Luke walks slowly down the corridor, eating his sweets as he goes and hoping to delay, however slightly, his return to his room.
He is not, strictly speaking, forbidden from leaving it, but it is strongly discouraged on his Father's part. At least the doors to these rooms, unlike his former quarters aboard the Star Destroyer, are not locked from the outside.
It felt like years since Luke had been anywhere except for his illicit trips to the replicator on the fourth level that managed somehow to produce superior Tatooine sweets (though actually it had only been a few weeks since he'd come to the Death Star from his Father's Star Destroyer). It was a fact his Father contested but he did not, apparently, have the heart to forbid Luke his occasional excursions throughout the space station- so long as he avoided the well frequented areas and remained as inconspicuous as possible.
It was better than being trapped in his rooms, without even the droids he'd had with him on the Star Destroyer for company.
After all, at this point, Luke could be trusted to remain inconspicuous.
There was some sort of disturbance in the station today which had taken most Stormtroopers to the detention levels. Luke had seized the opportunity to get out for a walk without meeting anyone.
He is out of practice when it comes to talking to anyone except his Father or the droids.
When they had lived on the Executor Luke had seen his Father often, his own small rooms having been part of his father's much larger quarters, tucked out of the way and accessible only through them.
Since their move to the Death Star Luke saw his father only once a day, if that. Luke's quarters were now even smaller than before and tucked near the stormtrooper living quarters in an out of the way hallway.
Luke misses him.
He misses a lot of things these days.
It's funny; when he'd been on Tatooine all he'd ever wanted was to get away- now he misses it with a deep and constant ache.
He misses Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.
He misses the view of the Dune Sea from the moisture farm, and the sky that, as wide and as blue as it was on Tatooine, would never be able to fit all the things he dreamed of.
These days he'd settle for any sky at all, really.
He misses the twin suns and their scorching heat. He misses the sudden sharp cold of the night and the way the wind never stopped blowing even for minute.
In the space station his feet freeze on the cold floor and even with the hum of the generators and the engines the silence of the air still sometimes to hurts his ears.
Sometimes, on the worst days, he even misses the sand.
His comm buzzes and it takes some manoeuvring to answer it without dropping his plate or cup.
His father's breathing mask appears. “Luke, I regret to tell you I will be unable to-” he begins sounding as close as he gets to apologetic, but then he cuts himself off. “Luke.” he barks, this time sounding reproachful. “You are not in your quarters.”
Luke forces a smile and raises his plate. “I just went for snacks.” There's a pause where, Luke imagines, his father would have sighed if he were able to regulate his own breathing.
“There are dangerous criminals and fugitives loose on the ship. Return to your quarters immediately. It's not safe for you to be out.”
Luke nods. “Of course, Father.”
The holoprojection of his father disappears and Luke dunks one of the sweets into the sauce with a sigh.
He bites into it with a crunch, the spicy sweetness of home flooding his mouth.
Han and Chewie are dragging her Royal Pain in the Ass towards what they were pretty sure was the docking station after having climbed out of the trash compactor, when they rounded a corner and ran smack into a kid. Who gasps and drops his plate of sweets.
That brings them all up short.
The kid is young, younger probably than the princess even, with wide blue eyes and dark blonde hair, and he is barefoot wearing something suspiciously like...pyjamas?
He stares at them with wide impossibly blue eyes, hands frozen into half formed fists as he'd dropped his plate, eyes flicking between the Princess, the Wookie, and Han.
Han has the blaster up before he can think. The kid's hands shoot up over his head immediately. This reaction at least makes sense. What doesn't make sense is the kid being here at all. He's a little short to be a Stormtrooper sneaking out of the barracks for a snack, too dishevelled to be a ship's officer, and too calm to be a prisoner.
“You're the 'dangerous escaped criminals' aren't you?” the boy asks, making air-quotes even with his hands in the air.
“What's it to you?!” Chewbacca howls back. The kid raises his eyebrows in obvious incomprehension and then glances back down the corridor. Han doesn't bother to translate.
“If you want to get out of here I can show you how.” The kid suddenly, and unexpectedly suggests.
