Luke looked away from the exposed tangle of wires and circuitry he had been examining on his X-wing’s underbelly at the sound of his name being called across the hangar bay. A young Rebel whose name Luke could not immediately bring to mind waved at him as he approached.
“High Command wants you,” the boy, who was at least a good five years younger than Luke, if not more, panted as he came up beside him. He’d obviously just run clear across the base. Luke frowned and ducked out from under his fighter.
“Why didn’t they just comm me?”
“Said they tried. You didn’t answer.”
He pushed his sleeve back and glanced at the comlink on his wrist. Sure enough, it was flashing with several missed communications. Luke sighed. If this was another attempt to debrief him about what had happened at Bespin…
“I’m coming.” He ducked back under his X-wing and quickly closed up the open panel. He would have to postpone his search for the frayed wire that was causing the minor temperature fluctuations in the cockpit. It wasn’t a serious problem, but it was an annoyance and a distraction he didn’t want to deal with in the frenzy of a dogfight.
Even though he knew the way to High Command’s meeting room, he allowed the young Rebel to guide him through the base. The kid seemed to swell with pride at being the infamous Luke Skywalker’s escort. He had expected his popularity in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction to wane as time went on, but if anything it had increased. There was a sort of hero worship in the way younger members of the Alliance regarded him. And surviving two duels with Darth Vader had only cemented his legendary status in their minds.
If only you knew… Luke thought, reflexively, before shoving the unwanted notion aside. Though they still reared up at unexpected times, he had gotten much better at shutting down his fears of discovery. Who his father was had no bearing on who he was. And there was still good in Vader, regardless. There had to be. He would not have hesitated to kill him otherwise.
And I will not kill my father, no matter what Obi-Wan and Yoda want me to do. These were tired thoughts, tired arguments he had with himself and with Obi-Wan’s ghost. But no matter what the old Jedi Master said, committing patricide was wrong and it was not something Luke was prepared to do. He had no qualms about killing the Emperor, in fact he might have felt slightly more anticipation about that than was acceptable for a Jedi, but he wouldn’t touch Vader.
The boy stopped suddenly in front of him and it was only Luke’s quick reflexes that prevented him from running into his back. He pressed the door chime and a moment later the door slid open, revealing High Command’s meeting room. Luke’s eyes flickered quickly around the room, noting that all the members of High Command were present, even if some were only in holograph. This was rare, and Luke again felt the stirrings of unease. He met Leia’s eyes across the room and she gave him a small smile. There was no more tension in her face and body than normal, and he forced himself to relax slightly. If he was going to be under scrutiny again, she would be more nervous. But her presence in the Force was untouched by anger or worry for him and he had to admit that he was probably not going to be questioned. This meeting, then, was about something else.
“I found him in the hangar bay, like you said, Princess,” the runner said, a note of pride still in his voice.
“Thank you, Kel.” Leia turned her smile to the kid. He dipped his head in a little bow and turned to leave as Mon Mothma waved Luke into the room.
“Thank you for joining us, Commander.” Her tone and expression gave Luke no clues as to the reason for his summons.
“I’m always ready to help,” he replied cautiously. The Force was choked with a myriad of emotions, ranging from Leia’s ever-present affection for him, to Rieekan’s blatant distrust. It gave him a slight headache and he tried to tune them all out. “What can I do for you?”
“As you know, we’ve been trying to keep tabs on the Empire’s ship production, both of known types and of any new designs. We have been receiving reports of a large number of engineers, construction crews, and raw materials being moved to the shipyards above Sluis Van.” Mon Mothma looked up from the notes on her datapad. “It could be that they are simply stepping up their production rate, or they could be working on something new, something to replace the Death Star.”
Cold apprehension slithered down Luke’s spine. They could not afford the Empire building another super weapon.
“You want me to go in and find out?” Were they sending him in undercover? That would be a change from the piloting-only missions they had been sending him on since Bespin. Leia claimed it was a coincidence, that they simply hadn’t needed him for any ground missions recently, but Luke was skeptical.
“Yes, Commander. We do not have the time to plant a spy and have them work their way up through the ranks. We thought that perhaps your… abilities could be of some use getting you in.”
You mean the Jedi mind tricks I can play on the guards, Luke thought wryly. Maybe it was just his heritage as the freeborn son of a slave, but he hated using them, hated forcing someone to bend to his will. It made something twist sickeningly in his gut, knowing he was overriding someone’s mind. But he could not refuse this mission. It would only give ammunition to those who thought he was a traitor, or a sleeper agent.
