The Force lashed around him, agitated and furious. Or perhaps he was simply agitated and furious and the Force, ever sympathetic, reacted accordingly. Regardless, Vader could feel the ship creaking as he walked, the durasteel floors and walls buckling slightly under the sheer weight of his rage. Stormtroopers and officers scurried out of his way, doubtlessly already aware of how he had cracked every window on the Executor’s bridge. Even the mouse droids hid in corners, beeping meekly as he passed.
Skywalker. Luke Skywalker.
“Ani, I’m pregnant.”
“It seems in your anger…you killed her.”
The words reverberated through his being, ebbing and flowing with the steady rhythm of his breathing. Breathe in. You killed her. Breath out. Luke Skywalker.
His master had mocked him when Vader made contact, his sneer visible even through the holographic image. “I sense your anger. Great anger. Have you something to say? Some proud, defiant words?”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
“Or are you wise enough to know your place?”
Betrayal was nothing new to Vader. The galaxy had no room for fools who did not anticipate the knife in their back. But this was something new, the depth and breadth of the lie enough to take his breath away. Had that been possible, anyway.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
His timeline of the disastrous battle on Mustafar was hazy, agony and despair blotting out some of the more pertinent memories. He remembered that Padme’s heart had still been beating when he released her from his grip. He remembered that her signature in the Force had been damaged but strong. But during the battle with Obi-wan, he had turned his attention away from her, and he had spent the following decades accepting that she had slipped away while he had been too busy trying and failing to kill his former master.
But now he understood exactly what happened after Obi-wan abandoned him to die. The Jedi had taken Padme, fled with her, and stood by while she perished during childbirth. Then he had taken Vader’s son and fled again, hiding somewhere for twenty years until the baby had grown into a man.
Blonde hair. Blue eyes. A presence in the Force that was bright and loud. He was still unskilled and clumsy compared to a true Jedi, but his underlying power was impossible to miss. Luke Skywalker. His son.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Vader arrived at his chambers without damaging his flagship further. As the doors whooshed closed, he let his hands curl into fists and pulled the dark energies of the Force around himself like a cloak. To the walls of his empty chambers, he said, “I know you can hear me.”
At first, it had been barely noticeable. In the chaos of the Death Star’s destruction, Vader’s problems had been far too big to worry about tracking down a strange, slippery presence in the Force. Besides, it had disappeared in a flash. In fact, he had completely forgotten about it until he felt it again. And again. And again.
For the first few weeks, it had behaved like a furtive animal peeking out of its den: one quick look at Vader and then completely disappearing. But lately it had lingered, and in lingering, allowed Vader to get a firmer picture of it. Someone without his sheer power would not have been able to extract those small traces of identity, but Vader’s mastery of the Force had surpassed every other creature in the galaxy.
Nearly, anyway. “Are you wise enough to know your place?”
When Vader had realized that some small bit of Obi-wan Kenobi’s essence still lingered in the Force, his fury had been volcanic. The next time his old master’s presence appeared, Vader had lashed out with enough power to leave a small crater of felled trees on the nameless little world he had been investigating. Obi-wan’s presence had disappeared in an instant, and Vader had hoped, perhaps naively, that Kenobi was dead at last.
Kenobi had reappeared three hours later, and his signature in the Force held a distinctly smug impression.
Since then, Vader had come to accept that Kenobi was somehow, impossibly, still awake and aware. For a few distressing hours, Vader had wondered if Kenobi was actually dead at all. But no, he clearly remembered the slight resistance of Obi-wan’s frail old body as he drove his lightsaber through it. Whatever parlor trick Kenobi had learned that caused his body to vanish, it had not been enough to keep him alive.
Yet it was apparently enough to let Kenobi haunt him.
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possible imagine.”
Was it any wonder that he hated Obi-wan Kenobi more than anyone else in the galaxy?
Generally, he ignored the Jedi’s spirit, since it never did anything besides appear, take stock of whatever it was the ghost of an irritating old man was curious about, and then vanish once more. When Vader felt it drifting slightly too close to him for comfort, he lashed out at it and forced Kenobi away. Since there was seemingly nothing he could do to rid himself of his old master, Vader had resolved to taunt him occasionally and ignore him the rest of the time. If he was so curious, then Vader was happy to let him watch as the last embers of the Republic were snuffed out completely.
