more loyal to Lord Vader than the Emperor and he turned out to be in the right, but I'm not sure I chose the side I should have."

Piett smiles, and J'ymes jumps when he claps him on the shoulder like the younger man had done a couple hours before. "Questioning your decisions in moderation isn't a sign of cowardice. It's a sign of intelligence. You made the best decision you could at the time, I'm sure."

He gets a lopsided smile in return, and is forcibly reminded of Commander Skywalker. J'ymes also sports blonde hair, blue eyes and that desperate goodness often associated with youth. But while J'ymes shares striking resemblance with the Luke Skywalker Piett had studied in holos, he shares far less resemblance with the man Piett had met on the second death star.

Piett gives his shoulder a squeeze. "Get some sleep. Then head to Coruscant. Even if your conscience does need to be settled, you won't be able to settle it reminiscing on the past."

With that he releases him and turns away. He doesn't intend to bother with the offered room or transport. If he's going to Axxila, he might as well go now on his own credits and sleep in hyperspace.

"Thank you, sir." J'ymes calls after him.

*

He's fairly well dozing standing up, in line for his connecting flight to Axxila, when a female aid calls after him.

"Piett- Firmus Piett?"

"Yes?" His voice sounds more patient than he feels.

"Ah yes, this is for you sir. On behalf of the New Republic. It was left in your room, but your friend mentioned you were leaving right away." She presses a matte grey box at him, bows slightly, and scampers away before he can enquire over it's contents.

If I get blown up by a detonator directly after spending six months in prison... despite his reservations he brings it aboard with him. Surely if she had been able to get it through security it isn't immediately life-threatening.

Once he's in his room on the ship, finally clean, in clean clothes, alone, he breaths a sigh of relief. He sits on the edge of the bed, undoing the clasps of the box- too tired to consider what it might be. He nearly drops it. Nestled securely in the velvety black interior is a rank plaque, several medals and a datachip.

He takes the box with him as he moves to sit at the datamonitor and pushes in the datachip. A document appears with a list of contents and what each medal is for.

He picks one up, runs his thumb over the Imperial cog embossed on it. 'Awarded to those that aided in the overthrow of the Emperor, in service to the true ideals of the empire.'  A silver bar with many notches. 'Awarded for acts of bravery.'  Last from the box he pulls a black upside-down triangle, heavier than the others and warm to the touch. 'Awarded to senior members of Death Squadron.'

Belatedly, he realizes he's crying. From stress, relief or despair he isn't sure. There's nobody that should know any of this, what he did to earn these medals in the first place, save for him... and that's another matter entirely. 

He can't decide if he wants to throw the Death Squadron medal against the wall or tuck it carefully back into its case. In the end he falls asleep in his chair with it clutched in his fist.

Chapter Text

The shuttle lights flash and the solid form of flesh and bone vanishes with the surrounding darkness as Piett's hands sink into the ooze. He wants to scream but doesn't- the more he fights against the hold of the substance the further it works itself up his arms. It burns wherever it touches.

Behind him shadows coalesce, and he twists to watch them, not caring about the pain it causes him. A heavy cape forms itself out of black mist, a sliver of pale skin is quickly hidden under a mask hammered out of midnight. The being breathes, and Piett feels a surge of both relief and anger.

A phantom of golden light passes beside the breathing shadow, down the lowered ramp. The shadow follows. Doesn't look back. It didn't even notice him.

The slime binds itself around his shoulders and chest, continuing its slow, sticky expansion. It tightens around his neck. The lights flicker out .

*

"Firmus... Firmus!" A dainty hand grips his shoulder, and his head snaps up.

"My apologies-"

"It's alright Firmus." The blue, matronly twi'lek pats him on the shoulder, meaning it as a comfort but only coming off as patronizing. "You've had a rough time. It's fine."

No, it isn't. I've weathered three day shifts on my feet and now I'm falling asleep at my desk. He attempts to refrain from grimacing, or shrugging her hand off his shoulder.

"I just wanted to let you know I'm going to move these to the restricted section." She gestures at her trolley of datachips and holodrives, then continues in a conspiratorial whisper. "You can update the records after you finish your nap."

With that she walks off and disappears around a corner. He sighs through gritted teeth and rubs his temples.

*

Returning to Axxila had been less of a decision and more of a default. For the entirety of his life 'home' had been one of two places: Axxila, or whichever ship he was currently stationed on. Not that Axxila had ever been much of a home, even in his youth. The world spanning metropolis is often referred to as 'the outer-rim Coruscant,' or 'the inside out Coruscant.' Piett has nothing so complimentary to say about it.

However, just as on Coruscant most work - savory, legal work - requires multiple degrees and a decade of experience, due to the joys of extreme overpopulation and the abundance of droid laborers. Given the state of his accounts and the settlement he received from the New Republic (hush money, given only in hopes that Imperials sent to the internment camps would not sue them before a new treasury-head had even been elected) he hardly needs his current position as a librarian. Alas, he is not a man of idleness.

The last two months have been a blur of monotony. Despite having the entire inventory of one of the largest government libraries in the galaxy at his fingertips, he finds the work tedious. He's never seen himself as adventurous, only efficient and ruthlessly practical. But sitting in his comfortable apartment, the bowl of soup on the table in front of him gone cold, he finds something profoundly lacking in it all.

Give it time, it's only been two months. There's an adjustment period after you leave active duty, he tells himself, but he doesn't believe it. What had he told J'ymes? You won't be able to fix anything reminiscing on the past. And yet here he sits. He should be at his commander's side, relieved of duty or not-

No. Dangerous thoughts lie down that path. Complicated thoughts that he's had years to unravel, to no avail. If Vader wanted him on Coruscant, he would have sent a summons. Piett stirs his cold soup, trying not to notice the bitter flavor that thought leaves in his mouth.

He wants to go touch the death squadron medal, safe in it's case, but doesn't allow himself to.

*

Roughly three weeks later a damaged book is pushed across his desk. A proper book, made out of flimsi.

Laora, his matronly coworker, nods at it. "...That must have gotten pulled out of the incinerator. Banned books would get sent to us to be disposed of, whenever law enforcement found them. Maybe it fell out." Piett blinks at it a few times, flinching when he runs his finger along the cover and a bit of static bites him. Odd. "It was under one of the broken trolleys down there. What do you think we should do with it? All the media bans have been lifted now."

"I'll catalog it and put it in line for archival." He says it before he even opens the cover, and thankfully she's gone again before realization dawns about what exactly it is. Banned book indeed. It is a collection of conspiracy theories surrounding Palpatine and Lord Vader.

He flips through it, for posterity's sake. One corner has been badly burned and eaten away, but the binding remains intact. Most of the conspiracies regarding Palpatine are surprisingly factual. As usual the ones surrounding Lord Vader are not. Apparently the man is actually a peculiar variant of rhodian long thought extinct, and his gauntlets are magical. Despite that the illustrations are accurate enough-

He catches Laora watching him out of his periphery vision, and curls his fingers into his palms, away from the pages he was caressing. She takes a step closer to the side of the desk, peering over his shoulder.

"Did you work with him?"

"Excuse me?"

She tips her chin towards the book. "You're ex Imperial navy. It was on your paperwork. Did you work with him?"

Piett narrows his eyes. "You saw my resume? I was under the impression you were merely-"

"I look at everybody's paperwork. You're avoiding the question."

A long pause. He closes the book. "No, I never worked with him."

She gives him a look, but walks away again. He catalogues 'The True Empire: Third Edition' and adds it to the 'archiving' pile. It doesn't matter. It's all over now, and he never really knew the man in the first place, so it doesn't matter.

*

Locking his apartment door that night, he feels unspeakably dirty. Dripping in the hypocrisy he's spent a lifetime avoiding. Most of the Imperial military had been hypocritical and corrupt... but not Piett. And not him.

Piett drops his bag by the door and goes the box of medals. He touches it like he touched the pages earlier that day.

He had been the pillar of vengeful righteousness. Unmerciful, unyielding, but as reliable as the orbit of the planets. There had been a sort of beauty in it. And he had been untouchable, so far above the rest of them what they thought hardly mattered anyway.

Except what Piett thought had mattered to him, at lease to some extent. Despite all his uncertainty since the Battle Of Endor he's sure of that much.

They'd both been up to their elbows in blood and bodies and Piett had never felt cleaner.

*

It's a nonstop trip to Coruscant. He sends his notice of resignation on the way, as well as an apology and a small monetary gift to Laora. She's going to have to clean up the mess he's left at the library by leaving so suddenly.

After that he appraises himself of the latest political and military news- though the information is less detailed than he's used to since he no longer has access or clearance to anything official. In truth it's probably useless. He dozes, showers. Reads the latest updates. Reads them again. Nine months of idle waiting seems to have been his limit.

After what feels like far too long they leave hyperspace, and the crowning jewel of the core drops into view.

*

Security takes even longer than he remembers. Piett heads straight for the New Republic capital buildings anyway. There's been a fair bit of construction since he was here last... Imperial palace sits abandoned (the new senate is arguing over whether to demolish it or make it into a museum).

It takes a bit of talking to get himself in the door. More to get him to someone whom might actually be able to put him in contact with the person he's after. His previous rank and squadron seems to garner him some favors, surprisingly, and he's through the bureaucracy more quickly than he got through security.

The aid leading him ushers him into an office. A large desk dominates the center of the brightly lit room. Behind it is a slender young woman he hasn't met in person before- but he knows very well who she is.

"Senator Organa, my sincere apologies for disturbing you-"

"No apologies necessary, but who are you- exactly? They only told me I should speak with you." Her voice is warm, yet authoritative, and her arresting gaze is familiar to him though her eyes are brown instead of blue.

"Firmus Piett, ma'am. Previously admiral of the Executor. I realize this is unusual but I have come hoping for an opportunity to speak with Lord Vader."

She tilts her head as if intrigued, and steps back, gesturing towards one of the chairs in front of her desk. "Yes, father has mentioned you. I'm sure it will be fine. Sit and I will call for a droid to escort you."

*

His tongue is in his throat for the duration of the short walk to the apartments. The manicured gardens and smooth duracrete all pass by in a haze. Ahead of him, the golden protocol droid continues it's incessant babble- putting his nerves on edge. It had insisted on carrying his bag for him, and he fears for the safety of the medals.

"...And this really is so unusual! Mistress Leia and Master Luke have visitors but never the maker! Master Luke says he could benefit from more social interaction, but he certainly speaks with us droids frequently enough..."

Gradually he becomes aware of a familiar touch against his mind, and he opens his mouth to ask the droid how much further-

"Admiral." Piett jerks to a stop and wheels around, eyes immediately landing on a nearby fountain.

A tall, scarred man in a black tabard rises from his seat on the edge of it. Piett finds himself stepping forward without conscious thought. "My lord..."

Vader meets him halfway, a stride or two between them. The man tilts his head and studies him. Some far away part of Piett's brain reminds him that this is the first time he's seeing that particular look without the mask. It seems just as unreadable now-

"Ah! Maker, I wasn't aware you were here. Mistress Leia told me to-"

"Thank you, Threepio." Vader looks down at the droid with surprising fondness. "You may return to the apartment."

Dumbly, Piett thinks to himself perhaps there's hope for me after all if he can tolerate that droid. Vader looks back to him, his smirk making Piett's mouth go dry. He heard. Piett tries to say something but just ends up swallowing. His moment of clarity had brought him to Coruscant, but that had been the extent of his planning.

Thankfully, Vader nods in the direction of a pathway. "Walk with me, admiral."

They both pivot and move off in lockstep. Immediately a barrage of memories hits him (missions, the bridge of the Executor ). This is what he missed, this sense of comradery. He feels an inordinate amount of gratitude well up in his chest and wonders how that feels to Vader, because surely the man can sense it.

The silence lingers, but it is not uncomfortable. The snap of their boots on the pavement replaces the rasp of breath Piett had become so accustomed to. He wants to study Vader's face more closely but doesn't want to be rude.

"I'm... glad to see you well."

Vader mirrors his sincerity. "And I you, Piett."

He does look well. Obviously freed of the respirator- while still bald and scarred his skin is no longer deathly pale. The scars across his scalp and cheek are still prominent, but improved. The tabard same heavy swath of black fabric, but the cape and shoulder-plating have been removed and shiny bits of armor have been replaced with matte leather and cloth. The simple changes leaves him appearing surprisingly more approachable.

A small group looks up from their own conversation as they near, and moves off rather quickly. Of course everything is dependent upon one's own perspective... Vader himself shows no sign of caring at all, unsurprisingly-  

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" His voice is the same deep brass it always was, though somewhat quieter and less metallic.

"In all frankness my lord, I had an attack of conscience. I simply hope to be of some use to you, still."

"You are always useful." A momentary pause as Vader's gaze lingers on him and burns despite his amiable expression. "An attack of conscience?"

"I reasoned that if you had need of me you would send a summons, so I did not journey to Coruscant as soon as I was able. Now I fear that was a mistake."

Vader straightens and looks ahead once more. "You are correct in assuming I would summon you."

Piett glances at him, suddenly anxious. "If I somehow overlooked a message you have my apologies-"

"No apologies are necessary, your loyalty was never in question. I had hoped you would reappear when Luke and I first began assembling the navy- my assumption was that you had found your way to another squadron. When you remained unaccounted for I feared the worst. After it was discovered you were imprisoned it seemed prudent not to draw attention to the fact."

"Prudent, my lord? I don't believe I understand."

There's a nearly imperceptible tensing in Vader's neck and shoulders, accompanied by a familiar biting edge in his voice as he speaks. "I am sure you heard rumor of my negotiations with the rebellion... I feared they would attempt to use you as a hostage."

Piett remains silent, surprised by Vader's distress and disappointed with himself for not guessing this was the reason he had not been contacted in the first place. At the time he simply hadn't seen himself as that valuable- but if Vader had made any play for him his worth would have been assumed, accurate or not.

There is much Piett wants to ask. A great many questions lingering in the air between them. And yet there seems to be an unspoken agreement to leave those questions hanging until an unspecified date.

Their conversation drifts from intel to politics and back again while the afternoon fades into dusk.

*

"...I will have you assigned new code cylinders." Vader ducks through a doorway too small for him, Piett following as they enter the hangar.

"Not to be too bold, but will they agree to that? They've hardly been reasonable it seems."

"They will be made to see reason."

The hangar is modest compared to those in the star destroyers Piett is used to, but it's a large one to rent on Coruscant. Vader's tie-advanced sits in the midst of ship parts and storage containers. A few discrete work areas are visible, Vader's distinguished by a neatness not present in the other two.

"Bit sparse."

Vader sifts through a weapons stash, leaving Piett standing with his hands clasped behind himself. "Normally it also houses a x-wing and a Corellian light freighter."

"Commander Skywalker and...?"

"An unfortunate man by the name of Han Solo."

Again the visible tensing of Vader's neck and shoulders, and a barely restrained snarl. Unfortunate man indeed.

"One of Commander Skywalker's friends?"

An overly long pause. "One of Leia's."

"Oh dear." Piett smiles in amusement, looking through the various tech and robots lining the shelves. Suddenly his smile drops and he swivels back towards Vader. "The Solo we pursued to Bespin? The smuggler?!"

Vader lays out two blasters, a small collection of detonators and a ancient but lethal looking vibroblade before replying.

"If only the carbon freezing test had proven less successful." He motions Piett over. "A temporary arsenal. The vibroblade will not show on security scans."

Piett takes it and flips it tail over tip. The handle lands perfectly balanced in his palm. "Lovely... I'm surprised they let you keep this stash."

"They didn't." Piett gives him a look, quirking an eyebrow in question. Vader continues with more than a little vindictiveness in his voice. "How else is one to utilize a smuggler?"

Piett shakes his head. "I do not envy your family dinners-"

He stops abruptly. The turn of phrase is too friendly, too unprofessional. He regrets it immediately, but Vader only favors him with that peculiar look and tilt of the head again.

"Thankfully Solo is away, though regrettably so is Luke. If you find myself and Leia agreeable enough company you may join us this evening."

"I would be honored..."

*

He's not sure what he expected, but the domestic affair he finds himself in makes the entire situation that much more laughable.

They sit down in what he assumes is Vader's apartment. It is in one of the nicer housing districts close to the new government buildings, but it is smaller and far less showy than Vader's position should warrant. Piett expects that was by Vader's own choosing.

The food is prepared by a droid, and Senator Organa pours the wine- Bourdeshi, apparently. Only two plates, for himself and Organa. Vader sips his wine, legs crossed with one knee over the other, looking for all the galaxy like a king on his throne.

Organa makes polite conversation. Clearly a polished politician, even at the tender age of twenty-three. No wonder she's given Mothma a run for her credits. At least one rumor he's heard is true: she can be every bit as intimidating as her sire.