Of their own accord, his eyes darted to General Rieekan’s face. The Alderaanian was watching him closely, his mind buzzing with suspicion. Luke was unsure why the General had decided to turn on him so fully. They had worked together closely in the years between the Battles of Yavin and Hoth and had had a mutual respect. Like every other member of High Command, he had accepted Luke’s detour to Dagobah for Jedi training as legitimate. But while the rest had also understood his unwillingness to talk about the confrontation at Bespin, even if they continued to pressure him for a full debrief, Rieekan did not. He seemed to be the only one who did not think his reluctance was due to trauma.
Luke returned his attention to the mission request. He would prove Rieekan wrong. His allegiance had and would always lay with the Alliance.
“Yes, ma’am. Am I going in alone, or do you have a team for me?”
“I’m going with you,” Leia announced, before Mon Mothma could answer.
Luke’s eyes flickered between the two women, seeking confirmation. Mothma nodded.
“Isn’t it dangerous, sending two of the Empire’s most wanted into an Imperial base together?” Luke asked. Anxiety coiled around him, the Force whispering warnings in his mind. They weren’t specific, no flashy visions or clear pictures of death and destruction, just a vague sense that something was going to go wrong. It wasn’t unlike the unease he used to feel before a sandstorm hit. His aunt and uncle had quickly learned to listen whenever he had said that one was coming, even if there were no other signs of it.
Now, though, Luke needed more detailed information. He tried to pin the reason down, tried following the thread of the Force into the future to be better prepared for what was coming, but the Force was elusive and he was left without answers.
“It is a risk we are willing to take,” Mon Mothma replied. “I trust you will be able to protect her.”
“I will do my best.” Whatever was wrong, it was nothing to do with Leia. Her future felt clear. It was his own that was uncertain, his own that caused the Force to tremble in sick anticipation. Icy fear settled in his stomach. Something was going to go very wrong.
“Well, you look like you just got court-martialed. What happened?” Wedge looked up at Luke as he entered the room. His Second was sprawled on his bed, one hand hovering over a datapad like he had been interrupted in his study of it.
Luke held up the folded cloth in his arms. Wedge narrowed his eyes at it.
“Is that an Imperial uniform?”
“Yep.” Luke tossed it on top of his dresser and collapsed on his own mattress. This base was big enough that they did not have to bunk their beds. Technically, as Squad Commander, Luke could have even had his own private room, but he had chosen to share with his Second. He had told himself that it wasn’t fear, that he merely wanted to acknowledge Wedge’s seniority too and give him a little more privacy from the rest of Rogue Squadron, but after the third time Wedge had woken him from a nightmare he had been forced to admit that he simply didn’t want to be alone.
Wedge raised an eyebrow. “They finally convinced ya to defect?” he asked sarcastically. Luke felt blood rush to his face, and he fought down his annoyance. It was no one’s fault but his own that his friend didn’t know how sore of a subject that was.
“As if,” he replied lightly. “High Command finally gave me another ground mission.”
“They’re sending you undercover?” Wedge sat up, his curiosity spiking almost painfully in the Force.
Luke gave him a lopsided grin. “Not long-term. I’m not a spy. The uniform is just to get me close enough to, ah, convince them that they should ignore me.”
All amusement dropped from Wedge’s face. “Oh. How’re ya feelin’ about that?”
Wedge was the only one who knew about his mind trick qualms. There was something about being the only two survivors from an entire squadron that created tight bonds and their friendship had only grown since the Battle of Yavin. Luke considered him a brother and one of his closest friends.
Luke shrugged, trying to be blasé about it. “I’m not happy about it, but I understand why they want me to do it. I’m not denying that it’s useful, it just feels wrong.”
“Have you told them – ”
“I can’t refuse this mission, Wedge!” Luke interrupted. “This is the first ground mission they’ve given me since Bespin. If they’re finally starting to trust me again, I can’t do anything that would undermine it.”
Wedge regarded him steadily from across their small room. “Maybe they would trust you again if you were willing to talk about exactly what happened…” he trailed off as Luke felt the blood drain from his face.
They would trust me even less if they knew what had happened, he thought grimly.
“I can’t, Wedge. You know I can’t.”
“You haven’t been the same since it happened. We can all see that. And I don’t just mean…” He gestured carefully at Luke’s right hand, which was resting in his lap. Luke clenched it reflexively, an action he had found himself doing more often lately, every time Bespin or Vader was brought up.