That gives them pause. They all know they're turned around and the Stormtroopers will have them any second now, but they're all streetwise enough to know this could be a trap.
A very very strange trap, admittedly.
“What have we got to loose?” Chewbacca asks him.
“Chewie's right. Things can't get too much worse. Show us the way kid.”
The kid slowly lowers his arms and then beckons them to follow him, padding silently on bare feet back the way he'd come.
He then begins tapping on the wall panels.
“What in all nine Corellian Hells are you doing kid?” Han asks incredulously.
The kid looks over his shoulder and grins. “Looking for the stairs.” he replies mildly as though it's the most obvious thing in the world.
Han gapes at him. Chewie grumbles something about blaming Han for picking up delusional children. Leia just watches the boy in silent consideration
Suddenly with a triumphant 'Ah ha!!” and a sickeningly adorable grin, the kid finds a switch that opens up a hidden panel in the wall to reveal...stairs?
Han has literally never seen a space station with access stairs before.
The kid grins at Han's surprise. “My father insisted on including them.” He explains proudly. “He said that in the Clone Wars people often ended up pinned down or trapped on levels because the enemy had targeted the lifts and could pick them off that way.”
He waves them past him, holding the door open. “Where to?”
“The Hangar.” Her haughtiness replies.“Your father designed this place?” the princess asks, coolly interested.
“No, he just had some input-” the kid starts to reply when his comm goes off and he all but throws himself out of the stair way in a desperate bid to answer it.
“Father-!” he cries in a patently terrible attempt at sounding innocent.
“Luke.” the unmistakable voice and mask of Vader chides reproachfully, his hissing respirator echoing eerily in the empty hallway. “You are not yet returned to your chambers.”
Han hears Leia stifle a gasp. He'd probably gasp too if he could breathe.
“I know. I'm on my way I swear, but there were Stormtroopers on my usual route and I took a detour to avoid them and now I'm all turned around.” the kid whines.
“Return to your chambers immediately, and as quickly as possible! The criminals are still at large. If you must cross paths with Stormtroopers- so be it. I will deal with them later if it is necessary.”
The kid nods. “Don't worry. I'm practically there already.”
“Be safe my son.” Vader says before ending the call.
The three of them stare at Luke open mouthed. He looks at them sheepishly. “You're heading to the Hangar?” he asks.
They nod silently. He brushes past them heading down the stairs obviously knowing what has them gaping and hoping to bluster past it. “These stairs go up or down long enough you can get anywhere, and half the 'troopers forget they're here...”
They don't need to confer. It's obvious what's to be done if this...child is who he appears to be.
They all have their weapons out, and armed and pointed before they exchange a silent look, and the decision is made without words. Silently Chewie shuffles to the front and grabs the kid, throwing him over his shoulder and stifling his scream.
The boy- Luke, a voice reminds Han, he's a person, he has a name;it's Luke- struggles fruitlessly against Chewie's grip.
Han taps him on the forehead with the barrel of the blaster. “These stairs go all the way up and all the way down don't they?”
“Is the Hangar up or down?”
Luke jerks his head downward.
With his help they'd probably have gotten out okay.
With him as a hostage they definitely will.
Ben Kenobi sees the thrashing body slung over Chewbacca's shoulder and his heart sinks. What fresh hell is this?
They manhandle him onto his feet, and then something amazing happens. Obi-Wan meets the boys eyes and he knows him.
Luke Skywalker who he'd believed lost to the Sandpeople, or Tusken Raiders, or Imperial Troopers but all the same: dead and gone, another corpse, another failure.
More remarkable even than that is that Luke recognizes him in turn. He starts in shock and then knocks the princess to the floor as he throws himself into the arms of the last person alive who he's known since childhood.
Ben is surprised and pleased, he hadn't been too close with the boy.
“Luke, I thought you were dead.” He murmurs into the boys hair.
There's a mute shake of his head.
Ben looks up to scowl at the others. Han is helping Leia off the floor with barely concealed amusement and Chewbacca has his head tilted and is giving the pair of them serious consideration.
Ben takes a step towards the Falcon but Luke clutches as him.
“No, Ben, you have to leave me here.” his voice is desperate.