"...And the rebellion truly didn't know he was your contact all that time?"

She chews her nerf steak. He can see the gears turning, attempting to parse out any hidden agenda in every sentence he utters. And all with such perfect manners. "No. They never suspected a thing. They thought it was one of the moffs."

As she dabs at the corner of her mouth with her napkin Piett spares a sidelong glance at Vader, whom appears utterly besotted. Such ridiculousness. Not that he can blame him. The girl is quite something.

After a moment she continues. "If you'll forgive the change in subject, how long are you planning to stay on Coruscant, Firmus?"

As long as I'm wanted. "As long as I'm useful."

If Vader heard the contradictory thought in his head Piett can't tell. As he understands alcohol is supposed to have very little effect on force sensitives... but he's not convinced that's an entirely accurate statement at the moment.

"Well I'm glad to hear it. We can always use more-" Her datacom goes off, and she pauses mid-sentence to scroll through the messages. "One of the senators is attempting to push through some sort of overtaking. They think their sister planet shouldn't have it's own representative... I told them to wait for their hearing yesterday!"

"Do you wish for me to accompany you?"

Vader's voice is the drag of velvet. Definitely something special about the wine. Piett can feel his blood heat and thrill in answer, and swallows down any regrettable comments before they can form.

Organa doesn't appear to notice, on either account. Whether that's because it wasn't apparent or because of her manners is debatable. "No, there's nothing you'll be able to do."

She rises, nodding to him. "Tomorrow, Firmus. Thank you for the conversation."

"Thank you, Senator Organa." With that, she's out the door, and he and Vader are alone again.

They sit in silence for several minutes. He troubles the rim of his glass with his thumbnail, staring into the emerald liquid.

"The blade you gave me is quite beautiful."

Vader leans against the back of his chair, swirling his wine thoughtfully. "It is a sith artifact from the battle of Axxila- hence why it came to mind. The style is that of a funeral dagger."

Piett meets and holds his gaze. "Whose funeral is it?"

Vader lifts his glass in a mock toast, eyes turning feral. "To the death throes of an Empire. To the dawn of our New Republic."

"It's hardly our Republic."

"Perhaps... but none live that could argue we did not conquer the galaxy."

Chapter Text

Reclined on top of the med-bed with the black, shiny substance coating him from the neck down like a second skin, Vader reminds Piett of a statue. One of the old-time, vengeful gods wrought out of stone.  The prosthetics curve into claws instead of hands, dripping the blackness from their razor sharp points. The man is in pain, breath shallow and labored. His eyes are still blue, but somehow manage to be darker than the insectoid lenses of the mask.

Piett kneels in front of him. The pair of crystalline wings hang above and around him, curled in and confined due to the small space of the shuttle.  They move with Vader's breath, like a pair of lungs. Each glass feather shimmers with stars and the infinite depths of blackness between those stars. They clink and crackle, millions of hairline fractures going supernova.

Vader studies him intently as he speaks. "They're beautiful... I don't want to break them." 

He raises his hand, two fingers tracing delicately down the length of one feather. The cut is painless, his blood running along its edge to pool at the tip.  The moment hangs until they crash, and the wings shatter.

*

His eyes blink open. Instead of flinging himself upright, as Piett is normally wont to do after these nightmares, he stares up at the ceiling with his hands resting on his chest. He's dismissed the nightmares as after-effects of his traumatic experience at Endor (he's not so arrogant as to think himself above trauma), but he is surprised they have continued in Vader's presence.

It's been a handful of weeks since he arrived, and in that time they have fallen back into their working familiarity with ease. Vader has made him a sort of personal assistant in an effort to sidestep the bureaucracy other options would entail, and Piett has been accompanying him everywhere. Vader himself is functioning mostly as a military adviser, though the New Republic seems confusingly intent on trying to make him into some sort of rebranded figurehead. 

That first night he was here Vader had insisted (in his usual way of overruling any opposing argument only once, with great finality) Piett take the guest room, after the offer had been extended Piett was loath to bother with finding temporary lodgings. He needs to be at hand, and security is of a concern.

Fresh off the heels of his nightmare, he shaves and dresses, and leaves his room with the intent to make his usual cup of morning caf- to find Vader already pacing in front of the floor to ceiling windows spanning one wall of the loft.

Piett gives him one look and stops short. Vader is certainly not an overly expressive man, but Piett has always been unusually good at reading his moods. Right now he looks as he did when he had feared part of their plot had been discovered by Palpatine.

"What's wrong?"

The twitch of an aborted snarl. "The Executor is scheduled to be decommissioned."

A long pause. Then Vader moves to sit in his preordained chair, and Piett shuffles into the kitchen to get his caf. 0500 is too kriffing early in the morning for this...

He calls out a question without bothering to school his emotions as he runs a hand over his face.

"Why? What are they going to do to her?"

"She is too costly for them maintain in active duty. For now she is going to be returned to one of Kuat's shipyards. I have been reassured that it is only retirement for now. If she is to be broken down into scrap it will not be for several years."

Piett returns to main loft area and sits across from him, nodding feebly. "We'll have time to break her out then."

Neither of them mentions that they would be short the 35,000 men necessary for a skeleton crew.

There is a long span of silence before Vader speaks again.

"You were released from your prison, Piett... it seems I am still trapped in mine." Vader motions towards the windows- through them, at the whole of the New Republic. "I've been forced into cooperation with them. Now they have muzzled me and clipped my wings-"

Piett's head jerks up, and he almost spills his caf before he's able to set it down. Vader stops mid sentence and tilts his head.

"What is it, Piett?"

His mouth works for a moment. Lying isn't an option: their relationship- whatever it is, has been one of direct communication, but he does not have any idea how to explain.

"Nothing, my lord... you only stumbled upon imagery that corresponded with a recent nightmare of mine. It happened to be unusually affecting."

"I find there is rarely any stumbling to be blamed." Vader narrows his eyes, apparently having caught the scent of something that intrigues him. "You've been having nightmares?"

Piett considers him for a long moment. Still unsure of where they stand with each other and dubious of sharing the private musings of his sub conscience... but he finds himself wanting to tell the other man. He'd seen Vader have a PTSD attack during one mission (they had been captured and imprisoned together, coincidentally. Vader's helmet had been malfunctioning)- a minor thing, compared to others he's witnessed over the years. He knows he will understand.

"Yes. Irrational interpretations of my fears- as nightmares usually are. I feared for your life, and that I had failed you in some way. I am not accustomed to having nightmares, so they weighed unusually heavily on my mind."

If Vader is surprised by Piett's admission, it doesn't show on his face. If anything he seems vaguely worried. "And the more recent dream you spoke of? What reminded you of it?"

"You had... glass wings in it, my lord."

This time Vader does looked surprised, in his own understated fashion. He opens his mouth as if to say something else, but their conversation is interrupted by the main door sliding open.

Organa enters, her hair in a neat swirl of a bun and her pale green dress pressed perfectly. Not for the first time Piett is thankful his own wardrobe is simpler than what the female politicians are expected to wear.

"Father, Firmus. I hope I'm not interrupting." She nods at both of them in greeting. "I heard about the Executor - You both have my sympathy. When it came up I tried to persuade them of the practical reasons for keeping her active, but they were having none of it."

"Yes... thank you Leia." He sighs, but looks at her fondly. "I sense you have not come only to give us your condolences?"

She smiles apologetically. "I'm afraid not. I need you to sit in on a hearing for me- one you refused to go to before."

"Is this in regards to the upcoming vote?"

"Yes. In exchange for this favor the Duronian senator promises to vote for me. She also assures me she will do her best to persuade the Corellian senator as well."

Piett finishes polishing off his caf and tilts his head in question.

"Senator Organa, what vote are you refering to? I must have missed it."

Father and daughter share a conspiratorial look with each other before both turn back to him.

Leia smiles sweetly. "I've told you Firmus, you may call me Leia. And you haven't missed anything. We've been keeping it very quiet-"

"Leia is positioning herself to become vice chancellor." Vader moves to rise. "With my utmost approval."

Piett inclines his head towards her, sharing in the conspiracy. "Impressive."

She gives them both a long suffering but pleased look. Then she raises her hand to pat her bun and turns away towards Vader's rooms. "I need to go reset my hair, it's not wanting to hold this morning. We can leave whenever the both of you are ready."

After she's safely out of earshot Piett addresses Vader in a low voice. "It seemed perfectly done up to me."

Vader laughs, low and rolling. "Never a single strand out of place."

Piett smiles fondly. Impeccably dignified at all times, regardless of situation. Whom does that remind me of? "I'm sure the vote will go in her favor. She deserves it- and everybody adores her."

"Yes, indeed..." Vader turns contemplative, then looks at Piett with fondness of his own. "I would have made you Emperor."

Piett stares at him incredulously. "What?"

"I'll admit that she was my first choice, even before I knew she was mine, but once I realized she would never accept anything besides a complete democracy I fully intended to put you on the throne."

He continues to stare. Because what does a man say to that? They'd never discussed it in their planning- though he never saw Vader wanting to become emperor himself. Before he has time to think on it Leia returns, and the three of them quickly leave for New Republic headquarters.

*

After sitting in on the hearing and remedying the latest disaster at New Republic headquarters they make their way back to the hangar, as has become their custom whenever there is a chunk of unscheduled free time. Piett often reads, or works on one of his papers- he wants to publish a collection of essays questioning the validity of certain navy protocols (he had implemented superior ones while high admiral of death squadron).

Vader leans over his current project- a bipedal droid with a rusting, red paintjob. The grill of it's 'mouth' shares striking resemblance to the snout of Vader's helm.

Piett takes one of the yellow pogo-fruits from his bag, as well as the dagger from its sheath on his belt. It's really too large for peeling things, but he likes to use every opportunity to get to know his knives better. The alloy blade flashes steely-grey and golden, its damascus pattern shifting in the light. He's reminded of the feathers from his dream.

His thoughts ramble from work to his last dinner conversation with Leia, and finally land on their usual target these days: the sith lord sitting across the workbench.

To know only a facet of a man for so long, and then to see more is a strange thing. Especially having known that facet so intimately.

He recognizes the intimacy now, though he never would have called it that before. Marrow-deep understanding. He wonders if that feeling is mutual, though he doubts there's that much of himself there to understand.

Physical intimacy is another matter. He recalls all the times they've leaned on each other, metaphorically and otherwise- injuries, desperate missions, shared treasons. Piett had once managed to support Vader's massively taller stature and three-hundred pounds of prosthetics and armor with a slipped-disc of his own. Those things seem like they should be more important than crass physical pleasures.

But there had been those crass pleasures too. Rarely, however. Around a dozen incidents spread over three years. The strangest thing was that Vader had allowed Piett to reciprocate only twice, seemingly content to pleasure him and then send him off without comment. But Vader hadn't appeared disinterested, and he'd allowed Piett to see him without the mask when it wasn't necessary. To see him vulnerable.

Vader hasn't mentioned or hinted at anything regarding those incidents since Piett's return. He isn't sure how or if he'll bring it up himself. What does he expect Vader to say? 'The twi'lek females on Coruscant enjoy the scars, your services are no longer required admiral' or perhaps 'I've missed our five-minute, one-sided trysts-'

He looks up from his careful, flimsi-thin peeling of the pogo-fruit, and sees Vader staring at him as he cleans one of the droid components. Piett sighs through his nose. He really should have known better than to let his thoughts get away from him in his presence...

Vader remains seemingly unfazed, almost amused. "I'm surprised you haven't mentioned it before now."

"I don't recall mentioning it now."

Too biting. More than a bit rude, especially considering he had brought it up- if only in his own mind. For once Piett doesn't care. He'll formally tip-toe around most things, but not this.

The other man only looks down at the object he's cleaning and continues. "Did you ever feel forced?"

Piett blinks. Forced as in 'made to' or forced as in 'force tendrils used rather creatively-' Vader smirks. Kriffing hell.

When he speaks again Vader sounds entirely too pleased with himself. "I apologize, Piett- I'm afraid some of your thoughts are rather loud. I'm not attempting to pry."

"No, I never felt forced." Piett goes back to cutting his pogo-fruit. Eats one piece off the blade. "I don't understand what was in it for you."

When he looks up again, Vader has paused his own work and is staring at him once more. This time Piett can't place his expression. There is a long stretch of silence before Vader answers.

"You undervalue yourself Piett. It is one of your only shortcomings."

Piett's hands go still. Vader returns to his tinkering. He stares at the fruit, fingers gone pruney from the juice. He's not accustomed to the feeling in his chest, bursting and hollow. It's a true enough statement. New information.

He's going to have think everything over again very carefully...

*

He finds himself, Vader and Organa sitting around a table again. It has become the norm for dinner in the short time Piett has been here, though this time they are in Leia's quarters (a one-bedroom supplied by the New Republic, and actually in one of the New Republic buildings) instead of Vader's.

They've stumbled onto more sensitive topics than usual. Vader's son and the smuggler Solo will be returning soon, and will inevitably disrupt the comfortable little evenings. Best to make the most of it.

"...I'm afraid I was never one for taking orders in the first place, though when I became a senator and later involved in the rebellion I quickly learned to mind my manners. It can be difficult when you feel pulled between morals and duty."

"Certainly it is. Thankfully in my time under your father those things were always in alignment."

"Yes. I've heard as much from other men who worked with him. You all seem surprisingly complimentary."

A momentary lapse in conversation as Piett swallows down a cutting remark- you have only heard from the men loyal enough to survive under him. He thinks it with venom towards those that dared to question Vader's authority. He doubts Organa can so easily justify murdering members of one's own ranks.

"I believe all of us that had the opportunity to serve in death squadron maintain the same sentiment: he asked nothing of us that he was not prepared to do himself."

Piett spares a quick glance at his commander. Vader seems neither flattered nor irritated, which is unsurprising. Sometimes I think I was better at reading the incline of his helmet. Then Vader raises his eyes to his with a hint of amusement. That thought must have been particularly loud... it's the truth, at anyrate.

Organa considers him thoughtfully. Her kind voice softens the calculated question that follows.

"What was the most difficult order he ever gave you, admiral?"

His chin turns up at that, not quite a flinch. His fork clinks as it it set back down on his plate. Executions and interrogations come to mind but do not linger. All at once Piett is back aboard a shuttle heading for a rebel capitol ship- landing, being pushed back when the young man brings in rebel medics. He'd forced himself not to interfere. To let them take Vader away without him.

"The most difficult thing I ever did on Lord Vader's behalf was not an order." The words come out in a slow tumble, and he wills away the sweat on his palms and the skin prickling on his neck.

A flicker of profound emotion passes over Organa's face as she nods in understanding. He doesn't dare look at Vader, but he feels when the man's gaze finally leaves him minutes later.

*

Vader trails closely behind him into the apartment. Their dinner with Organa had ended late. The room is in shadow- reminding him of his nightmares. Piett can feel Vader's eyes on his back, and tries not to squirm.

When Vader stops to lock the door with a wave of his hand over the keypad he stops as well, loath to leave the sphere of immense presence.

Vader stands silent behind him. The stillness feels sacred. When Vader finally moves his steps are perfectly silent, but Piett can feel his presence shifting like a physical thing.

"I never thanked you for saving my life at Endor."

He turns his head, looking over his shoulder through his periphery vision. "Do they know it was me on the shuttle? Senator Organa and Commander Skywalker?"

"No. I'm unsure if Luke will recognize you when he returns."

Piett straightens a little. Unruly thoughts stumbling into unknown territory. "She said you had mentioned me, when I first met her. I wondered how much you had told them."

He can feel heat radiating off the man behind him. His jaw works when Vader's hand glides smoothly down his shoulder and stills. He feels the hot pinprick of needles everywhere there's contact.

"The commendations. Those were your doing, weren't they?"

The prosthetic hand on his shoulder tightens, minutely. "Yes. Not just for you."

"But primarily because of me."

"Yes. I was angry after I learned of your imprisonment- they were meant as an apology." Vader is quiet for a long time. Piett almost misses the rhythmic hiss of the respirator. "I had hoped you would come to Coruscant."

"I should have come."

"You did." Vader takes a step closer, pressing against his back as much as their differing heights allow and laying his other hand on his hip. His jaw is at Piett's eyeline, and it is no stretch for him when he rests his chin against the top of Piett's head.

"Why didn't you send for me afterwards? Once the time I could have been held hostage had passed?"

Silence. Never uncomfortable between them. Piett wants to do something with his hands but can't reach anything easily, so he settles for wringing them in front of himself.

"I did not wish to presume..."

When his sentence trails off Piett presses him. "Presume what?"

Vader sighs, breath ruffling his hair. "What do you think?"

I think I don't dare to presume either, even now. Even if I desperately want to. "I am told I have... underestimated my value to you."