“He did something else to you.”
Luke did not reply, just stared down at his prosthetic hand, reliving that moment above the reactor shaft.
No. I am your father.
“Maybe if you told someone,” Wedge suggested cautiously, “we could help you.”
Luke’s indignation flared at the suggestion. There was nothing wrong with him. He had withdrawn from everyone at first, as he had struggled to come to terms with who and what he was. But now his isolation was more habit than anything, and a way to keep people from trying to pry the story out of him. He wasn’t broken.
“You don’t need to help me. There’s nothing to fix!” Luke snapped. “He was telling the truth. I just wasn’t ready to hear it.”
Wedge leaned forward, his concern radiating through the Force. “What truth?”
Luke shook his head. “Nothing.” He may have accepted it, embraced it even, but that didn’t mean he wanted everyone, anyone, to know.
“He didn’t do something to you, he told you something,” Wedge said thoughtfully.
Luke cursed his temper and tried to fix his mistake.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It obviously does. Whatever he told you changed you.”
“Leave it alone, Wedge,” he sighed. This was a well-worn argument, which had now tilted slightly in Wedge’s favor thanks to Luke’s slip. He still hadn’t fully learned to control his tongue when his temper was up.
“Sithspawn!” Wedge cursed, and Luke flinched, believing for one precarious second that the term was aimed at him. “Your stubbornness will kill you.”
Luke looked away from the towering presence of Darth Vader, glancing down into the seemingly bottomless depths of the reactor shaft. He returned his eyes to the man who claimed to be his father, who gave him an ultimatum he could not accept, responded only with a small, wild smile and let his grip on the gantry relax. The first moments of weightlessness were filled with satisfaction at the shock he could somehow feel from the Dark Lord before the reality of what he had done closed in on him. He was falling, he had failed, he was going to die – !
Luke came back to the present with a start at Wedge’s now very worried voice. His friend was standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders. Luke’s left hand was gripping Wedge’s arm tightly, though he had no recollection of moving. Luke blinked.
“You haven’t had a lapse like that for months.”
He grimaced and released his hold on his friend’s arm. Wedge did not know how right he was. His stubbornness had already nearly killed him.
“Did I say anything?”
Wedge shook his head and moved to sit next to Luke. “You just checked out.”
Luke sighed in relief. There had been a few close calls in the first weeks following Bespin, where his sudden flashbacks or nightmares would result in him speaking subconsciously, calling for Ben and his father and yelling Vader’s name. He had managed to avoid revealing the truth by blaming his association between Vader and his father on the story that Vader had killed his father.
Luke raked a hand through his hair and sighed. He had moved past this! Even his nightmares had settled down in recent weeks.
“Must just be the stress.” His eyes flickered to the stolen Imperial uniform folded on his dresser. Wedge followed his gaze.
“Maybe the reason they haven’t sent you on a real mission since Bespin isn’t because they don’t trust you, but because they didn’t want you to relapse?” he suggested.
It was a nice thought, but given General Rieekan’s unease whenever they were around each other, he doubted it. He shook his head.
“They are worried I was compromised.”
Wedge took a slow breath and Luke knew what he was going to ask before the words were even on his tongue.
“Were you?” His voice was quiet, apologetic.
“No,” Luke replied firmly. “Whatever happened, whatever was said and done, my loyalties lie with the Alliance.” He could not bring himself to be angry with his friend. He understood his need to know, and he wished that he could tell him everything. But it was something he could not risk, could not bring himself to do.
Wedge nodded. “I believe you.”
The atmosphere in the room lightened considerably after that, and Luke sensed Wedge was willing to let the discussion go. For now.
“So. A mission alone with the Princess, eh?” Wedge nudged Luke in the side with his elbow.
Luke laughed and felt his face turn red. “Not alone. Chewie will be with us. Besides, she’s in love with Han.” He spoke nonchalantly, but he still felt a guilty weight settle on his heart at the thought of Han. It was all his fault…
“Right. Sorry.” Luke felt Wedge’s consternation and clasped his shoulder in encouragement.
“It’s fine. We’ll get him back.” We need to get him back. I need to fix this.
“How is the plan coming?” Wedge asked.
“It’s been finalized. Lando is on Tatooine and should be in place within the next few weeks. We’re going to give him a month, let any scrutiny die down, before we send in the droids. Leia and Chewie will follow after that. If all goes to plan, I won’t even need to set foot in the palace until they’re ready for extraction.” He could hear the doubt in his own voice and Wedge gave him a knowing look.