Ben frowns. “What?- No, Luke, I won't abandon you again.”
Luke shakes his head frantically. “No, he'll kill you all to get me back.” he bites his lip and looks away. “He killed a man on Coruscant because he knocked my down by accident. You have to understand-”
Ben puts a hand on the boys shoulder silencing him. “I understand what your father is capable of. You needn't worry. This is worth the risk.”
But, Luke has set his face and won't budge. “He needs me Ben! You don't understand- I won't leave. ”
Ben gives the Wookie a silent nod of permission, and Chewbacca grabs the boy, forces his hands into a pair of wrist binders and drags him aboard the Millenium Falcon.
And then they're gone.
Luke has set his jaw and silently stews as the stars blur to nothing.
Obi-Wan watches him, and as ever, keeps his own counsel.
They're all tense. They've done more than they set out to. The Princess is rescued, the plans recovered. And an innocent has been taken hostage.
It weighs heavy on them.
And then Luke's comm rings.
Vader's entire day has been an exercise in the worst kind of frustration.
Luke's little rebellion in venturing beyond his room which was normally the sort of childish lark that has Vader nearly smiling behind his mask today has him clenching his fists and trying to find calm in the Force for the first time in years.
Because, his son is a secret that Vader has scrupulously kept. Only his Master even knows of the boy's existence.
Luke, if discovered by either side, will almost certainly be killed for the crime of being the son of Darth Vader, that is if they did not first prefer to use him as a chess piece in a game played against his will (not mention how much displeasure it would provoke from his master who had allowed him to keep the boy on the condition of Vader being discrete when it came to the child's parentage).
It made Vader's stomach roil just thinking of it. His son is too kind and too gentle for such ill use. He was too delicate to last long in either scenario.
It had been easy to keep him safe on Coruscant. He'd simply left him sequestered in a very large private apartment with droids for company while Vader had come and gone between it and the Palace and Senate on whatever petty Imperial errands his master had set before him.
Once he had been promoted to Commander of the Imperial fleet, things had become more difficult. Vader wanted his son with him. He could not abide the thought of being half a galaxy away from the boy. Luke would be helpless on his own. Vulnerable.
Not to mention that Vader harboured no illusions as to the extent of which the Emperor respects his privacy, or the extent to which the Emperor can be trusted.
His son is strong in the Force and while, thus far, the Emperor has allowed Vader the luxury of protecting the boy from the vile dogma that had so poisoned his own life, but he knew the old man would take Vader's first inattention as an excuse to test the limits of the boy's abilities and Vader would not allow the Emperor near his son if he could help it.
It would have been dangerous to leave him on Coruscant.
Or so he had told himself when he's disguised his 16 year old son as a Stormtrooper (though he was and is a little short for one, but no one was about to remark on such a thing in front of the dreaded Darth Vader) to smuggle him aboard the Executor and install him in a pair of rooms in Vader's command suite that the boy hadn't ended up leaving for more than two years.
Not that Vader had intended that.
But it was just so much easier to keep him safe when he wasn't allowed to wander off. There just hadn't seemed to be an alternative to the situation, and it wasn't as though he hadn't done his utmost to keep his son occupied and happy. He'd brought datapads and holocroms, games and mechanical parts to be dissembled and rebuilt. He'd even taught the boy something of the Force that, in a better galaxy, would have been his birth right. Luke had grown accept the situation, eventually.
It was why Vader felt secure enough in secreting the boy onto the Death Star. Even with a door that didn't lock Luke avoided people and rarely left his rooms.
Not rarely enough, apparently. Vader considers in deep annoyance as he remembers the comm call. Of all the days for Luke to go traipsing about, he has to do it on the day a band of traitors and criminals runs rampant on the space station.
If nothing else it certainly confirms the boy is the spawn of Anakin Skywalker.
Once the traitors have been allowed to escape, Vader strides into Luke's room in a towering rage, ready to vent his frustration on the his disobedient son, but pulls up short when he finds it empty. The damaged medical droid Vader had found for him to work on is still sitting powered down and untouched where it had been left days ago.