"Yes, you have... after my failure at Bespin I decided any quarry of mine should be allowed to come to me in their own time." Vader inhales against his temple, almost nuzzling. Piett makes a mental note to ask about Bespin at a later date- but he strongly doubts Vader actually failed in anything. "I see now that my actions have been perceived as rejection- which was never my intent."

"I was confused about what you wanted from me." The hand at his his hip slides around his waist. His own hands go to Vader's wrist. "I still am."

"I want only what it would please you to give me."

"That answers practically nothing-"

Vader dips his head and presses his mouth against the skin under Piett's ear, along the back of his jaw.

Piett feels his heart beating out of his chest. He tips his head back, giving access-

He flinches when Vader's com goes off, and pulls away. Vader drops his arm from around his waist as he does so. Piett turns around as Vader retreats by a stride.

The man's expression is fairly blank, but his voice is apologetic. "That would be Mothma. Something to do with the missing Grand Admiral, I believe..."

Piett nods, understanding the seriousness. He manages to sound calmer than he feels. "Allow me a moment to collect myself and we can-"

"No. Stay, and sleep." Vader is already turning away, dipping his head in a slight bow. "We will discuss this further in the morning."

His cape whirls around his legs and his hand passes over the lock as it did before. With the snap hiss of the door, he's gone- leaving Piett standing alone in the middle of the room.

*

His intention was to go bed, but after shrugging out of his navy style shirt and splashing water on his face he finds himself back out in the loft walking towards Vader's rooms in only sock feet, slacks and undershirt.

This is entirely inappropriate, even if he has no intention of following through on his impulse-

The door is unlocked.

A strange sense of peace - foreign despite his naturally calm demeanor - comes over him as he steps into the room. An office with an attached bedroom. Styled no differently than the rest of the apartment. Modern but plain.

He clasps his hands behind himself to keep from touching the desk. The tetrahedron floating above its base and the datapad on it are the only visible personal effects.

His thoughts swim together and dissipate before he can follow them. He's exhausted. Vader had dropped several verbal detonators on him over the course of the day, and he had meant it sit with all tonight and do some concentrated thinking. But he can't begin to.

This is incredibly wrong of him. He of all people understands how hard-won Vader's trust is. Yet he feels only the faintest sliver of guilt- some petty part of his brain overruling the rest. I should at least be allowed the right to share space with you, after freely giving you so much space in my own mind...

It's impossible to tell if the bed has even been used. He sits on the edge, petting the fabric.

 

Chapter Text

Through the viewport of the Executor, rebel ships and tie fighters blink out of existence. Piett's gaze remains on the uncompleted station, hanging above the forest moon like broken detonator. Innocuous and terrifying. Innocuous, that is, until the laser charges and fires.

The rebels had fallen for Palpatine's trap. Vader's contact in the Rebellion had been unreachable, and he had been unable to warn them of the station's fully operational status.

Vader and his son will go before the emperor- if they cannot catch him unawares and end this today, they will be able to in the near future while under the guise of loyal subjects. The rebel's success in this battle is inconsequential.

Piett's growing sense of foreboding is unwarranted, and yet he finds his mouth going dry and his chest filling with a terror not caused by the super-weapon. He can bear it no more.

He wheels away from the viewport, barking orders as he moves to leave the bridge. The Executor's vice admiral follows on his heels.

"The emperor ordered us to hold position, you said it yourself! Why are you ordering us to retreat-"

"I am overruling his orders. Make the three random hyperspace jumps and wait for Lord Vader or I to contact you."

"Where are you going?!"

Piett doesn't answer, just breaks into a run and heads for the nearest tie shuttle.

The trip to the Death Star is short. The pilot is decent and the rebels are more worried about the fighters than a shuttle...

With no small amount of confusion Piett suddenly notices more shuttles heading in the opposite direction of them.

"The Death Star is being evacuated sir, shall we return to the Executor-" As the pilot speaks the dark breadth of his lady vanishes into hyperspace. "Or perhaps the Devastator ..."

Piett's terror crystallizes into something much more solid. Evacuating? The rebels couldn't have possibly gotten through the defenses of the shield generator... but if they did... "Continue as instructed."

To his credit, the pilot obeys without comment.

The hangar is in chaos when they reach it. Piett orders the pilot to wait for him and darts out of the shuttle-

He barely avoids the blast when a rebel ship crashes into the hangar, taking the shuttle and two other ships with it. All at once Piett realizes the situation he's put them by coming here- if the emperor somehow lives and me and Vader both perish the Rebellion will have no contacts left on the inside...

He pushes those thoughts away, taking off at a run again through an adjoining hangar. The alarms blare as stormtroopers and officers trip over themselves in the confusion. He has no way of knowing where Vader is - his tracker isn't working - or if he's even still on the Death Star, but he can feel him-

Two figures make their slow advance out of one of the hallways leading to the lifts, and Piett slides to halt, almost stumbling as he rushes to them.

This Luke Skywalker is far from the beaming, golden youth Piett had grown familiar with in holos. He and Vader are obviously both seriously injured, but in spite of his own injuries and Vader's massive dead-weight Skywalker has managed to get them both this far.

When Piett moves to wrap Vader's other arm (missing it's hand he realizes, after he takes hold of the shorting stump) Skywalker stiffens and looks at him in shock- sweat plastering his hair to his forehead.

He looks towards the nearest ship, a lambda class shuttle, and then back at Skywalker. The both of them move towards the ship while supporting the dark lord.

They are only a few strides from the shuttle's ramp when Vader's mask finally tilts up, the respirator hissing feebly. "Leave me... admiral... take... Luke..."

He forces down the emotion in his throat and wraps his arm more securely around Vader's back as he gestures Skywalker into the ship with a sharp jerk of his head. "I've got him, get the engines started."

Skywalker seems hesitant, but releases his hold and goes the pilot's seat, swaying on his feet.

Piett keeps moving, squeezing them both through the narrow access hall between the cockpit and the cargo area. He kicks the button to release the med-bed into position, and almost gets pulled down with Vader when he collapses on top of it.

Skywalker says something about heading to the nearest rebel capital ship. Piett doesn't bother strapping Vader or himself in, just starts attempting to get Vader's respirator rebooted via the panel on his chest (almost useless to have the emergency control panel in the first place- Piett's the only one to ever have had the access code besides Vader himself).

He barely notices when the ship is rocked by the explosion of the Death Star.

Vader mumbles something else about Luke and slips into unconsciousness as more flashing lights on the suit go off.

The reboot is unsuccessful the first four times, but on the fifth try the respirator whirs and improves.

Piett has done all he can do. The acrid smell of singed leather and burned electronics fills his nostrils- there's no way to know how serious the damage is, or if the rebels even have advanced enough medical supplies on hand to do any good.

The shuttle sets down. Skywalker hurries from the cockpit and yells for help.

He takes Vader's wrist. Not wanting to step away but knowing he must.

Only once medics begin coming up the cockpit ramp does he relinquish his hold. They press past him, and the cargo ramp is lowered for a stretcher. Skywalker appears again, now hovering over his father and ignoring Piett entirely.

He follows them down the ramp, but when he steps into the hangar troops come towards him with binders. The troops are speaking to him, but he doesn't hear them. Vader and Skywalker disappear behind storage crates and the press of more sentients.

The shadows gathering under the roof of the hangar begin to drip down the walls. Piett falls to his knees.

His goodbye is murmured under his breath as everything descends into blackness. "Farewell, my lord. Wherever you may go..."

*

"Piett..."

He wakes to the sound of a deep voice and a large hand on his wrist. Upon opening his eyes he sees only a blur of black and grey, but then the elegant drape of a familiar tabard comes into focus.

Despite his best efforts he cannot remember falling asleep- but he cannot remember returning to his own rooms either. The evidence certainly seems to suggest he's been caught napping on Darth Vader's bed.

He sits up, meeting Vader's gaze as he gently pulls his wrist away. The dark lord sits on the other side of the bed, one leg drawn up under himself. Light filters in through the windows, the pre-dawn darkness cut by the lights of the city and vehicles.

Despite being caught Piett feels precious little remorse.

"You are not upset."

"No. If anything I am pleased to find you here." Vader tilts his head in that increasingly common, peculiar way of his. "I would have let you sleep, but I sensed you were plagued by another nightmare."

'Pleased'... stars, don't say things like that. Piett circles the wrist Vader was holding a moment before with his thumb and forefinger, doesn't care when Vader's eyes flick down to the movement and back up. Then Vader looks at him intently, almost through him, and Piett studies his eyes in return. Darker than Skywalker's, sharing neither exact hue or shape, but something of the same intensity-

He looks away, down at his own fingers still troubling his wrist.

When Vader raises his hand to cup his jaw Piett meets his gaze again, and they both become deathly still.

The force thrums (he's been around Vader enough to recognize the mystical power he controls), and his chest and veins seem to fill with electricity. There are echoes of emotions that aren't his, like something out of a dream: shades of trust, want, possessiveness- all amounting to a sort of genuine affection. More are present, but they are too unfamiliar to Piett for him to parse.

Thankfully Vader answers his confused expression.

"A force bond. Formed due to a force-user's attachment. They can be overwhelming- it is one of the reasons why attachments were forbidden by the Jedi. I expect it is to blame for much of your unrest in my absence these past months."

"A force-user's attachment...?"

Vader smiles, small and bittersweet but sincere. "Are you so surprised to learn of my attachment to you? When you are already so attached yourself?"

"I never allowed myself to consider the possibility."

"And what do you think, now that you understand?"

Piett shakes his head, trying to blink the stars and static in his vision away. Vader still has the bond or whatever it is open. Never has he experienced such a vexing sensation. It comes as a shock, Vader's touch has always been impossibly intense but it was never like this-

Vader leans forward, closing the distance between them.

There is only the press of his lips, the freezing heat of him. He tastes of the wine they drank last night.

They part, Vader's face still hovering very close to Piett's own. A mere fifteen seconds has left a breathless charge in his lungs and fire pooling in his gut.

"What do you want, Piett?"

"This. All of this." He continues with more of a quiet demand than an answer. "I want to do things properly this time."

Emboldened Piett places a hand in the center of Vader's chest, fingers over his collarbones. His palm slides down over muscle.

Vader takes his wrist again. "What you desire cannot be easily undone. I expect our bond will be permanent if consummated."

"I've made my decision."

With a nod Vader directs him forward, and Piett allows himself to helped across to the opposite edge of the bed.

The dark lord motions for him to stand and begins taking off his own boots. His words are a polite suggestion instead of an order. "Undress."

Another thrill of heat, the memory of Vader's hands and tendrils on him.

"I should fetch the oil from the kitchen-"

This time Vader nods at the drawer of the end table. Piett retrieves the oil, setting it at hand while trying to ignore the flush surely rosying his skin. It's unopened, probably put there for exactly this purpose.

"I thought you said you didn't want to presume anything?"

"Merely a matter of practicality."

His voice, kriffing hell. He has to be doing that on purpose now. Piett pulls his undershirt over his head, removes his socks and starts at the buckle of his belt. He's not some shrinking violet, he's had his share of relationships (though only one of note in the last decade)- but this has always been overwhelming where the dark lord is concerned.

Before he can push his pants over his hips Vader stands with all of his usual grace, dropping his own belt (with an unfamiliar saber-hilt still clipped to it) alongside the boots before removing his tabard.

Piett meets his eyes and reaches to help. He undoes the shirt and undershirt and Vader shrugs out of them.

It's the first time he's seeing Vader's bare torso. He'd felt the scars before, through the fabric of his fitted, long sleeved undershirt, but the extent of them is difficult to imagine. The worst one is a jagged lightening strike that extends from his collarbones over the left side of his chest, down to his ribs. Piett guesses it was related to the control panel.

The he notices the prosthetics don't match. Vader's left arm is weathered silver up to the shoulder, the right black on black up to the elbow and obviously newer. Everywhere metal meets flesh is scared badly- poorly done? On purpose perhaps?

"Purposely, yes..."

At that Piett swallows, suddenly furious. I wish I could have had the opportunity to put a few blaster bolts in Palpatine myself-

Vader chuckles lowly and lifts his hands to Piett's neck, tracing his thumbs over his jaw. The prosthetics are cold, but Piett still feels the hot pinprick of needles just as he did the previous night.

Vader dips his head down, nuzzles against his temple. "Always such fierce loyalty, Piett."

The dark lord's voice reverberates through his skull, and he makes some indescript noise in response.

Piett's hands begin roaming of their own accord, undoing the other man's flies. He'd done this before, when he'd grown so desperate to reciprocate he'd worked up the nerve to ask if he could pleasure him. Hands and mouth, both times-

When he gets his fist around him Vader practically purrs against his ear, bucking into his grip. Vader is mostly hard already, pre slick and sticky where Piett swiped his thumb across his head. He feels a thrill at his own power in that moment, though he is still distracted by the bond.

The only scars on Vader's manhood are from badly done skin grafts. They certainly haven't resulted in any lack of sensation, if anything the opposite appears true.

He grunts and rests his head against Vader's chest when the other man palms him through his slacks. Vader pushes his own pants off and kicks them aside.

Suddenly he finds himself pushed back down on the bed. Vader kneels on the mattress between this thighs, mouthing a trail down the center of his abdomen.

The taller man hooks his fingers into the waistband of his slacks and pulls them down, casting them aside once they're off his legs. Piett is painfully hard, and he hisses when Vader sucks him into his mouth.

He screws his eyes shut, hands pressed against Vader's shoulders. "Ah... krif..."

The other man can't take him down to the root. Vader is larger than he is, but this disparity in their sizes is not so great as the one between their heights. That is some small boost to Piett's ego.

Unlike the three other times Vader's done this for him, he doesn't use his hands. Thankfully, since this time the metal is not covered with leather.

Before long Vader releases him, turning to nuzzle and bite at his thigh while summoning the small container of creamy oil (one of those various types that melt at body temperature) with the force.

It lands beside Piett's elbow. Vader looks at him with his eyes half closed and pupils blown. "I expect it would be more comfortable for you to prepare yourself- unless you wish for me to put the gloves back on."

Piett feels his cock jerk and his colour rise as he takes the oil. When he reaches between his legs he throws his head back against the pillows and shuts his eyes, determined to ignore his embarrassment at being seen so raw. Neither of them are blushing virgins- there's no reason for him to be so disconcerted by being watched.

"How long has it been?"

He catches the small cry before it leaves his throat, though he is  still breathless when he speaks. Vader's voice is going to be the death of him. "Years since I've been with a partner. A month for the purposes you're asking about."

"Toys?"

"Yes. I was in a rather pathetic state when I returned to Axxila..."

Vader hums a quiet laugh, rising to hands and knees to move up his body as Piett withdraws his fingers. Vader hooks his arm under one leg and settles with his knees on either side of Piett's hips, releasing his leg afterwards.

Piett takes him in hand and strokes him several times, slicking his member, hands nearly shaking and the molten core of a star swirling around his insides. Vader leans down, curling over him, and places one hand against the side of his head.

Piett can't meet his eyes. Bites his lip to keep quiet. Vader speaks against his cheek, very warm and very near.

"When you are ready."

With a shaky, forced exhale Piett moves him into position. Vader mouths at his neck and pushes in-

The other man bottoms out, and Piett gasps against his jaw- the bond, already intense, flairs two-fold. He can feel Vader's aches, both pleasurable and painful, the outlines of thoughts. His fingers scour helplessly across the other man's shoulders. They are pressed flush as he arches.

All pretense of dignity abandoned, his voice turns to a broken whine. "Gods- stars... move. Please move..."

Vader purrs and begins thrusting.

The glide of flesh and soul is perfect. Piett's had lovers before, the sex had been good. Nothing as all consuming as this. Fire and skin and the bond and-

"Stars, stars, ahh-"

Then he moans and Vader sucks a love bite onto his trapezius.

He's split open, quivering with pleasure and dripping copious amounts of pre on his stomach already. Vader is thick but not painful, and rather accurate with his strokes. The bond itself creates a sort of feedback-loop, wherein he can feel Vader's sensations and his own mirrored back as well.

Vader presses his cheek against Piett's- the one rough from scars. Through the fog of pleasure and sensory overload he presses back against him.

Unlike during all of their previous liaisons, Vader's tendrils are not on him. Perhaps because it requires too much focus, but perhaps because Vader is determined for him to come only from his cock- normally Piett would laugh at that far-fetched idea, however it seems as if Vader might actually manage it.

It's been so long since Piett has done this, and his desire for the other man so great, the crescendo builds quickly. He wraps his legs around Vader's hips and bucks against him. Tensing as he chases his climax-

Vader kisses him, distracting him and pulling away again. Then he murmurs against his mouth. "Take your time."

Piett moans in answer. Of course your inhuman stamina extends to this...

The other man kisses him again, and Piett allows himself to be distracted, reveling in the skin to skin contact and fullness.