“When do things ever go to plan?”
Luke grinned wryly. “That’s why we have several contingency plans.”
“Well, I’d say ‘good luck,’ but I’m kind of getting used to being the only Corellian in your group.”
Wedge laughed as Luke gave him a mock glare and shoved him off the bed. His friend hit the floor with a startled yelp before laughing again.
“I thought you Corellians liked to stick together.”
“Well, I figure with him out of the way, I might get a shot at the Princess.” He gave Luke a mischievous grin. “Especially since you don’t seem to have any interest in her.”
“Hey!” Luke protested. “Don’t you dare! I love her like a sister, and I won’t let a guy like you anywhere near her.” He shoved Wedge over by nudging his shoulder with his foot. The pilot went down easily, laughing too hard to keep his balance.
“Because Solo is so much more honorable than I am!”
“At least he doesn’t flirt with every female tech in the Alliance.” Luke finally smiled at Wedge’s teasing, knowing he was just trying to distract him. Their camaraderie felt good, and natural. It was one of the few things that had kept him grounded in the wake of Vader’s revelation and Han’s loss, and he appreciated it.
He stood and reached a hand down to help Wedge up.
“I’ve got to meet with Leia soon, after Command’s meeting is done. She’s got all the details for the mission and we need to discuss it.”
“When do you leave?”
Anxiety twisted in Luke’s stomach again.
“Why are we taking the Falcon? Won’t they just shoot us down as soon as they identify us?” Luke asked. This didn’t make any sense. He leaned against the wall in Leia’s quarters. The Princess paced in front of him, deflecting each of his concerns with sound reasoning. It was frustrating, how sensible she was. He wanted to find some excuse to call the mission off, but so far he wasn’t finding anything other than his unease from the Force.
“We’ve got fake identification for it, so they won’t immediately suspect who we are,” Leia replied, her voice tired. Luke did not envy her her position in High Command.
“But why risk it? We have several stolen shuttles.”
“We don’t know if they have been marked as stolen or not yet. The Falcon is the fastest ship in our fleet, and Command believes that advantage outweighs any risk. Besides, she’s not a ship type that is openly associated with the Alliance. Even with her modifications, it’s not likely that anyone outside of the Death Squadron would recognize her on sight.”
Luke had to concede that, yet again, she had a point.
“Fine. I’m not arguing that she’s not a good ship. I just have a bad feeling about this mission, Leia,” Luke finally admitted. “I think something’s going to go wrong.”
She looked at him sharply. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I think the Force is telling me something is going to happen.”
“‘Something is going to happen.’ Like we will not get any useful intel, or one of us is going to die? How bad are we talking here?”
“I don’t know, Leia!” He clutched at his hair in frustration. Why couldn’t the Force be more specific?! He tried searching the future again, but it was still hazy, clouded with choices yet to be made. All he could gather from it was an impression of profound foreboding, a sensation he felt in the core of his bones. He shook his head.
“Nothing will happen to you, that much is clear. But I think something will happen to me.” He could hear the doubt in his own voice and he gave Leia a sick smile. “But the future is constantly in motion and I can’t pin it down.”
“Should we call off the mission?” Her concern was evident in the Force, even as she worked to keep it off her face.
“No,” Luke replied immediately. “I can’t see anything definite. I don’t think I’m going to die, in any case. We need this intel, right?”
She looked at him sharply. “You’re more important to us than a bit of data.”
“Is that High Command talking, or you?” he asked quietly, already knowing the answer. If the Empire was building a new super weapon, the Alliance needed to know. And they needed to know far more than they needed a single pilot, even if that pilot was a Jedi.
Not that I’m a full Jedi yet, he reminded himself.
Leia bit her lip and gave him a tiny half-smile. “I just don’t want to lose you too,” she admitted.
“I know,” Luke sighed. He reached for her and she leaned into his embrace. It felt right, holding her like this. Not in any sort of romantic way, Luke knew her heart belonged to Han and he had never really seen her in that way regardless, but rather in a familial sort of way. The Alliance, and Leia, Han, and Wedge in particular, had become Luke’s surrogate family. They had stepped in to fill a hole left after the deaths of his aunt and uncle, and the murder of Obi-Wan. And even now that he knew he still had actual blood family, he clung to them all the tighter.
Blood wasn’t the strongest bond in the Galaxy.