There is no sign of a cup or plate from Luke's trip to the replicator.
The bed room is equally empty, though Vader notices with a flash of rage that Luke has used some pigment to paint two circles on the low ceiling
It makes Vader's blood boil. There's no mistaking the twin suns of Tatooine. He has tried for years to break his son of the habit of expressing fondness for that thrice damned dustbowl.
Slowly he retraces the route Luke would take to the replicator. There's a cup of sauce spilled across the hallway, and the shattered pieces of brittle cookies sprayed out from a cracked plate near the entrance to the access stairs.
Vader does not jump to conclusions. After all, nothing in Luke's appearance could betray his identity. He'd look like a sleep dazed tech roused from bed by the alarms, or an off-duty Stormtrooper who'd gotten lost. Nothing to interest rebels.
Luke must have encountered them and hidden himself in fright. Vader concludes, as no other conclusion is acceptable.
In his office he calls up the holo of the criminals being allowed to escape on their Corellian freighter.
And there's his son slipping free of the Wookie to greet Obi-Wan. It burns Vader to watch it. It confirms what he had long suspected- that it had been Obi-Wan who had taken his son from him, for no greater reason than petty revenge.
As though Obi-Wan had not first betrayed him. As though there was justice in condemning the boy to a life of deprivation, drudgery and sand for the sins of his father.
He watches Luke balk at the prospect of boarding that death trap of a ship. He watches his son shackled and carried away as a prisoner.
He retreats to his medpod though it feels too large and empty without Luke balanced on the pressure tank, smile in place as he ruminated to himself, and to Vader and also to no one in particular on the merits and (ethics) of sentient droids or the latest Holonet Sensation, or the virtues of various swoop bike models.
Vader banishes this new ghost as he has banished all the others that came before it.
Once he is calm. Or at least calm enough that he's not likely to Force choke the next incompetent Death Star employee he sees, he comms Luke.
It is Obi-Wan's face that greets him, though it is haggard and weathered beyond his years by Tatooine's harsh conditions. Serves the old snake right.
“Where is my son, old man?” Vader demands.
Obi-Wan has apparently been free of the Jedi long enough to entertain feelings of smugness because it's written all over his face. If Vader were still Anakin Skywalker he might growl in the back of his throat, but he isn't. So he just waits letting the unsettling sound of his mechanical breathing fill the line.
“He is well enough, and likely to remain that way- if you call off your pursuit.” Obi-Wan informs him.
“I want him returned to me!”
And there's the smile, the bland, false indifference that carried them through countless missions when they were different men in a different galaxy. The one that suggested much but promised nothing.
“That hardly seems fair considering you're the one that stole him in the first place.” The old man replies his voice thoughtful. “And left his Aunt and Uncle to rot in the desert.”
Vader wishes he could reach through the Force and strangle the old man, but the distance is too great. His bond with his old master is too weak. Instead he feels for Luke through the Force.
The boy is confused and afraid, and it makes Vader's blood boil ever hotter. He never wanted his son to be afraid. He'd done so much to try and protect him from the Jedi, and the Sith and the two sides of the Force that would tear him to pieces as they fought over him if Vader was only slightly less vigilant.
Well, even now, with everything he had done, with all the precautions he had taken, it seems he hadn't been vigilant enough.
What do these rebels intend? Vader wouldn't be surprised if they killed Luke to strike a blow against the Empire. A futile blow, since Luke's existence as the son of Darth Vader was a closely guarded secret, though he did, technically hold the title of an Imperial Prince.
“I'm sure in time, the Rebels will be convinced to sell him back to you.” Obi-Wan continues taking advantage of Vader's silence, and he means it to sound cruel and vindictive though the desert had long since scoured him clean of all his bitterness and most of his grief, but right now he wants to do his best to keep Vader from thinking clearly, and he'll use the weaknesses of Anakin Skywalker against him if he has to.
“I want to see him.” Vader demands.
Luke comes onto the comm, looking comically small with his hands bound in front of him in wookie sized cuffs.
“You'll be coming home soon, son.” Vader promises. “Don't worry. You'll be safe again soon.” Luke nods, ducking his head. Vader doesn't need the Force to know the boy doesn't believe him, but with these rebels watching Vader cannot allow himself any greater sentiment.