He focuses on tracing all the scars he can reach. Sucking on the tongue licking into his mouth.

When Vader hooks his arm under his knee again, he whines, unused the stretch but unwilling to object.

Vader maintains pace. Before long electricity is shooting up his spine again without him having to chase it.

"Stars, stars... Vader..."

The taller man releases his leg once more, sighing. His breath is hot on the marks he left. Piett lets his knees fall against Vader's sides as his thrusts deepen and slow.

He presses his hand against Vader's jaw, searching for eye contact. The other man complies, jaw tensing. He understands.

The moment hangs, and Piett drops his gaze only when his eyes close and roll back in his head from the force of his climax.

He comes back to himself panting and numb from pleasure. Vader meets his gaze again. The dark lord follows almost immediately, letting Piett see his face as his last thrusts go staccato. He presses in hard and stills.

Piett's still panting. Vader attempts to withdraw but he pulls him back, arm around his neck. Vader obliges, staying but holding the majority of his weight off of him.

Electricity is still singing in his veins. Come and sweat dries on their skin as their blood cools. Vader softens and pulls away to lay beside him.

Piett is out cold almost instantly.

*

For the first time in recent memory he wakes from a dreamless sleep, the weight of Vader's prosthetic arm pressing on his side. Comfortably smothered.

He had expected the intensity of their connection to dull overnight, but it is still painfully clear. He can easily discern the ghosting pain through Vader's chest mirrored in his own, along with the flickers of emotion and vague impression of thoughts merging with his. The man behind him seems to be awake already... Piett doubts he slept at all.

The light of day sees him in higher spirits than he's been in years. The stress of duty is gone, as is the fear of rejection. He's gotten more than he ever claimed he deserved.

Vader hums against the crown of his head, pressed up against his back.

*

They walk together that afternoon, after eventually daring to venture out of the apartment. Several meetings have been missed, but nothing either of them care about. The consequences are immaterial.

It is unusual for it to rain during the day on Coruscant - WeatherNet usually only plans it after 2000 hours - but today it is drizzling.

Vader seems to enjoy it. Piett finally feels clean again.

The questions left hanging during that first walk after Piett's return have been addressed one by one, and now the enquiries are turning more personal.

"...was the bonding why you never wanted me to reciprocate before?"

"Partially." Vader walks with his hands clasped behind himself, Piett with his stuck down his pockets. "I was acutely aware I was still your superior, and I knew that my fondness for you and the resulting bond could taint the purity of your decision. Whatever occurred between us needed to be your choice."

"While I now understand this force-bond business, somewhat, I'm still not sure I follow your logic. I couldn't be expected to make a decision in a vacuum."

Vader ponders that for a long moment before replying, notes of regret in his voice. "In my youth I was often chastised for feeling too much, too deeply. Perhaps in my efforts not to overwhelm you I over compensated."

Darth Vader accused of having too great a heart... "I remember hearing of the ban on attachments before. What did they expect, for you all to be lonely, celibate hermits?"

Vader snorts, and smirks. "I expect that would have been the ideal. They feared any attachment would begin one's fall to the dark-side. Attachment leads to fear of loss. 'Fear is the path to the dark-side.'"

"And what do sith believe?"

"'Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken: the force shall free me.' Men do not come to great deeds through inaction - peace -  whether those deeds are good or evil." He straightens, and Piett feels twinge of pain across his own neck and back. "It is interesting to note that the text the jedi code is based upon reads 'passion, yet serenity,' while later variations declare that 'there is no passion: only serenity.'"

The twitch of a snarl, his voice rising with conviction. "I saw that serenity result in the deaths of very many sentients whom where within our power to save- but because their deaths were supposedly the 'will of the force' their lives were meaningless to the order. At their core the jedi were blind, unwilling to see their own flaws through the haze of superiority."

"Did sith often form these force-bonds? You seem knowledgable about them, despite their banned nature in the the order."

"You might be surprised to discover I am in truth a very poor sith. No, bonds were supremely rare. Though they were at times used as a means of control, often forced upon an unwilling party."

He continues, the snarl returning as one of distaste. "Attachments were those of ownership, their lovers were nothing more than objects of pleasure. Affection and loyalty were considered servitude to another. What I've learned about bonds has mostly come from a time before jedi or sith."

One of their companionable silences comes and goes.

"At the risk of sounding self deprecating, I must admit I still don't understand why you chose me, of all people?"

A flurry of amusement across the bond.

"I have been betrayed many times in my life- thus I value your loyalty more than most. In a sea of noisy, fearful minds your's is calm, seeking only to fulfil your duty. Your presence is soothing to me..." Vader tilts his head, considering him thoughtfully. "The blood of the battlefield is thicker than the water of the womb."

Piett quirks an eyebrow. "You consider us brothers?"

"That ancient quote is often spoken in regards to brothers, but it also refers to men preferring their comrades to their wives."

"Is that what we are then, comrades?"

"I've long considered you my comrade and confidant. Now also my consort."

Piett kicks a stone off the path, feeling his own desire bleed into Vader's possessiveness. Your consort... stars. "You don't mean to keep this quiet do you? Are you not worried about the backlash?"

"Our relationship may remain private if that is your preference, though I would prefer to head off any rumors before they begin. They are a nuisance." The taller man favors him with a look, eyes gleaming with an emotion Piett can't place. "Backlash is inconsequential. We did not overthrow a tyrant to suffer the opinions of others. I want the galaxy to see you by my side."

Just as during the previous walk, afternoon fades into dusk.

Chapter Text

For the third time in as many days, Piett wakes from peaceful slumber. No dreams, no nightmares. He almost misses the poetic images of his sub-conscience.

Vader sits at the desk in the next room, the sith holocron in his palm scrolling through text. He's dressed again. Piett expects the man got up shortly after their relations the previous evening.

It is a bizarre thing for the subject of one's desire to go from forbidden to attainable overnight. There has been none of the usual, awkward infancy Piett is accustomed to in relationships- stepping on each other's toes, rubbing against one another's rough spots.

The dark lord must sense his waking, because he suddenly looks up from the holocron.

His voice betrays no gravel or tiredness. "Good morning."

"Morning... what time is it?"

"Just after 4000 hours." Vader tilts his head, gracing him with that devilish smirk that has become familiar all too quickly. He sets the holocron back on it's base. "Would you like to-"

"Stars. You do realize neither of us are in our teens, yes?"

He rolls onto his back with his forearm over his eyes. He's unspeakably sore in multiple places, and their currently nightly activities are leaving even less time for actual sleep.

Vader laughs - low and understated, just as everything else about him - and Piett internally shouts treason when his gut goes hot at the sound. In all fairness to Vader, Piett's hardly dissuaded him from their level of activities. Making up for lost time and all that nonsense.

"Was that an answer in the negative...?"

Piett huffs and reaches for the container of oil.

Vader stands and move towards the bed, undoing his cape with one hand. "The New Republic is holding a gala in two months. I would like for you to accompany me."

A request instead of an order. All of Vader's orders seemed to have morphed in such a way.

Piett rises to his knees on the side of the bed, still nude from the previous night, and undoes Vader's belt. "It's for the anniversary of Endor, isn't it?"

Vader's gloved fists come to rest on his shoulders. "Yes."

Piett pushes his pants down around his thighs and sucks at the scar over his hip-bone, stroking him to hardness with the hand already slicked with oil. "I will accompany you."

*

That afternoon word arrives that Commander Skywalker and the smuggler Solo have returned to Coruscant. Vader is still in a private meeting with Chancellor Mothma, General Madine and Senator Bel Iblis when Leia comes to collect them. Piett had been relegated to twiddling his thumbs in the hall, staring out the Coruscant skyline. Their morning antics had resulted in Piett forgetting his bag- leaving him without his papers to work on.

She approaches and smiles her usual, disarming smile. "Hello Firmus. It's good to see you- I apologize about having to cancel dinner last night. I've missed our discussions but I simply couldn't get away."

"No apologies necessary, Senator Organa. At the moment it seems Lord Vader and I find ourselves in a similar predicament. I'm afraid it doesn't look like we'll be able to accompany you."

"Yes, Senator Bel Iblis might be as headstrong as father is..." She tilts her head. Piett is reminded of Vader giving him that same look. "It's a long walk to the hangar and I'd enjoy your company. Father said it was fine for you to leave, he's going to be here quite a while longer."

Piett looks at her, then at the door, and back at her. "Not that I don't believe you, but considering no coms were allowed during the meeting he said this when...?"

She smirks, sweetly. He hadn't thought that expression possible up until now. "The force can be quite useful, at times."

He shakes his head with a smile as he rises. "I don't know what I expected."

*

Piett follows Leia into the hangar. They both look around at the distinct lack of any new ships, and she reaches for her datacom.

A flash of irritation passes over her face, Piett's lips quirk in amusement.

"No messages... they should be here by now!" She huffs, then puts her datacom away and pats him on the elbow. "I know you can handle yourself, but don't let Han push you around. You have my permission to punch him if he says anything rude."

"Does he often say things to warrant such a reaction?"

She gives him a look, eyes narrowing. "Father has talked to you about him."

A statement, not a question. Piett almost regrets agreeing with Vader on his assessment of the smuggler.

"I know he doesn't approve. Han doesn't approve of him either." Leia shrugs, turning her nose up. "We all just have to do the best we can with the family we end up with."

"Poignant words, Senator-"

"Leia, Firmus. Call me Leia."

"I'm sorry, Leia. It is a difficult habit to break."

"Yes- you are a very polite man. I had almost forgotten such genuine politeness could exist in light of my re-entry into politics."

They share a smile. In the short time he has been here he has grown quite fond of the girl. She has all of Vader's great mind and regal eloquence in a far more friendly, talkative package.

"I'm somewhat surprised how well you and your father get along, all things considered."

She takes a deep breath, glancing away as she troubles the silver jewelry on her wrist. "We met when I was thirteen. By the time I was sixteen he was more of a father figure to me than my adopted father. Bail was a wonderful, generous man, and very kind to me in my childhood, I loved him and I will forever be grateful to him and mother, but the older I got the more at odds he and I became."

"You and Vader are very much alike."

"Coming from anyone else I would assume that was meant as insult, but from you I am sure it is the highest compliment."

"Merely a fact, I'm afraid."

"Hmm..." There is a long pause as she gives him a quizzical look, her brow furrowing. "Something has changed in you."

Piett stares at her dumbly for a handful of seconds. They say women always know... "I beg your pardon?"

She shakes her head, as if assuring herself her statement was inaccurate. "I'm sorry. I'm not as trained in these things as Luke is. It just seems as if your presence is different, I can almost sense Vader-"

The groaning squeal of the metal doors overhead interrupts them, and Piett wraps his arm around her shoulders as they scurry for cover from the falling dust and debris.

A Corellian light-freighter comes into view, engines and repulsors humming. It lands between precarious piles of clutter, covering some of the smaller stacks and containers. The engines cut out with a rather sickly hiccup.

Leia steps forward. "What did he break this time-"

The hiss of the ramp being lowered. Piett jumps when a shaggy wookie comes charging down, giving various warbling calls as it does so. He and the senator embrace like old friends.

"Ah scahccwowa rooohu!"

"I missed you too Chewie-"

"Hey! Break it up you two, me first." The owner of the YT-1300 steps down the ramp, all swagger and very little class. Piett politely averts his gaze when he leans down to kiss the senator. "Did you miss me princess?"

"Not particularly."

"Good. Who's your new friend? Looked like he was getting a bit grabby-"

She slaps him on the shoulder- not quite as gentle as the light pats she's given Piett over the past five weeks. "Han! This is the admiral father talked about, Firmus Piett. He's staying with us. Mind your manners."

Solo looks him over. Piett unclasps his hands from behind his back and steps forward, eyes narrowing. What manners?

"By 'us' I hope you mean Vader and Luke. I don't think Chewie wants to share the couch..." The wookie hyucks in laughter. Solo strides up to Piett, obviously trying to intimidate him with his height advantage. If it obviously didn't work for Vader why in the outer-rim do you think it'll work for you- "Has his lordship told you how I outsmarted you after coming out of the asteroid field yet?"

Solo takes his hand to shake it. His grip is far too firm. "No. Should he have?"

"I attached the Falcon to your destroyer until you jettisoned the trash. Then we just floated away. Kinda' pathetic none of your fancy sensors caught it."

Piett smiles, leaning forward in mock sincerity. "Just like a barnacle on the underside of one of Manaan's floating cities. How appropriate."

Solo barks a laugh, releasing him and moving to wrap his arm around Leia again. She looks more than a little dubious. "Well at least you have a better sense of humor than his lordship. That's good. He's stuck up enough for the-"

"Han. Where's Luke?"

"Oh the kid? He's coming. We got pulled by planet security, the boy-scout's back there doing the paperwork-"

"What did you smuggle in?!"

The man steps back, throwing up his hands. The wookie - Chewie? - starts hyucking in laughter again. "Nothing, sweetheart!"

"We discussed this Han, we're both government officials! You can't bring in contraband!"

Then Solo looks at Piett, apparently hoping for help. He only smirks in response. Solo has the nerve to pout at him.

They all look up when the hum of another ship comes into earshot. Within moments a battered x-wing drops expertly into the hangar, coming to perch next to Vader's tie-advanced. The hatch opens and a young man in a plain black uniform appears. The astronomic droid behind him beeps and boops excitedly, and is then lifted from it's socket and lowered to the ground by invisible tendrils.

Commander Skywalker jumps down, landing with grace. Leia goes to him, and they meet halfway, embracing and saying their hellos.

He is not so different than the man Piett remembers meeting- if substantially healthier and happier looking. Still not the beaming youth of the old holos. He probably never will be again.

Then Skywalker's eyes land on him, and his smile drops. Leia looks between them, somewhat confused.

"Luke, this is Firmus Piett, the admiral father-"

The young man is already starting towards him, almost in a trance. "I remember you- you were the officer on the death star..."

The young man extends a gloved hand, and Piett takes it, his own throat working with an emotion he can't place. The other man almost looks ready to hug him as well.

Skywalker seems to stumble over his words, piercing him with that same look that Vader has- the one that is capable of reading the inside of your skull. "He's spoken highly of you but he never mentioned you were together, in that way-"

Piett feels his stomach do a flip and tries to not let it show on his face. I'm not sure how they were supposed to find out, but this was not it.

Leia's eyes go wide, perhaps in surprise or perhaps in irritation at not being told beforehand.

Chewie hoots some comment, and Solo looks thoroughly unsettled. "...Together? What'dya mean together-"

"Artoo, artoo! Goodness me, artoo-detoo where are you?!"

Leia's golden protocol droid comes bumbling in, and Skywalker's astronomic beeps frantically, rolling to meet its bipedal friend.

Skywalker drops their handshake and runs his fingers through his hair, smiling apologetically. "I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have said that out loud- I'm just surprised."

The droids continue to converse amongst themselves. Leia and Solo are mercifully silent.

"That's quite alright..."

Skywalker suddenly appears very young and very lost. Piett is forcibly reminded of J'ymes, and his own helplessness when he first saw Vader again- in front of the fountain. On a whim, he steps to the side and lays a hand on Skywalker's shoulder, nodding towards the hangar door. "Walk with me, and we can talk."

The young man smiles at him, gratefully, and Piett casts an apologetic look back towards Leia as they exit.

Solo still looks amusingly unsettled. Good riddance.

*

Despite barely being taller than Piett himself, and of an entirely different demeanor than Vader, he finds Skywalker very much his father's son. The young man moves with that same air of potent, quiet command as Vader and his sister do.

His face already shows the lines caused by many sleepless nights, but his expression is still kind where his father's is both cynical and largely inscrutable. The boy has not been touched so heavily yet. Has not been broken and remade so many times.

Piett feels an unexpected sense of comradery. He and the boy have shared in a waking nightmare, and in saving a nightmare of a man.

Skywalker gives him a look from under his lashes, almost bashful. "Again, I'm sorry for what I said back there. I'm sure you and father were waiting to tell us for a reason, I could just feel it in your signature and it sorta' slipped out. I'll talk to him, if it's an issue."

Piett shakes his head, thoroughly out of his depth but determined to put the young man at ease. "It's a new development, actually, hence why he never mentioned it to you. I'm not sure what the plan was. You seem less surprised than one might expect...?"

Skywalker gives a little half shrug. "I've been surprised a lot over the last few years. You're the only person he's talked about with any degree of respect, so it makes sense. I'd hoped he had someone. I hated to think about him being completely alone all those years."

"I've been surprised quite a lot myself, recently."

The young man considers him for a long moment. "It must have been hard for you, being left behind in the hangar. If I had understood who you were I would have told them to let you come with us."

The shadows under the manicured trees pool around their roots. A chill runs through his bones as he remembers falling to his knees on the hangar floor. "You couldn't possibly have known- you were more concerned with your father, and that's perfectly understandable."