That had been working just fine until Boba Fett had unknowingly delivered the name that rocked Vader’s understanding of the universe. He was not content to simply let the ghost spy on him any longer. If the traitorous old man wanted Vader’s attention so badly, he would have it.
Kenobi’s ghost made no response, and Vader had no patience to wait for it. The training bond Anakin Skywalker had shared with Kenobi was withered and dead, but its roots were still lying dormant in Vader’s mind. He sent energy pulsing through the long-dead bond, uncontrolled and angry. To another Force-sensitive, it would feel like the mental equivalent of a sharp slap on the side of the head.
Sure enough, Kenobi’s presence coalesced in the Force near Vader, like a candle flame being lit. Small, easy to ignore, but bright enough to push back against the dark. The walls around Vader creaked as his fury surged again. Aloud, he said, “I know you stole my son from me.”
For a moment, there was no response at all. Vader wondered if the ghost was even capable of communicating with the living. It would be a fitting afterlife for Obi-wan, trapped quiet and helpless as the galaxy forgot about him. Vader was just beginning to feel a certain dark satisfaction when Kenobi spoke.
“Stole is not the correct term.”
Vader spun on his heel and found himself staring back at Kenobi. The old man looked exactly as he had when Vader killed him, aside from being translucent and blue-tinted. Clearly a spirit, but just as clearly the spirit of Obi-wan. The decades had not been kind to the Jedi, aging him far beyond his actual years. His hair and beard had gone completely white and the wrinkles in his skin were deep-set, especially around his eyes. But despite that, there was no mistaking him. Vader would have known him anywhere.
“I did as his mother requested,” Kenobi continued, “and took him to safety.”
Vader’s lips curled back into a snarl, pulling painfully on old scar tissue. “After you let her die, you mean?”
Kenobi’s expression was calm and flat, the very picture of Jedi restraint. Vader wanted to wring his neck. “I am not a god, Darth. I cannot control who lives and who dies. Nor can you, as it turns out.”
The disrespect in the way Kenobi said his title would have been unnoticeable to someone who didn’t know the Jedi as he did. Growing up, Anakin Skywalker had marveled at the way Obi-wan could sneer ostensibly honorable designations like ‘General’ or ‘Master’ without most people being the wiser. It had been a long time since he had seen that sneer in action.
“I would have kept her safe, kept her alive, had you not-”
“You would have strangled her, or tossed her into a wall, or snapped her spine,” Kenobi interrupted, letting disgust creep into his expression. “I’ve watched the way you treat your subordinates. You handle criticism poorly, and you are more deluded than I thought possible if you believe Amidala would have no criticisms for you.”
The walls around them rattled, but Kenobi took no notice. And why would he, when Vader had already killed him? All the rage in the world couldn’t make a dead man even deader. His respirator hissing, Vader growled, “I did not bring you here to discuss the dead.”
“You did not bring me here at all,” Kenobi said mildly. “I chose to come. Perhaps I should leave, before you tear a hole in your own ship.”
With supreme effort, Vader brought his fury under control again. It was hard to do when Kenobi was right there in front of him, somehow immortal when everyone else Anakin Skywalker had loved lay dead and rotting. But he wanted answers, and if that meant having a somewhat civil conversation with the man he hated more than anything, then he would master himself.
“My son,” Vader said. “You took him to Tatooine.”
Kenobi inclined his head. “I doubted you would ever voluntarily go back, and his aunt and uncle agreed to care for him.”
Vader had not spared a thought for the Lars family in decades. To hear them called ‘aunt and uncle’ felt unpleasantly intimate, a familial connection he did not want or need. Perhaps sensing his unease, Kenobi added, “They are dead. Killed by your Empire, like so many others. Luke had to bury them.”
Revulsion lapped at the edges of his mind, and Vader shoved it away. There was no place for weakness in his life, not any longer. “Your lectures are as tiresome as ever. I am amazed you allowed my son any kind of childhood. Is it not the Jedi way to steal children and strip them of their emotions?”
“I think most beings would prefer that compared to simply murdering children,” Kenobi responded. His mouth quirked into something that might have been mistaken for a smile, had the rest of his expression not been pained. “I had failed at raising one Skywalker. I did not want to gamble with another.”
“And so you simply let nature take its course?” Vader asked, sarcasm obvious even through the artificial rasp of his mask.