Obi-Wan pushes the boy away and looks at Vader with a surprising frankness. “I'd move quickly if I were you Vader.” and there's no threat there, it's an honest warning. Obi-wan had never threatened. “I'll do my best for him but I'm not what I once was and there will be little enough I can do if the Rebels decide to take their vengeance out of him.”
“Then know that for every wound they inflict upon my son- I will scorch a world from the sky.” Unlike his old master Vader is not above threats.
“Indeed?” Is all Obi-Wan replies to that before ending the connection. That and an amused quirk of the lips, as though Vader was still an impetuous boy vowing to single-handedly free a world rather than the most feared man in all the Galaxy with an entire army at his backing, and the Death Star at his command.
Vader grits his teeth, and turns away from the comm in a swirl of black fabric. They will pay for this.
Han wants desperately to feel contempt for the kid. He's soft from easy living (though Han can't help but notice that , no actually his hands are hard, those are working hands), the son of a despicable figure in the Empire.
He's weak and stupid and....and he was just getting a snack when they grabbed them. Wrong place, wrong time. He'd even tried to help. Hadn't given them away when his father had commed.
So Han felt, just a little bit, uncomfortable with having kidnapped him. Not, that Han had particular qualms about abetting kidnapping, if the price was right and he was hungry or in debt enough. But, he did have a code, of sorts. Perhaps more accurately described as guidelines, but still.
Han had never thought he was the sort of man who'd kidnap a child from their bed. He might drive the getaway ship for a kidnapper. But there he drew the line. It was a fine line, Han could admit that at least, but it was one he'd never crossed till now.
The kid is sitting in one of the passenger seats in the cockpit. He looks stunned and lost, and maybe, but Han is probably imagining this, caught between relief at getting free of his nightmare of a father and fear of living under some worse unknown monster.
Han's probably projecting. After all, based on that comm call Dad Vader's awfully eager to get the kid back. He probably spoils him rotten. Luke's probably a pampered little Prince of the Empire and Han is a sentimental fool for thinking otherwise and he-
Han's eyes suddently catch on something he hadn't noticed before.
The kid doesn't even have any shoes.
Oh, shit. That hit Han in all the soft places he liked to believe he'd left behind years ago.
The kid is sitting cross legged in his chair, to keep his bare feet off the freezing floor.
If you're a kid alone you need shoes. Han used to sleep in his- back when he was young and it seemed like all he had to his name was a fast talking kid named Lando and decent pair of boots.
Han curses under his breath and looks away.
It's not my problem. He tells himself. The kid didn't even need help.
He could feel Chewie watching him. He knew that Chewie had noticed that Han had noticed that the kid had not shoes. Chewie was always more of soft touch than he is.
It was why he let Han do the talking. That and basically no one spoke Wookie.
The silence in the cockpit is deafening.
“Say something.” Chewie pleads. “This is unbearable.”
“I'm flying this thing. I need to concentrate. You says something if you're so determined.” Han snaps back.
But Chewie keeps sending him pleading looks so finally Han asks the kid. “So, how'd you know Old Ben?” Because he is not a monster and only a monster could resist a Wookie's pout and he doesn't want them to have to sit choking on silence for the remainder of the trip.
And it seems like the most innocuous thing he could ask any of his passengers at this point.
The kid shrugs. “He lived near my Aunt and Uncle on Tatooine. He used to get into shouting matches with Uncle Owen about funny little things. I think they both just liked having someone to match them blow for blow in scathing sarcasm.”
They lapse once more into awkward silence. There are other questions Han could ask. Like, what's the son of the second most powerful man in the Galaxy doing on a dust ball considered worse than 8 out of 9 Corellian hells? But there's no questions he can ask that won't lead to unpleasantness. So he stays silent.
Han glances desperately at Chewie and shrugs. Hey, he tried.
The Princess makes a noise of scorn and Han braces himself for her scathing disaproval.
Instead she says with icy primness. “Is your name Luke Vader then? I imagine it must be, Darth Vader being your devoted father and all. Are you Lord Luke? Or will you inherit his title?”