"I wish I had thought to ask about you sooner. By the time he was stabilized and I got some sleep they had already moved you. When I asked about the officer that was with us everybody looked at me like I was crazy."

Piett gives a single nod, allowing himself the guilty pleasure of pondering another outcome. "I would have broken out of my cell, if I had been strong enough to. Apparently I inhaled some sort of noxious fumes on the Death Star and blacked out shortly after you and Vader left the shuttle."

Skywalker smiles, mischievous. "You think you could have broken out of your cell?"

"I've managed that and much more for your father before."

"Do you know why he never mentioned it was you on the Death Star ? I just assumed some random officer had decided to help us."

He considers that carefully, leery of speaking for the dark lord. "He hasn't told me, but I expect he thought I would come to Coruscant, eventually, and would be able to tell you myself."

The young man nods. "That makes sense. It's good that you came- he needed someone besides me and Leia..."

Skywalker tilts his head, giving him a lopsided smile. "You're very easy to talk to."

"I'm glad you think so."

A familiar chill hits the air, and they both look towards the nearest building. Piett had retraced the path from his earlier walk with Leia, bringing them back to New Republic headquarters.

Vader glides down the steps of the entranceway, the sentients around him giving him a wide berth. That amuses Piett, as it always has.

The sith lord comes up to them. After years of studying the man's gait and the set of his shoulders, Piett can discern his excitement at Skywalker's return. It doesn't reach his face, only his eyes, and Skywalker himself does not appear to notice at all despite the fact that he should be able to sense it. The boy looks as if he desperately wants to go up to him, to touch, but is forcing himself not to.

"Luke."

"Father."

"I trust your mission was successful?"

Skywalker nods, half-heartedly. "It was... mostly."

Vader looks between Skywalker and him. "I see you've met Piett."

The young man grimaces. "Yeah. I might have said something I shouldn't have back in front of Han and Leia-"

Vader levels a glare at him, voice full of resignation when he speaks. Piett almost chuckles. "What did you do?"

Skywalker motions vaguely at Piett. "I could sense you, in his signature. It slipped out..."

*

Vader sits at the head of the table. Piett sits to his left, the wookie beside him. Skywalker sits to his right, Leia beside him. Solo sits at the far end of the table. Glaring at Vader.

Leia had insisted they all have one dinner together before falling back into their separate routines. It had seemed a reasonable idea at the time.

In truth it is all hopelessly awkward. Piett wonders if he could not have conceived of a reason to ask Vader to travel to Axxila, and avoided this whole mess in the first place.

It would have happened eventually. I’m essentially their stepfather now. He takes another swig of his wine.

Though usually quiet anyway, Vader now appears entirely reticent. Piett had assumed Vader and Skywalker would be on good terms - given the friendly nature of his and Leia's relationship - but it appears he was incorrect in his assumption.

It is almost as if Vader is purposely withdrawn. Holding his tongue-

"So... how long were you an admiral?"

Vader stiffens and narrows his eyes at the smuggler, obviously expecting trouble. Piett thinks he can already tell where this line of questioning is going.

He attempts to mind his manners anyway. "Two years. It was an honor-"

"And before then?"

"Two years as captain."

"Uh huh..." Solo has both elbows on the table. Leia and Skywalker are studying their plates- though Piett expects the girl is kicking Solo under the table. "Jumped three whole ranks, hmm? I wonder what ya' had to do to get that promotion-"

Before Vader can interrupt Leia's hand slams down on the table. "Han! Enough! That's entirely-"

"You will make no more crass remarks, Solo." Vader's voice drips with venom as the force thrums. "Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Chewie growls. Skywalker winces and sits back from the table, his arms folded over his chest.

Solo has the audacity to look smug. "I didn't say nothin' about anybody doing anything 'crass.' You said that yourself- hey, sweetheart-"

Leia pushes her chair back and stands. "We're leaving. C'mon Chewie. I'm so sorry Firmus. I'll talk to him-"

"Of course, Leia. We'll speak tomorrow."

The wookie moans some remark, and stands. Solo rolls his eyes but moves to leave as well.

Him, Skywalker and Vader sit in silence for several minutes. Skywalker is the first to rise. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight."

Vader says nothing. Their silver protocol droid begins clearing the plates as Luke's door (apparently the 'guest rooms' Piett had recently vacated were actually Luke's) snaps shut.

Piett sighs and drinks down his remaining wine. "Well that went smashingly."

*

They all orbit around each other for the next several weeks. Nothing is resolved.

The only time Solo and Vader are near one another is when they happen to be in the hangar together. Thankfully they tend to keep different hours.

On this day, however, all five of them are in the hangar. Piett is cleaning his blasters and Vader is still working on the droid. Luke works on his own ship, as do the wookie and the smuggler.

Vader stands, unexpectedly, gesturing towards the red droid with the force.

Before Piett can react the droid flares to life, eyes glowing crimson.

Once it stands it is surprisingly tall- a protocol droid, perhaps? It's speech patterns are quite unusual. "Exclamation: oh, oh! My poor memory-core, master. I did tell you to be careful."

Piett notices Luke, Solo and Chewie all pop their heads up from their work to look at the new addition to the hangar.

"It was badly damaged, I'm afraid. Are you functional HK?"

"Answer: I believe so, master, but I'll have to run full diagnostics." It looks around at them all, taking a few steps as if testing it's legs. "Question: where are we, master? And who are all these unfamiliar meatbags? Observation: I never recall you keeping company with other sloshy water-filled creatures before."

Vader smiles, fondly. Piett's brow knits in irritation. "How wonderful, another droid with a sense of humor."

The droid levels a glare at him, taking a few more steps. "Rebuttal: and another meatbag that thinks itself overly clever. My circuits are brimming with joy."

There is a bark of laughter from Solo and the wookie. Piett sighs through gritted teeth.

The droid takes another few steps, seeming to stumble a little as it nears one of Solo's storage crates. "Statement: my joints are a little stiff master, but nothing some meatbag-based lubrication couldn't clear up. Just direct me to my next tar-tar-get-get an-an-and..."

With a puff of smoke from it's chest the droid collapses directly onto the storage crate, it's eyes gone dark. There is a sickening crunch as it lands, a liquid of some sort leaking out.

The wookie bellows pitifully and Solo climbs down from the top of the YT-1300, cursing in huttese. "Kriffing hell- thanks a lot, dad!"

Vader had moved towards the droid when it fell, and when Solo flings that verbal barb at him he snarls and heads towards the smuggler instead, the air around him dropping by several degrees instantly. "You are not married to her yet!"

Solo, full of misplaced righteousness and bravado, lacks the good sense to back down. Instead he chooses to walk right up to the taller man while spouting more ill-advised comments.

Piett has always considered Vader's violent outbursts very calculated decisions. That said, he has no desire to see how far Vader's temper can be provoked.

He jumps to his feet and rushes to get between them. They ignore him, arguing over the top of his head. At that point he expects Vader to come to his senses, but the man doesn't even give an inch when Solo presses forward and Piett ends up with an arm against each of their chests.

"...bantha fodder! That shipment was going to get your daughter out of that kriffing apartment!"

"If you cannot provide for her then-"

"Enough!" They both freeze, and the hangar falls perfectly silent. "We both know you're not actually going to hurt him, for Leia's sake. So enough of this."

Vader holds his gaze. The words had been directed only at him. Piett's yell had been a deep bark, the same tone he once used to give orders during battle.

He's never dreamed of addressing Vader in such a manner.

There's a horrible, long moment where he questions exactly how fond of him Vader really is. Then the man lowers his gaze, and simply walks away.

All at once Piett realizes he still has his arm against Solo's chest, and drops it. The smuggler and Skywalker (still sitting a safe distance away on-top of his x-wing) look at him with something akin to amazement. Piett almost tells them 'back to work' as he returns to his seat. Solo takes a step after him.

"Hey, thanks. I didn't mean what I said during dinner, by the way." The smuggler gives a nod towards the dark lord before turning back to his ship. "I was just razzing him."

Piett ignores the smuggler, studying Vader out of the corner of his eye. The man is pensive. He can feel no agitation through the bond.

Well, it turns out I can get away with an awful lot these days.

Chapter Text

The evening of the gala arrives more quickly than expected. An entire year has passed since the battle of Endor. Piett's nightmares have not returned, but there are shadows shimmering at the edges of his vision. Always just out of sight.

His wraith appears in the doorway. Night condensed into something solid... some living thing.

Vader's formal attire is the same as his usual outfit, the only difference is in the fabric. The cloak is still armor-weave, the rest is made of shinier and more expensive materials. Credits haven't come up in discussion yet, Piett assumes Vader has accounts hidden away somewhere that the New Republic doesn't know about-

"May I assist you?"

Piett gives him a questioning look. He has his dress pants and undershirt on already, the rest of his outfit laid out on the counter.

He spins the straight-edge he's holding around so that he can offer the razor to the other man handle first, nodding once. "If you like..."

Vader steps forward and takes it, Piett puts his back to the fresher counter and hops up so he's sitting on it's edge. The dark lord is still taller than him, but not by so great a margin.

He's already put the shaving cream on, so Vader immediately takes hold of his jaw and sets to work.

Things like this have become the norm over the few short months they've spent in their new arrangement. Vader's benign flights of fancy. It's been surprising to him, he had assumed things like this would be beneath the man.

The glide of the blade and Vader's iron grip provokes a strange sensation in him. Not quite the heat and thrill of desire, instead the acute awareness of danger. A symptom of being reminded of a predator's sharp teeth and claws hidden beneath fur and amiable disposition.

Piett's eyes trace the scars that extend over Vader's cheek, he wonders how long it's been since he's done this.

"Twenty-four years." The other man's gaze meets his as he drops his hold on Piett's jaw, and moves to rinse the razor. "Hopefully you find the result satisfactory, regardless."

So his injuries coincided with the birth of the Empire... Piett hops down and runs a hand over his face. Everything Vader does is done well. "Very. Thank you."

Vader leaves him to rinse off without further comment.

A few minutes later he makes his way out of the fresher, fiddling with the clasps of his dress shirt and then pulling on his boots. It is strange not to be wearing his uniform for a formal event, despite the fact that he hasn't worn it at all in twelve months. In fact he doesn't even own one anymore.

In the end he had decided it was reasonable that he and Vader should match, so black on black it was.

Vader is scrolling through something on the datapad in the next room. Piett calls to him over his shoulder. "I suppose it would draw unwanted attention if I wore the medals?"

He watches Vader's reaction in the mirror-like surface of the darkened windows, still smoothing his shirt with the aid of the reflection.

"You have no intention of wearing the medals tonight- you didn't polish them. You're using them as an excuse to bring up a concern you knew I would dismiss; the fact that I will be accused of coercing you."

He looks over his shoulder, drawing a deep breath and steeling himself for the night ahead and all its repercussions. "You do realize that Solo won't be the only one to draw the conclusion he did? The holonews is going to talk."

Vader regards him for a moment. "Let them talk. You earned your rank."

The taller man steps up behind him as he's straightening his collar. Except we both know that you would not have given that sort of field-promotion to anyone. Me being the exception. So what they say is true.

Vader's eyes narrow and he knows the man heard his thoughts. Piett's grown more and more careless, though mostly on purpose. He's searching for boundaries, needs to know what could send this all crashing down so he can stay well away from those things.

"My fondness for you grew out of professional respect, respect that you earned. It did not taint my decision." Vader tilts his head. "Why did you decide not to wear them?"

"You said it yourself: they were meant as an apology- a gift of sorts. They're personal, I don't want to share them."

"You wish to safeguard their meaning- and by extension me as well."

Vader unclasps his cape. "That is accurate, I think. And don't, or we'll be late-"

"Calm thyself." Vader speaks with a smirk leveled at Piett's reflection, laying the cape over one of his shoulders. Piett crosses his arms and huffs, feeling very much like an irritated spouse from all of those awful holodramas. Vader continues. "A cape suits you."

The article of clothing is so black the only things visible in the glass are the edges and it's elegant, draping lines.

"No."

"The armor-weave is practical-"

"I'd look less like you and more like an oil dipped version of Krennic." Mention of the late director gets the desired look of distaste (they'd both dealt with that arrogant peacock of a man before the battle of Yavin). Piett smiles. "If you want to dress someone up your son is in the next room- it appears he's developed an unfortunate penchant for black as well."

"I already endeavored to persuade him. He was not amused." Vader takes his cape back, turning away with another sly smirk. "Reputable sources tell me the galaxy might actually come to end if I were to attempt a different colour scheme."

"Leia is a very smart woman."

*

The three of them leave the apartment precisely on time, and the New Republic airspeeder is waiting.

The ride to the gala is short. The trip is passed in silence. Vader and his son seem content to remain silent around each other, save for occasional discussions of ships or military strategy (the later of which they usually disagree on).

To his surprise Luke has been initiating conversation between himself and Piett regularly, coming to him with questions and listening to his recounting of missions. Many of the stories he tells include (revolve around) Vader, and it seems strange to him that the dark lord has failed to tell them already himself.

Piett had considered Luke a grown man after meeting him on the Death Star, but in truth he is still only a boy in many ways- powerful yet naive. Quiet strength hanging around him that he hasn't quite learned to harness entirely yet, though there have been glimmers. Promises for the future. Truly the prince of the galaxy.

They pull to a stop in front of the rented gallery. Luke steps out first, then Vader. As soon as Piett joins them and straightens Vader lays a hand on the small of his back. It comes as a surprise, but after a moment of consideration he decides he likes it.

Vader lets Luke get ahead of them while going up the steps, then once they are far enough behind he leans down over Piett's shoulder.

"I have something planned for you, later tonight."

The bond Vader awakened that first time and it's symptoms have not lessened, though Vader's touch still magnifies it greatly. Piett can sense thinly veiled lust-

"For your benefit, or mine?"

Luke reaches the top of the stairs and stops, looking back at them both like an errant puppy confused about why it's master isn't right behind it.

Vader squeezes his shoulder, but says no more. Piett can feel him smirking.

*

New Republic officials of note are supposed to be paraded out one at a time so their names may be announced to the gathering at large.

Luke had been one of the first people out, to resounding applause, as had Leia (and her unfortunate companion). Vader and him are towards the middle of the pack- probably because Mothma is attempting to punish the dark lord in some way and not for any actual reason. It is doubtful she realizes exactly how little Vader cares about any of her slights against him.

The music swells and the couple ahead of them steps forward. Piett's pulse hammers in his veins.

He hadn't been this anxious when he submitted his navy application with forged identification, or the first time he reported for duty in death squadron. It is perhaps the first time in his life his unflappable calm has abandoned him so completely-

Vader places a hand on his shoulder, leaning down to his ear so the sentients around them won't hear his words. "There is still time for you to alter your decision."

Piett's mouth is bone dry. He's trying not to hyperventilate. "It's not that. I'll be fine-"

Vader directs him out of line with the hand still firmly planted on his shoulder. Piett swallows, but doesn't resist, allowing himself to be guided away from the throng to an empty hallway.

The privacy is worse. He's always been able to do what has needed to be done. He would have somehow managed to calm himself as soon as they stepped into the gallery- it's why he said he'd be fine. Being here, alone with Vader, means he has to face the truths that have finally crystallized before him.

Vader folds his arms over his chest, impassive. Piett crosses the distance to the far wall and lays both palms on the marble, resting his forehead on the cool stone, attempting to quell the sensation of drowning. He remembers the black ooze and the glass feathers.

"We shouldn't- we shouldn't be here." He tries to swallow, doesn't quite manage. Can't keep more words from coming. "I knew when you left to collect Skywalker you didn't mean to come back. I knew it- I hoped and begged during all of our planning that I wouldn't survive you. I couldn't bear it. We should be dead-"

He screws his eyes shut and brings his right hand down hard on the streaky surface. It doesn't hurt. "Leia, Luke, the senators and the officials- they all treat me like I helped overthrow the emperor. Like I'm a hero. I only did it because you asked me to- I would have done anything you asked me to-"

He sucks in a breath, cutting himself off. He turns around, putting his back to the wall and wringing his hands.

Vader's voice booms against the vaulted ceiling despite its lowered volume. "Do you believe I did not already know your reasons?"

The following silence is thick. He stares at the floor, not even daring to look at the edge of Vader's cloak.

Then Vader steps forward with the heavy click of boots on stone.

Piett still refuses to look up. Vader comes to stand in front of him with both of his hands pressed against the wall either side of Piett's shoulders.

The position fans his cape out and blocks a good deal of light. With the other man so close and looming over him it should feel claustrophobic, but it only makes him feel sheltered.

"I envy you your nightmares Piett: you dream of the past, while I dream of the future. Yet with all my gifts of foresight there was a mere single course of action I saw. You are right in believing I had no intention of returning- if not for you I would have died on that station."