“Hardly. I kept watch over him from a distance. Owen Lars was not overly fond of me, but Luke was always a good boy. Most of the moisture farmers believed me to be little more than a crazy old man living out in the wastes, but Luke always asked after my health whenever we met and made sure I was well-supplied with water.”
Vader was a stranger to tender emotions that were not heavy with painful memories. He did not know what to do with the surge of fondness he felt towards Luke, who was kind enough to worry about relative strangers. Weakness, foolishness, his Sith training hissed, but Vader ignored that for the time being, too busy adding this knowledge to the picture he was rapidly building of his son.
Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Excellent pilot. Strong in the Force. Compassionate. Brave.
But on the heels of those gentler feelings came anger. Kenobi was the reason he had to learn this information secondhand. Kenobi was the reason his son knew him as a faceless monster rather than as a father. Rage soared in him again, black and familiar.
Kenobi sighed. “I am one with the Force now. If you could see how the Dark Side twists everything that it touches-”
“I still would not care.” Vader had no desire to listen to the hypocritical preaching of a dead man. “All your effort was for nothing, Kenobi. I have found my son, and soon he will be my apprentice.”
“Is that so?” Kenobi said, raising an eyebrow in a painfully familiar gesture. “I was under the impression you had absolutely no idea where he was.”
“For now,” Vader said. He smirked. “But he will not stay hidden for long. After all, he is his father’s son. Stealth is not in his nature.”
That earned him a glare, which only made his smirk wider.
“You know nothing of him,” Kenobi said. “All you see of him is his power and his potential. But he is not you.”
“You are hardly the best judge of character, my old master.” Vader did not mind using his past as a weapon, especially if his target was Obi-wan. “You had faith in me, and your Jedi comrades died for it.”
Kenobi’s image flickered, and Vader wondered for a moment if the ghost was going to vanish entirely. But instead, Kenobi just gave him a slow nod. “True enough. But faith is not the reason I trust Luke to do the right thing.”
“He saw you kill me. He flew through the remnants of Alderaan. And his time with the Rebellion has given him an expansive knowledge of your atrocities. He knows you are a monster.” Kenobi’s smile was small and unkind. “He is Anakin’s son. He kills monsters.”
“Once I tell him of your lies, he will join me. I am his father.”
“His father died long ago, Darth,” Kenobi sneered. Vader could feel Obi-wan’s anger and bitterness (sharp, unfamiliar, like a pepper gone rotten) flooding through the fractured bond between them. “I did not have the strength to kill you myself. I hope that Luke will.”
And then Kenobi was gone as quickly as he came, flickering out of sight and withdrawing to where ever it was that he went when he was not spying on Vader.
With a growl of frustration, Vader sent a stack of datapads whirling through the air where Kenobi had been. They embedded themselves in the wall, vibrating from the impact and his rage. The floor creaked beneath him, followed by the screech of metal beginning to tear. Vader needed to regain control, and quickly, or his quarters would be nothing but a heap of scrap metal.
“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.”
Vader had watched the vid taken from Princess Organa’s cell with disinterest a few weeks ago. It had been the day before the Death Star had been destroyed, and Vader had assumed that whoever the boy was, he would soon be dead. He had not been able to clearly read the Rebel’s lips in the soundless recording; the part about rescue was obvious, but the name had been unclear. But now that he knew, the memory floated through his mind with crystalline perfection, as if he had been standing in the room when it happened.
Luke’s hair had been flattened and tangled from the stolen stormtrooper helmet. Vader’s fingers twitched, some instinctive urge rising up in him to smooth that hair down. He had done that for Padme on days when her hairstyle had been particularly elaborate, running his fingers through glossy brown strands and thinking about how lucky he was.
Would Luke’s hair feel like Padme’s? Or would it be more like his own? It occurred to Vader that he barely remembered the texture of his own hair. Most of it had been burned away on Mustafar, and the odd patches that remained were thin and uneven.
Vader closed his eyes, making sure that his memory of Luke would stay sharp and ever-present. In the coming days, he would watch every second of security footage the Empire had managed to amass of his son. If he had been asked for an explanation (which he was not, because no one would dare), he would have simply excused it as information gathering. It was important to know everything possible about the boy who destroyed the Death Star.
“He is Anakin’s son. He kills monsters.”
Vader shook his head, a sharp, jerky movement that hurt the rods in his spine. He would not think of Obi-wan, not now. Not when the search for his son was only just beginning.
“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.”
He would find him. They would be together, father and son, and the galaxy would lay helpless at their feet.