The kid flinches curls in on himself.
“My name is Luke Skywalker, and you don't have to tell me who my father is.” Luke says softly. “I know as well as anyone.”
“Your father tortured me for days, and blew up my planet in front of me. For no other reason than to demonstrate that weapon to the galaxy.”
“As you say” Luke mutters to his ankles. “All the more reason to give me back to him. What do you think he'll do if you actually give him a reason to come after you? He'll kill everyone in his way until he gets me back.”
That makes something old and unpleasant twinge in Han's conscience. He knows what it's like to run from someone you feel you can't escape- though maybe the kid doesn't need escape, maybe Vader's a better father than any Han had known- but all the same, it makes bile rise in his throat to think of what it must feel like when the person you're running from really is inescapable.
“Seriously, kid.” Han pipes up, because he's got to ask, he just can't help it- he has to know. “How'd you go from living with your Aunt and Uncle on Tatooine to lording it up in the Empire's Top Space Station?.”
The kid looks up, just a bit, and Force Almighty, is this how Chewie felt when their paths first crossed? 'Cause someone needs to look out for this kid, since it doesn't feel like anyone else is.
“Lord Vader found out I existed, I don't know how. So he came and got me from Tatooine.”
“What happened to your Aunt and Uncle?” Han knows he shouldn't ask, but, well, he's come this far hasn't he? What more could it hurt?
“He killed them, for hiding me from him.” Is the blunt and emotionless reply.
Han looks away. It's hardly the saddest story Han has ever heard, probably not even cracking the top 10. It shouldn't bother him. It's not his problem. The princess certainly doesn't seem to care.
Old Ben pipes up suddenly from the doorway of the cockpit. “I'm sorry Luke. The fault was mine. I should have protected you.”
Luke shake his head. “No, it's better this way. There's nothing you could have done. If you'd been there. You'd just be dead too.”
Luke stands abruptly and shoulders past Old Ben out of the cockpit, hands still held in front of him in shackles.
Old Ben follows.
Han's eye catches on the kid's bare feet again. He thinks of the metal grating on the floor-the Falcon's hardly the most comfortable vessel.
“Hey Chewie,” he mutters. “Go see if you can find an extra pair of socks in my bunk will ya?”
“Get em yourself.” Chewie grumbles.
“Think about it ya walking carpet- either you go and get them or you stay here alone with the princess while I do it.”
“Fine.” Chewie relents standing up in a huff and walking out.
Luke is using the force to weave a pebble through the outstretched fingers of his left hand without touching it. It's quite an impressive bit of fine control.
Ben sits down next to him and eyes the little display. “I see your father has taught you of the force.”
Luke snorts and grabs the pebble out of the air tossing it and catching it with the other hand. “Hardly. He lets me practice with his saber sometimes, but mostly I think he taught me meditation because it was something that required sitting still and staying quiet.”
Ben eyes him thoughtfully. “I could teach you. If you like.”
Luke smiles at him, and then shakes his head.
“There's no point. I'll be going back soon. He said that if I learned the ways of the force than the Emperor would insist I train as an Inquisitor or a Hand or something.”
“Ironic isn't it? That we hid you from Vader for fear of what would happen should he learn of your existence. And now Vader hides you from the Galaxy for fear of the same thing.”
Luke glares. “It's not exactly funny from where I'm sitting.”
Ben smiles wryly. “No, I suppose it wouldn't be.”
Chewbacca enters then, roaring something incomprehensible and then shoving a pair of lumpy woolen socks that were worn thing at the heels into Lukes hands.
It's awkward to get the socks on with his hands still shackled but he manages it.
They land on Yavin with the space station on their tail.
Leia storms off like a bat out of hell and is almost immediately surrounded by Generals and Lieutenants eager for her information. Ben is swept away somewhere in the rush as well.
Han ambles down the ramp looking for someone to talk to about that reward when he notices the kid shrinking back from the hangar and covering his face with his hands.
All it takes is a look for Chewie to move so they're shielded from the room against the Falcon.
“You okay, kid?” Han asks hovering awkwardly just out of arms reach.