Piett tilts his head back to meet his eyes, imploring, baring his throat. 

"I would have asked Luke to take the mask off and told him that I had returned to the light-side. I owed him that small amount of peace."

He shakes his head, jaw muscles twitching. He can see it all too clearly- Vader making a final plea to be freed of the ebon helm, Luke injured and desperate to fulfil his father's dying wish. Vader sacrificing himself for another one last time...

"You are correct. We should be dead. On the Death Star I did only what I had done for twenty years- I killed." Vader steps back, dropping his hands. Piett almost pitches forward after him. The dark lord's eyes blaze with an unnamable emotion. "You are the one that moved the stars. And now we are here, and we will carry on."

Seconds, a minute. Gradually his overwhelm is replaced with numbness.

He steps forward, reaching for Vader and curling his fingers into the soft, death-shroud fabric of the tabard. Because he can. Because he never would have dared to before.

When he speaks his voice is solid again. "I felt as if I had died when I returned to Axxila. That box, with my badges and medals, it felt like a funeral. It was finality."

Vader's heavy fists come to rest on his shoulders.

The aftermath is cathartic.

*

When they finally return to the wings there are only two couples left. Within a minute it is only them.

On a whim Piett reaches for Vader's elbow, hooking his hand around it. The taller man doesn't flinch, but looks down at him with a quirked, hairless eyebrow.

"It is not a requirement for you to be seen on my arm."

"Would you prefer I not be?"

Even as he speaks Vader brings his forearm parallel to the floor."I assumed it is what you would prefer..."

Piett ends up having to step closer, looking up at Vader with a smirk. "If the holonews is going to talk it seems only polite to give them something to talk about."

Vader gives a smirk of his own and hums a quiet laugh-

Then their names are announced, and Piett allows himself to swept along against Vader's side.

The muted room gives way to a cacophony of light and colour. The warmth of too many bodies pressed too tightly together, many glittering jewels and eyes.

Piett keeps his gaze trained on the middle distance, purposely ignoring the looks of shock, amusement and disapproval. So far above the rest of them, what they think hardly matters anyway.

He and Vader do not disappear into the crowd as the others before them have- once again Vader is afforded an unusually wide berth. As always, that amuses Piett.

The tasteful space of the gallery is cheapened by the spectacle of the event. It is merely an excuse for the wealthy, the powerful and the aspiring to see and be seen.

They walk in silence for awhile, Vader leading him between sentients and around art displays. Piett had shadowed Vader at events before, so it is not so strange to be beside him now. Nobody dares to comment or question them outright.

The only figures brave enough to approach Vader are involved in the New Republic military, and are thankfully not as long-winded as the politicians would be.

Eventually a red-haired woman in a white gown approaches. Vader gives no outward sign of irritation, but Piett can feel him bristling.

"Lord Vader."

Vader's response is icey. "Chancellor Mothma."

She levels a pointed glare at Piett before looking back to Vader. "It would have been prudent for you to mention the true nature of your relationship with your admiral before now. Particularly before we gave him high-level code-cylinders."

Piett narrows his eyes. Though he hasn't had many interactions with her himself, he does not care for her. In Mothma's case formality and manners are used only to obfuscate her cutthroat nature. Very much like Grand Moff Tarkin...

Before Vader and can answer Piett interjects. "The New Republic has appeared pleased by my work as liaison between itself and Lord Vader, I do not see why that should change."

There is a sudden, unexpected burst of amusement across the bond. Mothma takes a deep breath and glares at him again. "My quarrel is not with you, Piett."

"It seems it should be, at least in half. Or are you accusing Lord Vader of something more than you say?"

Meaning do you believe he has taken advantage of me, and I am therefore not responsible for my part in this? She flinches almost imperceptibly.

"There is no need for hostility. Regardless, I wish to borrow Lord Vader for a moment- the representative of Jakku wants to discuss something. I'm afraid it's above your clearance level, Piett."

"So be it." A tinge of amusement still colours Vader's voice. He drops his arm and Piett regretfully clasps his hands behind himself. Vader nods towards the gallery at large. "Go, I will find you after the senator is appeased."

With that Vader and Mothma stride off, and Piett is left to his own devices.

*

Around an hour later Piett finds himself staring at one of the gallery's art installations. Most of the displays had been removed for the event, but some of the more 'impressive' ones were left. This one in particular is an abstract hologram produced by a very famous designer.

Piett might appreciate minimalism and modern architecture, but as far as he can see the two-tone hologram is utterly pointless. Even so, he had decided with nothing better to do he might as well stare at it until understanding hits.

After spending an entire glass of champagne studying it, he is even more certain it's pointless. I doubt any meaning would develop until after several glasses of brandy-

"Admiral!"

He looks around for the familiar voice, not immediately able to place its owner or its direction, but then he sees a young, blonde man in a very nice outfit waving him down.

With a genuine smile he starts towards him. "J'ymes, it's good to see you. I'm glad you made it to Coruscant."

J'ymes shakes his hand. Already Piett notices a confidence in him that wasn't present before. "I'm glad you made it to Coruscant in the end too, admiral. I'm sure you're happy to be back with Lord Vader."

For an instant Piett thinks that's meant as a joke, given the fact that he and Vader were announced as a couple, but after searching the other man's face he decides the young man was probably not paying very close attention. More confident, but still oblivious.

"That is true. I admit I'm surprised to see you here, you must have ascended through the ranks very quickly to receive an invitation-"

"Oh no sir." J'ymes laughs, looking sheepish. "I quit about a month after I re-enlisted. Married the daughter of the Chandrilan senator- his entire family got invited. I'm going to be a father by the way."

The flood of information leaves Piett's head spinning a little. It seems like a waste of what could have been a perfectly good career, but it's also none of his business. "Well, congratulations. Funny that you should be connected to Senator Tarralin, I know that Leia has been trying to earn his vote in an upcoming election."

"Honestly I'm never really sure how he makes his decisions. But I suppose that worked in my favor, he did give me permission to marry Tara afterall..." He gives him a lopsided look, something Piett said finally sinking in. "You're on a first name basis with Lord Vader's kids, eh?"

"I could introduce you to them, if you would like."

J'ymes responds with a very excited answer in the affirmative, and Piett leads him over to where Leia and Solo are talking amongst themselves, Chewie standing behind them. The wookiee seems almost as loyal to Solo as Piett himself is to the dark lord. Luke is nowhere to be seen.

Leia notices their approach first. "Firmus- who's this? I don't believe we've met."

"J'ymes Rhye, Senator Organa. Senator Organa, J'ymes Rhye- the young fellow I shared a cell with for six months, he happens to have recently married Senator Tarralin's daughter."

J'ymes leans forward to take her hand, giving her a broad smile. "Very nice to meet you, Senator."

Piett can see how the young blonde had been able to work himself into a wealthy family in such a short period of time.

Solo's expression is murderous. Leia cares precisely as much her father did when princesses would attempt to throw themselves at his feet. "Perhaps you could introduce me to your wife. I've been trying to get in touch with Senator Tarralin you know, but he hasn't returned my coms..."

Piett stands and observes their conversation for a good while, not really paying attention but finding Leia's rhetoric far more engaging and artistic than the artwork he had been viewing.

Eventually J'ymes leads Leia off to introduce her to his wife, after bidding Piett farewell of course, and Piett finds himself left with only the wookiee and the smuggler.

Solo has some foodstuff in his hands that looks more suited to utensils than finger food. Chewie has polished off his own morsel already and is growling pitifully at Solo, begging to be given his as well.

"...Look, I'm sorry they don't have wookieee sized portions here but I'm hungry too-"

"I'm surprised Leia hasn't trained you better."

Solo downs the rest and wags a finger at him. "You're really funny, ya' know that? I would make comment about you needing to train his lordship too, but I guess I still owe ya' for getting him to stand down in the hangar-"

"I didn't do that for your benefit."

The smuggler puts his hands up in a placating gesture. "Right. Still, I owe you. Us normies in this family gotta' stick together."

"Aoacwo wwoorcoawo scraorwoc aoacwosc oarcraufro cooscwoaoahscwoc!"

"You said it Chewie..."

Piett does not speak Shyriiwook fluently, but he knows enough to tell that the wookiee made some derogatory comment.

With a sigh he changes the subject. "Where is Luke?"

Solo rolls his eyes. "First the princess and now you too- I am not the kid's babysitter! I don't know where he is."

"Such as a shame you're not a paid employed- if you were we could fire you." Piett feels his skin prickle, hinting that something is wrong. Not again. "If you can be bothered, please try and find him."

Before Solo can answer he turns and leaves to go look for Vader's son.  

*

Luke appears to be nowhere in the gallery. Piett is not long into his search when Vader appears again, looking to be in a far poorer mood than when he left. As usual the crowd shudders and makes room to let him pass.

"Did your discussion with Mothma and the senator go well?"

"Not particularly." Vader's gaze is drifting over the throng of sentients as he comes to stand beside him. He meets Piett's eyes. "You are distressed?"

"I wouldn't say distressed- but a tad concerned. Luke is missing."

"Yes, I noticed. I can still sense him, though he seems to have left the gallery. Come, let us see what trouble he has gotten into this time."

Vader pivots and strides off. Piett automatically moves in lockstep with him.

They make their way through several empty halls before coming to a back entrance. Vader's pace quickens as they near the doors. Piett jogs to keep up.

Once through the entranceway they see a crowd gathered at the bottom of the long, sweeping expanse of stairs. The area is poorly lit, but in the center of them all Luke is barely visible. He appears to be answering questions and conversing with the group.

It is a very bad situation. Though the mob seems harmless now large groups of civilians are often unpredictable, and given the current political climate and Luke's parentage it would probably take very little to escalate the situation.

Even with the aid of the force, Luke is distracted, and he might not see it coming or have time and room enough to react.

To make matters worse the flash of datacoms and holocams is visible. Perhaps civilians, perhaps the holonews.

Piett can sense Vader's growing trepidation, and tries to keep up as the dark lord takes the steps three at a time-

There is a flurry of movement in his periphery vision, and only his years of experience allow him to reflexively duck his head, screw his eyes shut and raise his off hand in a shielding motion before the bucket of acid is thrown on him.

The pain is instant, and he ends up staggering backwards. In a blur of blind confusion he feels Vader press up behind him, steadying him, and hears the sickening, loud crunch of bone.

There is screaming. The acid is burning. Then all at once it feels as if his skin is peeled away in one go, and the burning sensation lessens. Vader has an arm around him and directs him forward, avoiding the burns.

He allows himself to be directed, slowly coming back to conscience thought from the overload of pain and shock.

Belatedly he realizes he and Vader somehow navigated the steps back up to the building with him completely blinded. I suppose that a less impressive use of the force than telekinetically murdering someone, or stripping acid off of a wound.

There's still screaming, though it is now muted. Vader is issuing orders, presumably telling aids to call for help. Alarms start going off and there is the din of chaos from the event hall.

Then the snap of boot heels and Luke's voice, raised in anger and horror. "...What have you done?!"

Vader's voice is a deathly cold and hissing baritone in answer. "What have I done? If not for your  foolish-"

"Father- oh gods, Firmus, are you alright?"

Leia's voice. He nods once, wanting to tell her it's nothing a bacta dip won't fix but knowing it would be unwise to open his eyes or mouth. Vader has one hand on his shoulder, the other holding to his good wrist. Piett wraps his own fingers around the durasteel forearm and squeezes.

"Leia, you're going to have to get ahead of this. Father's killed-"

The temperature in the room drops even more, if that is possible. They are lucky Leia has no desire to train in the force, she would be even deadlier than her father. "Stars, Luke... Firmus is injured and you're worried about-"

Medics finally arrive, interrupting, and he and Vader are ferried away to the med-center.

*

Three hours in a bacta-tank and two hours with a med-droid later, and they are stepping back out into the Coruscant night. It is now sometime durring those in-between hours of 2400 and 0300.

Thanks to Vader somehow managing to get the acid off of him so quickly, the damage was minimal and will heal fully. The injured skin is still sore and covered in transparent bacta-patches, but Piett is lucid and comfortable again.

He starts walking before Vader can hail a cab.

The dark lord gives him a worried look. "You should rest-"

"I'm still coming off the adrenaline, I need to walk. It's not far to the apartment."

Even as he speaks he begins shivering- the wind has a chill and he is now without his dress-shirt, having been supplied a new top with short sleeves and pants to replace his damaged clothes. He sighs, expecting Vader to insist upon the cab.

Instead Vader takes off his cape and lays it across his shoulders, being careful of the bacta-patches. "Very well..."

*

After arriving back the apartment Piett expects to fall into bed immediately. Instead he and Vader are greeted by a welcoming party consisting of Solo, Chewie and a very solemn looking Luke.

Solo stands, cracking his back and hooking his thumbs into his pants with a surprisingly relieved expression on his face.

"Well you don't look half bad. That's good."

Piett feels Vader stiffen behind him. The dark lord lays a hand on his back, directing him to Vader's usual chair. Piett sits without comment, still wrapped in the other man's cloak.

Solo's gaze flits between Luke and Vader. Vader himself begins pacing, positively oozing frustration and venom. Luke glares at his father with his mouth set in a thin line.

Fearing an argument Piett attempts to defuse the situation.

"Thank you all for waiting up. I appreciate your concern." A pause when none of the three say anything in return. "Where is Leia?"

Solo's eyes widen and his gaze settles on the floor. Apparently that was the wrong thing for Piett to ask. "Back at headquarters doin' damage control-"

Luke interrupts. "The sentient father attacked is in surgery, his accomplice is in custody. Leia is writing a speech for the holonews conference tomorrow. There are recordings on the datanet already..."

The boy trails off. Piett looks at Vader, and realizes the dark lord has stopped his pacing, now standing with his arms crossed over his chest. He can feel Vader's tendrils writhing angrily, the force creaking and cold around them.

Luke does not back down from Vader's livid gaze. "Do you have something you'd like to say?"

Piett blinks in shock. He had not thought Luke capable of such a condescending tone, especially with his father-

Vader's voice is dark, but Piett can sense his pain, the feeling of betrayal. "Only that your naivete continues to astound me."

Luke stands, a flash of hurt spreading across his features before his eyes go blank.

The boy's voice rises, turning into a desperate plea. "Naivete, father? We agreed- you promised this wouldn't happen-"

"I have sacrificed enough for you, I have debased myself so that you can have the life and the government that you desired." Vader moves, circling to the side of Piett's chair like a caged vornskr. "But I will not sacrifice him."

And that... that short sentence stuns Piett far more than the acid did. I would never ask to be put before your children-

Luke looks incredulous. "Asking you not to murder people is not asking you to debase yourself! I had hoped you would listen to me, that you would see how horrible the dark-side-"

"Do not lecture me as if I do understand my own actions." That low hiss again, the same as when they were waiting for the medics. "The jedi are not innocent, no matter how blind and deluded you make yourself. Everything comes at a cost- a cost you have been willing to let me pay when it has been for your benefit-"

"What you do isn't a 'cost,' it's morally inexcusable-"

"There is no morality. The force is not ruled by social constructs, actions are not good or evil. Actions only bring balance, or imbalance- tonight I leveled the scales."

Vader turns, stalking off to the far end of the room and effectively ending the conversation.

Luke's mouth works for a moment, seemingly dumbfounded, then he whirls around and heads for the door.

Piett feels a shiver of sorts pass through the bond, and the boy stops short. Something thought or said through the force?

Vader keeps his gaze trained out the window, and in spite of all the rage and venom Piett can hear the heartbreak. "At Endor you told me your father was dead, Skywalker. I apologize for disgracing your image of him."

They all remain frozen for a long moment. Then Luke walks out, his robes trailing behind him in just the way that the cloak trails behind his sire.

Chewie lets out a sad warble, and Solo starts backing up.

"Well... uh-" He chances a glance at the dark lord, still standing like an onyx statue, then looks at Piett. "I'm sure neither of you want my help, but for what's it worth com if you need anything. Really."

The smuggler turns to exit as well, nodding at the wookiee. "C'mon Chewie."

Then Piett and Vader are alone again.

He wants to go him, to console him, but knows it would be unwelcome. So instead he only wraps Vader's cape tighter around himself as he stands.

"I would like for you to come to bed." Before going into their rooms he pauses, looking at Vader's back. "When you are ready."

Not a request for his own sake. An invitation. The offering of solace. Vader does not answer immediately.

Eventually the man gives a single nod. "I will join you later."

Piett's nerves loosen a bit at that, and he leaves Vader with his thoughts.

Chapter Text

When Piett first wakes he thinks that the previous night might have been one of his nightmares. Then he feels the itch of the bacta-patches and the bruises on his wrist from where Vader had gripped him while they were waiting for the medics.

He sits up and notices the other side of the bed has not been used. Despite the logical explanations and the sensation of the still intact bond, Piett's gut does a panicked flip at the realization that Vader had not joined him as he said he would.

He pulls on just enough to make himself presentable and heads for the door. Vader's cloak lays over the back of the desk chair, unmoved from where he placed it early that morning. He resists the urge to take it.

It eases his nerves to have the dagger hanging heavy against his hip again. Leaving it behind the previous night had been almost painful.

Vader ends up being easy enough to locate- the bond had somehow urged him towards the roof of the building, though he might have guessed that's where the man would sequester himself without its aid. He feels an inordinate amount of relief at having found him.

Dressed in his own clothes again the air is not so biting as he steps out onto the roof. The wind claws lazily at the tails of Vader's tabard, morning painting the black cloth maroon and the duracrete orange. Blood and fire...

The apartment is not the tallest building around them, but it is tall enough. Coruscant's skyline stretches out around them, buildings and vehicles glinting in the light. Above them, below them... something they are both a part of, but can never quite reach.

The taller man turns to him, arms folded across his chest. His expression is one of resignation. "I did still intend to join you."

Piett shrugs, stepping closer. "The effect is the same, no matter which of us comes to the other..."

Vader tilts his head, studying him. Piett suddenly feels as if he's already said too much with the first sentence out of his mouth this morning.

When the man speaks his voice is quiet. "You asked me once why I had not sent for you, why I had not allowed you to reciprocate during our relations at first. My answer was not forthright."

Piett blinks at him, squinting in the sun. "Yes, I gathered that much."

"I did not wish to entangle you in this. A part of me had hoped that you would carry on down a different path."

"Entangle me in what? The quarrel with Luke last night was unfortunate however-"

"No. This..." The dark lord lifts his fingertips to brush over the bacta-patches on Piett's cheek, referencing the threat to Piett's life. He almost recoils at the gentleness. "Things dear to me have a habit of shattering, despite my efforts."

Vader's hand drops just as quickly as it was raised. After a moment Piett realizes his mouth has fallen open in shock. He swallows.

There are a thousand things he wants to ask. A thousand things he feels he should already know. Despite their years together and Piett's singular position as confidant, virtually no history had been exchanged between them. He doubts he has any grasp on the scope of Vader's concerns, and their origins.

In the end he says nothing, just steps closer against the other man's side. Vader hooks his thumbs into his belt, turning to put the sun in front of them once more.

They watch in the dawn in silence.

*

Only after the sky fades to hazy blue do they return to the apartment.

Vader still appears haunted, but Piett thinks it unwise to press him. Instead he turns on the holostream.

The display for the device is in one of the windows, and is fully transparent when not in use. He and Vader rarely utilize it. It is an admittedly bad idea for him to use it now, but his curiosity has won out over his good sense.

When the holostream snaps on Vader pauses and gives him a disapproving look. Piett grimaces in return, already knowing full well he's not going to like what he sees.

Unfortunately it must be a relatively slow news day, as all of the channels are fully devoted to Vader, himself and the attack of the previous night.

His teeth begin to grind as a flush of irritation colours his skin.

It is as he had feared- Vader is being accused of coercion. Conjecture flying everywhere.

Very serious sentients in expensive business-wear debate each other. Did Vader promote him in exchange for sexual favors? Was he blackmailed into helping in the treason against Palpatine? Did Vader promise to make him emperor, or supreme commander in Vader's stead, and then rescind on their agreement? Vader is known for his vile temper- is he abusing him?

Even the more amiable hosts that are unconcerned with matters of government are unkind in their gossip. Is Piett his only lover- surely not? What's Vader getting out of the deal? Why not someone younger and prettier?

He flips the channel again and is surprised to see a picture of himself staring back. Except twenty years younger and fresh out of the Imperial academy.

After muting the holostream he tosses the remote onto one of the nearby chairs, none too gently. Then he starts pacing.

Vader is not exactly amused when speaks, though perhaps somewhat validated in his concerns. "Their reaction is to be expected. You knew what would be said."

Piett runs a hand through his hair to keep from picking at the bacta-patches. "They're trying to make me look like some youngster you corrupted!"

Vader huffs- a harsh exhale of breath through his nose. Piett turns to him and glares.

"You can't claim that you're truly not bothered by any of this."

The dark lord steps forward and gives a quick tilt of a nod- his variation of a shrug. "It is certainly grating. However I doubt any of those who speak against us would dare do so in my presence, and that is some consolation."

Piett stills his pacing to stare at him again. Vader favors him with a smirk.

He had become familiar with the man's dry wit during their working relationship, though his fellow Imperials did not share his appreciation.

I doubt Luke would approve-

Piett winces as soon as the thought enters his brain, though he luckily managed not to say it aloud. The argument of the previous night had been momentarily forgotten, as serious, uncomfortable things occasionally are.

Vader's smirk and good humor trickle out into resignation again. He heard.

As the other man moves to his pre-ordained chair Piett comes closer.

"I don't think I understand what happened last night..." Once seated Vader steeples his fingers together, elbows on the armrests and legs crossed. Piett stops a few strides away. "If you would prefer not to discuss it-"

"Your concern for my emotions is charming, Piett."

The comment is made without irritation or sarcasm, but still stuns him a bit. Vader smiles, that small and bittersweet expression he has seen only a few times.

The dark lord takes a breath and then exhales, apparently collecting his thoughts. "After the events at Endor I spent nearly a dozen weeks recovering. During that time I purposely held my tongue. We only spoke of pleasant things, our similarities... in retrospect I believe Luke thought he had succeeded in turning me back to the light, only to discover that was not the case. Perhaps he felt I was attempting to manipulate him."

Very little emotion plays on that other man's features, but Piett can sense the welling disappointment. "At that point we did not have time for philosophical quandaries. I persuaded him to help me take control of the navy and use the threat of it to accomplish our mutual goals. He acquiesced only once he had been assured several of his demands would be met- including the disbanding of death squadron and my cooperation with Mothma. Since he could not see a way to turn me, he endeavored to make me relatively harmless."

Vader's gloved fingers unsteeple, curved and black like the claws from one of Piett's nightmares. It seems like a crime to attempt to tame such a creature.

"So he feels you betrayed him, and you feel he betrayed you." It seems a simple enough observation to Piett, but Vader gives him a quizzical look. He continues. "Luke has imposed contingencies upon your relationship. You have accepted him, but he has not done the same."

Piett can see the gears turning in the other man's skull. After chewing on the idea for a moment Vader dips his head in agreement. "Yes. Though I had not consciously-"

Vader stops mid sentence, gaze suddenly focused back on the holostream. Piett wheels to follow his eyeline and sees footage of Leia stepping up to a stage with a 'live' banner plastered across it. Just as he thinks to pick up the remote Vader motions with his hand, and the holostream is unmuted.

Leia steps up to the microphone, adjusting it and composing herself. Her dress today is a somber blue- not so dark as to indicate regret, nor light enough to be labeled unsympathetic.

When she speaks her voice is solemn, yet somehow also warm and consoling. "My fellow sentients and gentle-beings, I come before you today because of the events that transpired during the first anniversary of the battle of Endor. Last night a self-proclaimed vigilante assaulted a New Republic official at a gala hosted by the New Republic. Thankfully the attacker and his accomplice were apprehended before any civilians could be harmed. I will now answer questions-"

The reporters all begin speaking and raising their hands at once. Leia picks one of them out of the crowd out and nods for them to begin. "You say that the assailant was apprehended- footage of the incident clearly shows that Lord Vader utilized his unnatural abilities to break the man's spine, inciting terror and panic in the nearby crowd. Is this sort of 'justice' endorsed by the New Republic?"

"The New Republic always strives for peaceful and nonviolent solutions. The attacker will be tried for his crimes, and likewise he may bring the New Republic to court if he feels he has been treated unfairly. Justice will be left to Coruscant's elected judges- as it should be."

The questions go on for some time, her and her interrogators ping-ponging a brittle, slowly cracking ball between them as their queries escalate.

She picks another reporter out, this time a female of a multi-limbed species Piett is unfamiliar with. "Senator Organa, can you honestly say that Lord Vader - your father, lest we forget - has not received special treatment? Should he not be reprimanded for his actions? Surely the New Republic cannot condone his behaviour?"

"No, he has not received preferential treatment. As I stated before the attacker may bring the New Republic or Lord Vader himself to court if he-"

The din of the group interrupts her- the conference quickly spinning of control.

And yet, as Piett watches the petite woman he has grown familiar with over the last few months, he sees only the cool, calculated gaze of her sire. She's allowing this. She's setting them up.

"Lord Vader is supposed to be one of the most powerful men in the entire galaxy-"

"Could he not have used less violent methods-"

"Is it true that the official that was assaulted is his consort-"

"Why did the New Republic allow Vader to publicly involve himself with a subordinate-"

"You cannot honestly believe that the fact that it was his lover that was being attacked had no effect on the severity of his reaction-"

"No. No I don't believe that."

Her voice rings clear and cold, cutting through the air and leaving shocked silence in it's wake.

Leia heaves a breath, as if steeling herself, then reaches to her bun and pulls out the stick supporting it. Her hair falls in a gentle cascade. It is a ploy to engender trust, a visual letting down of barriers.

"In fact I find the idea that it wouldn't affect his reaction incomprehensible. Lord Vader and Admiral Piett devoted their lives to overthrowing Palpatine for the benefit of the galaxy- and yet all I continue to hear is how it isn't enough."

A pause, then one of the reporters that spoke earlier rebuts her. "What do you mean Senator Organa? The galaxy merely asks for them to be responsible for their actions just like-"

"No, that isn't what the galaxy is asking for. Time and time again I have heard my father described as a heartless droid- but he is not heartless. Last night he did just what any sentient would do: he reacted out of fear for his loved ones. The galaxy has already passed judgement, and apparently it wants Lord Vader to be totally impervious to emotion, perfectly calculated and unfeeling at all times, because that is the only way that someone in his position could have possibly not reacted. The galaxy asks the impossible from a man whom has already given the galaxy everything ."

She takes another deep breath, expression and voice turning earnest. "The attacker is receiving the best medical care on Coruscant, and he will be granted due process. It is unfortunate that the incident resulted in injury, however we should remember that this assailant is hardly faultless. He came fully intending to do harm- if not to an official, then to civilians. If Lord Vader had not been present the damage could have been far, far worse. We need to be focussed on addressing security issues, and understanding why he felt the need to resort to violence himself."

Another surprisingly long span of silence. "If the fault for this incident does not rest on Lord Vader, then whom does it rest on?"

Piett expects that none besides Vader and himself, and perhaps Solo, would recognize the gleam in her eye. Here's the opportunity you've been waiting for. What are you aiming at?

She straightens, speaking matter of factly. "To be perfectly frank the fault for this incident rests with the New Republic as a whole. As I said before, we need to be looking at security issues. That is part of the reason I'm running for Vice Chancellor..."

Piett's smile tugs at his bacta-patches. Leia continues lamenting the many contributing factors, all of which she could surely help with if elected.

When the conference is finally over Leia strides away, the reporters yelling after her.

Piett turns to Vader, shaking his head. "I can't believe she somehow managed to turn this mess in her favor."

Vader breathes a sigh and reclines back from the edge of his chair, obviously relieved.

*

Later that afternoon Piett goes to have the burns looked at again. Vader had offered to come with him back to the med-center, but Piett had politely declined despite finding the offer rather endearing.

It had been some small consolation last night when he was attended to primarily by droid medics- though he knows even sentient ones would not have pryed. He is loath to let anyone see the love bites.

Somehow Vader's pleasure in marking him had been less of a surprise than the rest of it. Than the gentleness. The dark lord is a strongly possessive man- Piett had known that already. He's rather fond of the collection of mottled bruises, in various stages of healing, that have accumulated on his shoulders and elsewhere. Desired. Wanted. Claimed...

He is is seen to by a droid this time as well. It tells him the bacta-patches have done well and may be removed in only a few days. He's off to his second destination within the hour.

Luke had not returned to the apartment the previous night. Piett heads to the hangar on a hunch.

All of the buildings he and Vader frequent are in the government sector- civilians are allowed in certain areas but security is much tighter than in other sectors. He's grateful for the fact that he can continue to walk from place to place unmolested. Even if the sentients he passes now recognize him, none of them approach him.

Piett check his datacom as he's walking, finding several unimportant messages and one from J'ymes Rhye. Leia must have given him my frequency...

He listens to it, lowering the volume and lifting it up close to his ear a little dubiously. J'ymes might not have realized the nature of his and Vader's relationship the previous night, but he couldn't have missed the twenty channels all blathering on about it this morning.

'Hello Admiral, it's J'ymes. Well... I'm sure you realized that I hadn't realized you're... um... well I just figured you congratulated me and I hadn't congratulated you. So congratulations. I'm sure all this will blow over in the end. If I can ever be of use to you - or Senator Organa - don't hesitate to ask. Good luck.'

The message clicks off, leaving a surge of relief in Piett's chest as he steps into the hangar.

He finds the young man working on his X-wing, as expected. His blue and white astronomic is the first to notice Piett's presence, and starts twiddling anxiously.

Luke looks up, expression softening once it lands on Piett. "It's alright Artoo..."

Piett takes a deep breath and clasps his hands behind himself. He is still unsure if it is wise for him to interject, but it is painfully obvious that Luke is need of fathering... something he is currently unwilling to receive from Vader in any capacity. If he will hear advice from Piett instead, so be it.

"I hope I'm not interrupting."

"No, no, it's fine." Luke climbs down the access ladder. When he turns and moves towards Piett his expression is apologetic. "I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have said anything, you were the one who got-"

"You knew the danger for me had passed. You were more concerned with the repercussions of Vader's actions- understandably. It wouldn't take much to send this peace the New Republic has constructed crashing down, would it?"

Luke gives him a wary look. "I doubt you have clearance for the answer to that."

"Indeed." Piett nods to the door, beckoning him. "Me and your father all find talking easier when we can focus on the path before us. I expect the same is true for you. Come."

Luke does not follow him out the door immediately. Piett does not slow or leave room for discussion.

A few seconds later Luke jogs after him.

*

There is a span of uncomfortable silence. Luke seems dubious. Piett still isn't sure what he intends to accomplish. He's used to being a leader, boosting moral and waylaying fears in his subordinates. On occasion he's taken a younger or less confident officer under his wing, when they showed promise. This sort of thing, however, is new.

The young man breaks the silence first. "Did father ask you to talk to me?"

"No. I did not tell him I intended to speak with you. Though I'm sure he senses it now, of course..." Piett is surprised to see distrust flash across Luke's face. "Why do you believe Vader is trying to manipulate you?"

"That is the nature of the dark-side. Manipulation, false promises. He might not have asked you to talk to me, but he's told you about what's happened between us."

"I told him, actually."

Luke's brow knits in confusion. Piett smiles, amused. "After he told me what had occurred during the months after Endor, this morning, I pointed out something he had not considered."

"And that was?"

"Your feeling of betrayal is mutual."

The young man pauses for several beats, working out Piett's meaning. When it registers he looks away, stiffening. "You don't believe he is manipulating me... you're very trusting of him."

"He is a loyal, trustworthy man."

"That is the first time I've heard that. My own experience with him has been very different."

"I know you disapprove of his methods, but despite the violence your father is just- if not merciful. He never stooped to manipulation and backstabbing."

Flickers of emotion pass over Luke's face, memories resurfacing. "Obi-Wan told me that Darth Vader had betrayed and murdered my father, Anakin Skywalker. For years I knew him only as a traitor, I was repeatedly warned that he would try to turn me, and lie to me. After I found out the truth I thought it was Obi-Wan who had lied... but in the end it turned out Vader really was the one who had buried my father."

Piett has heard the name 'Obi-Wan' (a jedi general from the clone-wars as he understands) only in passing before, and never from the dark lord himself. For the moment he chooses to ignore it, preferring to remain on the topic at hand.

"Do you know why your father endeavored to distance himself from his old name?"

Luke gives him a mildly incredulous look. "He abandoned his identity when he became a sith lord. He succumbed to the dark-side."

"Is that what he told you?"

"Has he told you something different?"

"No..." Piett stops, turning to face him fully. Luke stiffens again, tilting his chin up. "But he has never given me reason to doubt him. If he saw fit to bury his previous name, as you say, then he had his reasons. Your father is an honorable man, and I have never seen him 'succumb' to anything. He's endured his own share of pain, that much is obvious enough- perhaps you should be more empathetic."

An edge had leached into his words towards the end, despite his efforts. He can understand Luke's concerns, but he dislikes hearing Vader's honor questioned in such a manner.

Luke's eyes harden. Then he raises his right arm and troubles his gauntleted wrist with his other hand. "Has he told you what happened at Bespin?"