Luke nods, without uncovering his face. “I just-...It's been a long time since...I haven't seen this many people at once probably... ever... and well, no one other than my father and the droids in-”
Han nods in understanding, realizes the kid can't see it and then gingerly reaches out to put a hand on the kid's shoulder.
“Vader keeps you locked up pretty tight. Don't he?”
There's a pause, and then Luke nods slowly and peaks out from between his fingers at Han.
“I don't think I've talked to anyone else in three years.” the kid admits.
That upsets Chewie. Han can see it immediately. The big guy's always had a soft spot for kids. Hell, it had taken Han the better part of a year to break the Wookie of the habit of referring to him as 'my sweet bald child'.
Han just pats the kid awkwardly on the shoulder and clicks his tongue. “That would do it...”
There's a commotion on the other side of the Wookie wall. Some guards have come to collect the prisoner.
Han waves Chewie aside and gives the kid's shackled hand a squeeze.
“It'll be alright kid.” he reassures him.
Luke twists his mouth wryly into something that might be an attempt at a smile and nods at him over his shoulder as he's led away. He doesn't pretend to believe Han. Which is good because Han doesn't believe it himself.
Luke doesn't see the Station destroyed, but he feels it.
The blinking out of thousands of lives, like a shockwave through the Force. Like Alderaan had been, but closer somehow. He stares at his ceiling blinking back tears. He had been supposed to be on that station. If they hadn't kidnapped him he'd be dead now.
Though, he supposes, it's equally true is that if the rebels hadn't kidnapped him, they'd be dead right now. The Death Star had been in range for nearly half-an-hour before the X-fighters had managed to destroy it. The only reason the station hadn't fired was that his Father wouldn't have allowed Tarkin to destroy a planet Luke was on.
He reaches for his father through the Force and is surprised to feel his father faintly reaching back.
It's a relief to know he isn't dead, but Vader is incandescent with rage. They had destroyed everything. They would have killed his son. And he is adrift in space in a TIE fighter. There's nothing he can do. No way he can reach his son.
It will be some time before he can even pay the ransom that will no doubt soon be demanded. But, he will pay it. From his own funds, no matter how great the amount is. He can't afford to owe the Empire anything where his son is concerned.
His helplessness and rage digs into Luke's brain like dozens of sharp needles. Luke groans and presses the palms of his hands against his forehead, trying to find that calm spot at his centre which allows him to block out his father's pain so he won't have to feel it as his own.
Han's not sure what possesses him to stop by the make-shift prison before heading off to settle his score with Jabba- fine medal for bravery pined to his chest and reward carefully stowed.
The kid's sitting cross legged on his bed and is still wearing Han's old socks.
He forces a smile when the smuggler hesitates in the doorway.
“Hi Han.” he murmurs with a small wave.
“Hey kid.” Han hesitates. He's about to do something really really stupid and he'd like to brace himself for it.
“Look, I umm...” Han tries to start.
“I'm glad you came.” Luke says suddenly all in a rush, as though he might lose his never if he didn't say it all right away. “I've been wanting to thank you for kidnapping me. If you hadn't I'd be dead or the Rebels would be dead and either way Father would be...anyway, I'm glad I'm not dead, and I'm glad this moon hasn't been destroyed. So, thanks.”
Han nods, embarrassed. “You know many of the guys on that thing?” he asks in a halfhearted attempt at consolation.
Luke shakes his head. “I'd only lived there a couple of weeks. And I didn't really leave my room much.”
Right, Han knew that. The kid said he hadn't talked to a non-droid in years. Not that that made Han feel any better about this whole situation.
“Listen, kid , it looks like there might be a delay in ransoming you back to your dad.” Han explains.
Luke nods. “I'd heard.”
Han considers him for a long moment, and after a second hands the kid a scrap of card with a string of numbers scrawled on it.
“Here. If you're ever needing to go somewhere. Looking to get out of town or atmo on the quick. Give me a comm, and I'll help you out. Not for free, in case that's what you're thinking, but, I figure I owe you one, for showin' us the way out back on the station.”