Piett remembers the conversation he and Vader had after his return, with Vader pressed up against his back. '...after my failure at Bespin I decided any quarry of mine should be allowed to come to me in their own time.' What failure had he been referring to?

He answers simply. "No. He hasn't."

The young man nods downwards, motioning at his hand. "It's a prosthetic. He tortured Han, lured me to Bespin, dueled against me in what I honestly believed was a fight to the death, and then he cut off my hand. And after all of that he had the gall to ask me to join him."

In the wake of his words and Piett's shocked silence Luke drops both arms, flexing his fingers. His voice isn't angry- only hurt. "I forgave him for that. I asked him to come with me, before we went before the emperor. He refused. I left everything behind to help him afterwards, and he just pretended he had changed to try and win me over. So I'm sorry if I can't give him anymore empathy , but I just can't. I've tried."

Luke shakes his head, turning and walking away. He obviously means to leave their conversation at that, but Piett catches up to him within a few strides and wraps his hand around his arm- directing him to a nearby bench.

They sit. Piett doesn't speak until after he's collected his thoughts. "What you have told me does not invalidate what I said. That is the crux of the issue: the galaxy is not comprised of black and white."

Luke moves to sit back, away from him, but Piett keeps his hold on the boy's arm. "You say you thought it was a fight to the death. Vader was fighting for your life , he was desperate. I saw him risk everything for you. He has caused you pain, but he cares for you deeply. Your father is still alive, regardless of his name- do not throw away your opportunity to-"

With all of his sire's strength and grace, Luke stands. Piett releases his hold. Luke is shaking his head again. This isn't my place. I have less right to tell him this than Vader does.

As the boy steps away, turning his back on him, Piett's mind races for the right thing to say- the thing Luke most needs to hear. His thoughts land on his meltdown the previous day, Vader's words ringing against the marble.

"He told me he would have asked you to take the mask off, if I hadn't been there on the Death Star." Luke stops, already several strides away, turning back to him. Piett swallows down the emotion in his throat. It colours his voice anyway. "He would have asked you to remove his mask and then told you he returned to the light-side. He said he owed you that small amount of peace."

Luke's jaw works. Piett hopes he comprehends at least some of the meaning he himself knows resides within those words. Vader was prepared to die for you- prepared to die just to give you closure. Because he knew your life would easier without him. Because he felt your memory of him would be preferable to the reality.

The scavenger birds of Coruscant chirp and call happily around them. Passerby spare them glances and then continue on their way.

Luke steps closer again, voice quiet. "You... don't think he was manipulating me?"

It seems difficult for him to get the words out- as if they're some horrible thing the boy hasn't even let himself think.

Piett gives a confident nod. "I know it. Without a doubt."

He stands, going to Luke and clapping him on the shoulder. "You seem not to realize this fact so I shall state it plainly: your father loves you. Do not hold your opportunity to heal hostage in an attempt to turn him. Disagree with him, if you must, but do not abandon your relationship. It would be unkind to both of you."

Luke is silent for a long time before answering.

"I believe you, Piett, really. I will consider what you have said..." He retreats a step. Piett's hand falls off his shoulder. "But I can sense you truly think that he has done nothing wrong- and that scares me. I'm afraid it could be dangerous. For all us, but especially for him."

Before he walks off towards the hangar again he gives Piett a sad smile. "Even if it doesn't feel like it right now, you've helped. Thank you."

*

After finally making his way back to the apartment, Piett is emotionally exhausted. He and Luke had not talked for long, but their conversation had sent him reeling again.

The door to the apartment opens after he slides his card-key into the lock, and he is greeted by a rather peculiar image.

The dark lord stands herded back against the windows, his head bowed and expression vaguely regretful. The five foot form of his daughter motions passionately at him, still clothed in her blue dress from the conference.

Leia's voice is raised, but not quite a yell. "...Don't think for a moment I believe what I told them all today! We both know you knew exactly what you were doing. I'm not like Luke, I don't begrudge you a little bit of retribution, but do not ever leave me in this position again!"

A pause. Vader's eyes move up to meet Piett's (still frozen as he is just inside the doorway), and then focus back at Leia's feet. His rich baritone is almost laughably appeasing when he speaks. "I have apologized repeatedly for not alerting you of my plans at Bespin-"

"I don't want an apology. You chose your son over me and our agreement then- I would have made the same decision." Her voice softens, and she retreats a step. "But I must be able to rely on you now. You have to trust me."

Vader gives a clipped nod. Leia sighs and pivots, finally noticing him as she does so. "Oh, Firmus- I didn't realize you were back."

They meet halfway, Leia pressing a chaste kiss to his good cheek as he pats her arm. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here last night. I should have called this morning-"

"It's alright. You had a very good excuse."

"Hopefully you'll think my excuse is just as good now, I really have to be going again."

"Of course..."

She gives him a smile and steps past him- then with a look back at Vader seems to reconsider.

The dark lord has moved closer to them, and Leia goes up to him. Stepping into his space and laying a hand on his chest. "Stop cowering. It doesn't suit you."

Piett barely restrains his bark of laughter. Vader nor Leia look at him, but Vader gives a long suffering sigh.

She pats the fabric of the tabard, lips quirking into a smirk. "I know you don't feel guilty about your actions, so I have to make you feel guilty about upsetting me... don't upset me again."

With that she gives a final pat, and exits the apartment.

*

Piett's nap is full of glass fangs, claws and knives, all shimmering in blackness. When he stirs he doesn't remember his dreams- only the outlines and shadows of objects.

He sits up and smoothes out his pants. His dress-shirt has already been removed. Based on the sky outside the windows it is just past nightfall. Vader had promised to wake him. Apparently the dark lord does lie after all...

Once the fog of sleep lifts a bit Piett notices the holostream he had left on. It is running civilian footage of the attack.

He feels around for the remote and unmutes it.

The holocam pans from Luke over to two approaching figures on the stairs, dark forms silhouetted by the light shining out from the gallery. They move in lockstep, feet hitting the ground at the same time despite the difference in stride length. Stars. I know I chose something so that we would match, but we truly do look like a couple.

He sees the attack coming this time. Not one sentient, but two. His assailant and their accomplice hidden in the trees beside the building. His skin tingles when the acid is thrown.

Vader was a handful of steps below him, but twists and moves behind him almost instantly- inhumanly balletic despite his stature. Piett's own black clad form merges with the swirl of Vader's cape as the taller man puts himself between him and the threat.

The dark lord raises an empty hand. The attacker - of a species Piett does not recognize - is lifted into the air and wrenched backward like a ragdoll. The crunch and pop of his spine is audible even at the distance away that the holocam is. Blood drips from the body. The image begins to shake as screaming begins, the noise louder than Piett remembers because the holocam is so much closer to it. Then the assailant is thrown, and lands in a heap of tangled limbs.

This all occurs within seconds. Once the danger is eliminated the dark lord's attention is turned on Piett himself- his pale, scarred head barely discernable in the harsh lighting. Vader motions with his hand again and there is a strange flash, light reflecting off the acid hovering beside them. It drops to the ground when Vader swipes his hand in a downward motion, and there is a gasp from someone close to the holocam.

Then he and Vader are moving up the steps, and the holocam shifts to follow Luke bounding out of the crowd after them.

The footage cuts to a host talking about the attacker- his various injuries and the fact that his species is still unidentified. Apparently when questioned Commander Skywalker maintained that the being and his accomplice could not be 'sensed through the force,' and that was why Commander Skywalker had not known the attack was imminent...

Piett lifts the remote and shuts off the holostream. After a moment he turns to find Vader watching him from several strides away, arms folded over his chest.

He expects the feral intensity of his eyes combined with the unnervingly blank expression would strike terror into the hearts of all beings capable of fear. And yet, despite his own acute awareness of Vader's intangible, violent power, he can only see how incredibly beautiful the man is.

Piett pulls himself out of his momentary stupor, saying the first thing that comes to mind. "I had never realized you could do that sort of thing- what you did with the acid."

"Neither did I." Vader steps forward, head tilting. His cape is still missing- the tabard appearing almost casual by itself. "Tell me, Piett, why were you never afraid of me?"

The taller man comes to sit beside him on the sofa, one leg folded underneath himself. It is so utterly normal it borders on ridiculous.

Piett blinks at him. Will it be unkind to tell you the truth? "I was afraid of you. I respected you greatly, but I was still afraid."

"No... you feared for your life, of course, but you were not afraid of me. The distinction was apparent even at the time."

Piett considers that for a long moment. It is strange to be thinking about all of this again, to be given an opportunity to say these things out loud.

"I always saw you as a force of nature. You were above the laws of sentients, above right and wrong." Vader is still watching him intently. Piett swallows despite himself. Despite the fact that he knows Vader won't harm him. "At some point I decided if you saw fit to kill me I would deserve it. Nobody should blame the wind for tearing the weaker branches off the trees."

Vader chuckles, darkly. His smile is far from the bittersweet thing Piett has seen on occasion. It matches his still feral gaze.

"You have always been overly complimentary of me, even in your thoughts."

"Overly?"

"I never claimed I was a good man. Not even when I was the 'Anakin Skywalker' Luke still longs for."

Piett leans against the back of the sofa, narrowing his eyes. Watching the footage of Vader crippling the sentient has dredged up something he buried several years prior. "Do you remember the lieutenant that saw us coming out of the shuttle?"

Vader's head tilts again, eyes narrowing in question. "Yes."

"And do you remember the first time you allowed me to see your face?"

A longer pause. Vader's blue irises go dark, pupils dilating. You remember it as fondly as I do then-

"Yes..."

Piett takes in a breath, having been momentarily distracted. His voice is matter-of-fact as he continues.

"I had to go the infirmary, afterwards. I was only there a few minutes but the lieutenant came in. I took one look at him and I knew he had worked it out. He suspected what we were doing. I knew I had to protect us- us and our plans." He pauses, mouth parted and his tongue tracing over the back of his teeth. The memory is livid technicolour in his mind's eye. "I killed him. Choked him to death and threw him out an airlock. His family was told he had defected."

Another breath. He savors the thrill of power, how righteous it had felt. "His only crime was making an accurate leap of logic, and for that he paid the ultimate price."

His gaze returns to Vader's eyes. The man looks almost enthralled. "His weakness was his own responsibility. If he could not best you he did not deserve to live."

"Does saving the galaxy offset the murder of an innocent? It doesn't seem like it should."

"The galaxy is balanced, not fair. There is a difference..."

Piett thinks of Vader's words after the incident, 'Tonight I leveled the scales,' then Leia's words earlier that evening, 'We both know you knew exactly what you were doing.'

Realization floods in like ice water- cold and painfully blissful. "You didn't accidentally leave the attacker alive- you crippled him on purpose."

Vader hums, nearly that dark purr Piett has grown so smitten with. "Yes. He will live out his days in pathetic impotence, while you and I enjoy that which we have created."

"Leia said he was receiving the best care on Coruscant-"

"'The best care' does not include expensive prosthetics- he will never walk again. He will be paying for what he did for the rest of his life. That is the price for threatening something of mine." The dark lord tilts his head again. "Why had you gone to the infirmary?"

It takes a moment for Piett to remember what he is talking about. "You injured my wrist. Nothing serious, just a hairline fracture. I went for scans and set it myself."

Vader takes his wrist, gently. Piett watches their hands- Vader's fingers dexterous despite the aged prosthetics and the gloves.

"I did not realize I had hurt you."

"Neither had I. Certainly not when it happened."

Vader presses his lips against his pulse and Piett's breath catches. "You should have made me aware of the lieutenant. I would have handled it for you."

His voice reverberates through the fine bones and tendons of Piett's forearm.

"What good would I have been to you if I couldn't have handled a single pair of prying eyes."

Vader hums again, teeth grazing skin.

Piett smiles and jerks his hand away. "I told you, not where anyone can see."

"Hmm... come here."

The dark lord reaches for his waist, and with only a couple efficient movements both his feet are on the floor and Piett is straddling him. He's suddenly reminded of the bacta-patches and the lingering burns they cover. Such an annoyance.

Vader paws at his undershirt, sucking low on the side of his neck not covered by bacta-patches. His collar will cover the mark- but only barely. A fair compromise.

Piett's voice is already rough with arousal when he speaks again. "What had you planned for last night?"

Vader pauses his ministrations, pulling back enough to look at him.

Piett continues with a smirk. "I didn't notice any champagne and rose petals. Unless Solo took the liberty of cleaning up-"

The other man nuzzles against his unfettered cheek and chuckles. Piett gets his arm around his neck.

"It was more of an offer than a plan, I suppose. It will wait until you are fully healed." Piett pouts a tiny bit, unseen but probably sensed. "We have time. There needn't be any rush."

Despite his words of patience Vader's hands are on Piett's groin, teasing as he undoes his belt.

Piett doesn't bother to reach for Vader's flies, just groans and bucks against him. Searching for friction once Vader gets his cock free of the fabric.

Vader's off hand goes to his waist again, fingers wrapping around the small of his back. it doesn't take long for the dark lord to get his own belt and pants undone. Once he does he takes them both in hand and begins stroking them to full hardness. The leather is cooler than skin and the prosthetic harder than flesh, even with the padded covering.

It's dry and Vader's grip is unyielding, but it's still glorious. So many firsts these past few months- Vader has used his hands but they've never frotted before.

Vader's hand moves higher on them both and his thumb swipes over Piett's slit. Piett hisses and clings to Vader's broad shoulders, both arms around his neck now and fingers clawing into the tabard. He can't bring himself to care that he's probably damaging the bacta-patches.

Vader's hardness twitches against his own, apparently pleased by his noises. Hot and stiff and proud-

Piett moans against the taller man's ear. At some point during the last two months he had reached the point of no longer caring what sound Vader hears him make, especially not when said sounds tend to incite such wonderful reactions.

"Can- can you reach the oil from here, with the force-"

Vader hums a laugh, biting his neck none too gently. Piett pulls back a little and digs the nails of one hand into the fabric over Vader's chest.

"That won't be necessary."

Before Piett can object Vader has taken his wrist again, lifting his hand to suck Piett's middle and ring fingers into his mouth.

Vader keeps the eye contact as he drags his tongue over Piett's fingers. He feels himself jerk and his cheeks go hot.

When Vader releases his fingers he gives Piett a smirk with hooded lids- looking very much like a pleased dragon or feline of some sort.

Piett's voice is unimpressed, despite his flush. "Lube would still be better."

"On my belt." Piett gives him an incredulous glare before reaching for it- undone but still around the man's hips. The hand on his waist trails over his rear and squeezes. "You look so fetching when you blush."

Piett takes a packet out of one of the compartments. What a practical new addition to his arsenal. He coats his palm and then wraps his hand around as much of them both as he can manage. The slick is cool and sends a jolt up his spine.

He sighs, forehead dipping to rest against Vader's shoulder, black fabric and the dark of the night outside blurring. "I never should have bothered worrying about offending you."

"Did you-" Piett squeezes, purposely. Vader grunts, then continues. "Did you really think that you would offend me?"

"Yes. Always so elegant- so dignified- I never thought you'd-"

His words trail off as his hands works, the grind of his hips matching it's pace.

Both of Vader's hands go to his hips and squeeze, bruising through the fabric. "Thought I'd what?"

"Gods- this, any of this- anything like this."

Vader's cock pulses against his, straining in pleasure. Then the dark lord's tendrils are on him, licking flames over his skin. It's indescribable, such a foreign sensation it's difficult to even remember it. Electricity bottled and made sentient and tangible.

Piett's movement stutters and Vader takes a hand away from his hip to help- Piett's fingers and thumb under Vader's mirrored hold.

"Slower- don't rush-"

His whimpering cry is muffled against Vader's shoulder. The other man has not spoken this much during sex before, and Piett loves his voice. Loves to hear him, always loved to hear him-

He lets Vader set the pace he wants. Bites the tabard when Vader gives that dark purr Piett has come to associate with his pleasure and arousal.

Piett is left teetering on the edge for far too long, sensation condensed down only to pleasure.

When he climaxes he grinds into Vader's abdomen, knees tightening around the other man's hips.

Vader gives a few more strokes and releases him, both hands going to his hips again. Piett tries to work him at the same speed the dark lord had been using. His thumb drags over Vader's coronal ridge, his foreskin gliding over it.

It takes only a few strokes for Vader to spend over his fist, further dirtying their clothing in the process.

In the afterglow Piett wraps his arms around Vader's neck, panting. Vader's hands slide down to the backs of his thighs, kneading, and then he wraps an arm around the small of Piett's back and leaves it there.

There's no rush to disentangle themselves. Finally no sense of hurry.

'We have time,' that's what Vader had said. They had time now. Time to fix things with Luke. Time to have dinners with Leia. Time to enjoy each other. Time for a thousand miniscule things that might amount to happiness.

He exhales a shuddery breath and presses his forehead against Vader's neck.

For now they are still here, and that is a gift.