Han can't say he's certain about doing this, he really doesn't know anything about the kid and, well, Han historically has not always been an excellent judge of character. But, the kid is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, as far as Han can tell. Between his terror of a father who, from what little Han has heard, keeps the kid locked up and has a habit of strangling people who annoy him, and the rebels who see him as another acceptable Imperial casualty at worst and a resource to be ransomed at best.
The kid's got no good choices. And anyway, Han's not really sticking his neck out. He's not being soft. He's just giving the kid another way to jump if he needs it. After all having a friend in the son of Darth Vader can only come in handy. Imperial Princes don't just grow on trees.
Luke stares at the string of numbers and blinks slowly, like it's a shock that someone has offered him even as paltry a kindness as this, before looking up at Han with a watery smile. “Thanks. I can't imagine I'll ever get to use it though. Father wouldn't ever let me go anywhere.”
And that does it. This kid is...nice. For lack of a better word. He's a good kid, and he's resigned to never having anything like freedom. Han Solo hasn't gotten to be the man he is today by doing the smart thing.
“Your dad,” he blurts out. “Does he hurt you?”
Luke stares at him with complete confusion, and a slowly dawning anger. “NO. Honestly, why would you even think-!”
“He's Darth Vader. You said yourself he killed your Aunt and Uncle.”
“I told you before I know who my father is. But... he'd never hurt me. EVER. Everything he does is to protect me!” Luke shouts at him in outrage and betrayal. He'd thought Han was, well, maybe not on his side, but at least not against him. Not going to try and turn him against his father.
Han holds up his hands. “Sorry, Little Lord Luke, just trying to be decent here.” he snaps in annoyance. “The number's still open to you. If that changes.” He adds over his shoulder before he leaves the makeshift cell.
Some time later on an insignificant rock of a planet, Vader stumbles out of his ship and scans the horizon for a familiar form.
His eyes catch on something not far away and he stumbles across the uneven terrain towards the figure sitting on the rock.
Luke looks up at his approach. He seems weary. Tired, and worn somehow. Not like the bright boy in Vader's memories. For a moment fear and hate consume Vader's mind, oh Luke, what have you suffered? But, then, like a shock of cold water (a sensation Vader can barely remember after so long inside this prison of a body), he realizes that his son looks no different than before. It is just he is seeing him with new eyes.
In fact, Luke looks better than he had when Vader had left him all those weeks ago in his room aboard the Death Star- there's more colour in his cheeks (he must have been allowed into outside during his captivity) and there's a strength to his spine. A look of something solid in his gaze that meets his own with all the remembered love and compassion, but also with an equal force.
Vader cannot let himself consider what that means. He calms his panic by yanking his son to his feet. The harsh sound of his respirator echoes across the empty world.
“Are you alright my son?” Vader asks frantically. “They didn't hurt you?”
For a split second Luke looks at him strangely; calm, and detached in a way that makes Vader wonder if this separation has made his son look at him with new eyes also. And then he smiles, and any fear Vader may have had evaporates.
It is still Luke. Luke, his son, sweet as summer in the Lake Country of Naboo. Luke who has his mother's smile, and her nose, and her tender heart, but none of her fire, or her duplicity.
Vader crushes his son to him in a harsh embrace. He uses the Force to check the boy's face and body, looking for any sign of injury; there is none.
Luke must sense what Vader is doing, because he grins all the wider and reaches up to pat his shoulder. “Don't worry, Father. I'm fine. Really.”
Vader releases his son and holds him at arms length, drinking in the sight of the boy. It had been such a close call. He'd nearly lost him.
“I will keep you safe Luke. Nothing like that will ever happen again.” Vader vows, his relief at having his son in his arms again, already evaporating in the face of the rage that he was ever taken from him in the first place.
Luke's smile falters a tiny bit at those words. He presses his hand to his Father's prosthetic. “I really am alright Father.” he insists.
Vader shakes his head, the boy is naive and trusting. He probably doesn't even realize how close to danger he had come. “You are all I love in the universe Luke. I can't allow something like this to happen again. I will not have you in danger, my son.”
Luke laughs, but it's strange and wild as though it has escaped him unintentionally. “I love you too, Father.”