“There he is!”
Luke spun around at the cry from behind him, raising his blaster as he did. A group of six stormtroopers had caught up with him and were now slowly trying to surround him. All of them had their blasters raised and pointed at him. He froze for a moment, their words registering in his mind. There he is? They were looking for him specifically? That did not bode well.
“Drop the blaster. You’re coming with us.” The demand snapped Luke out of his shock and he raced back to the rock he had just passed, shooting into the middle of the group of stormtroopers as he did so. He heard one cry out as he was hit but did not look back to see how badly. He dodged behind the rock as blaster bolts filled the air. He returned fire over the rock, but was unable to aim very accurately as he ducked down quickly to avoid the shots aimed at him.
Luke cursed. They had him pinned down tightly. He couldn’t retreat without leaving the relative safety of the rock and risking being shot in the back. And he couldn’t dodge all the bolts and target the stormtroopers at the same time. Unless… his hand strayed to his lightsaber clipped to his belt. He could deflect shots with the blade, like Ben had taught him with the remote on the Millennium Falcon, and if he angled it correctly, the shots would ricochet back at the stormtroopers…
He had just decided to attempt it when the shots ceased abruptly, accompanied by harsh screams. Luke peered over the rock in time to see flames suddenly engulfing the stormtroopers. He crouched back down behind the rock as he caught a glimpse of the two droids he had encountered earlier. They were still hunting him! But it appeared they were not working for the Empire, at least.
Luke jumped as his comlink crackled to life and Han’s voice reached him.
“Luke! Did you find Leia?! We have to get outta here, kid!”
“Don’t wait for me, Han!” He kept scanning his surroundings, wary of more stormtroopers or the droids’ handler showing up. “There are stormtroopers everywhere!”
“Stormtroopers?” Han’s voice was sharp with worry, audible even through the distortion of the comlink. “Luke, what’s happening? Where’s…”
A faint crunch of gravel behind him dragged his attention away from Han’s words, but before he could turn, something heavy connected with the back of his head, sending sharp pain and darkness through him. The last thing he heard as he was thrown into unconsciousness was Han frantically yelling his name.
Luke groaned as his mind clawed its way awake. Pain pounded through his head and the ground beneath him seemed to be tilting. He tried to open his eyes, but even the dim light around him stabbed right through him and his headache intensified. He quickly squeezed them shut again and he attempted to bring his hand up to his head, but as he moved he felt a tugging sensation on his other wrist and realized he was bound.
Stormtroopers, fire fight, Han, hit on the head… He traced his last memories through to their logical conclusion. I’ve been captured by Imps. Sith!
As this realization crashed over him and he worked his way past the post-unconsciousness confusion, he became more aware of his surroundings. He was sprawled on a cold metal floor, which was vibrating in sympathy with the quiet hum in the air. Engines. He was in a ship, probably an Imperial shuttle. On his way to… where? Interrogation and execution, definitely. But at whose hands? Darth Vader’s?
He suppressed a shudder of fear. His future was shaping up to be rather unpleasant, if short. He stilled as footsteps resonated through the floor. The toe of a boot found his side and he groaned again at the sharp prod.
“The boy’s awake.”
More footsteps and then hands seized his upper arms and he was wrenched to his feet. Luke was hit with a wave of nausea at the sudden motion. A concussion? He swayed on his feet, but the hands holding him were unyielding and he was not allowed to fall.
“Where are you taking me?” Luke’s voice was weaker than he had anticipated.
One of his guards struck him in the side of the head. He bit back a cry as agony burst in his head from the blow. He was now certain he had a concussion and cold dread crept up his spine as he realized that he was already physically and mentally compromised if they decided to torture him. He didn’t think it would take much to break him at this point.
I’m sorry, Leia. I don’t think I’ll be as strong as you.
Then everything happened so quickly that Luke did not have time to react. There was an explosion and the shuttle shook violently. Luke and his guards were nearly knocked to the ground by the force of it, and terrified yells came from the cockpit behind them. The floor under his feet no longer vibrated from the hum of the engines. They were dead in the sky and they hung for a breathless moment before the nose of the shuttle dipped down and they were crashing!
His guards gripped his arms so tightly that it hurt, but Luke ignored them and tried to reach for the Force to… do what? Slow the descent? Brace himself? He didn’t have enough training! But as the shuttle plummeted back to the ground, his mind brushed against another presence, a knot of darkness wreathed in cold fire. It reached for him, surrounding him in flames that did not burn, and before Luke could even consider whether he wanted to try to break free, the shuttle crashed nose-first into the planet, listing to the left.
The force of the impact tore Luke from his captor’s grips and flung him across the compartment. He collided with the wall, taking the brunt of the hit with his shoulder, but as the ship settled, he was tossed around again and he banged his head on the durasteel floor. His headache flared and darkness flickered in his mind. He teetered on the edge of awareness and for a moment he contemplated giving in to the sleep that beckoned him with gentle fingers.
Luke was pulled back through the haze in his mind when he heard the guards beginning to stir. He tried to focus on their murmured words, but they were merely seeking and receiving confirmation that they were all still alive. It appeared they were content to ignore him for the moment and he began to tune them out, but then he heard the cockpit door slide open behind him.
“The command crew is dead,” one of the guards informed his colleagues.
“What the kriff happened?”
“I don’t know. Something went wrong with the engine.”
“The tech crews went over every inch of this shuttle before we came planetside. How could they have missed something this big?”
Whoever the question was directed at was spared from answering by the sound of metal rending and screeching against itself. There was a startled yell from one of the guards and Luke tried to lift his head to get a better view of what was happening, but the world spun dizzyingly at his slightest movement and he gave up. It wouldn’t make a difference if he knew what was coming or not. He didn’t have the strength to react, regardless if it was friend or foe.
The cold fire was drawing closer, pressing more intently against his mind. He poked at it in confusion, but it did not seem to register his touch, or maybe he was so weak and unfocused that he hadn’t actually nudged it at all.
This time the yell was mingled shock and fear.
“What are you doing here?”
Luke started at the sound of a lightsaber being ignited and he curled up in a futile effort to protect himself. His head throbbed and his nausea spiked at the movement. Now the cold fire made sense and he was painfully aware of the measured mechanical breathing that should have been obvious from the moment Darth Vader had entered the shuttle. Heavy footsteps reverberated through the durasteel floor, bringing the Sith closer.
The clash of lightsaber against force pike filled the air, the fight lasting no more than a few seconds before Luke somehow felt two of the guards die, the cessation of life a sickening tug on the fabric of the Force. Hands grasped at Luke’s arms, attempting to pull him back, but Vader’s voice stopped them before the remaining guards could move him.
“Do not touch him.” The baritone was cold and filled with a sharp rage that pierced Luke with fear, even though he could sense that it was not directed at him.
Luke tried to look up as he heard Vader stalk forward, the bloodthirsty hum of the lightsaber getting louder, screaming a warning at him, but he couldn’t force his eyes open. The guards released him and though Luke thought he should feel relief at that, he felt nothing but a cold knot of dread settle low in his stomach. The dark fire was steadily drawing closer but he aborted any movement away as his definitely concussed head protested.
Vader’s presence was right above him and he flinched as heavy fabric brushed against his legs and side. He was not able to suppress the small cry of pain the motion produced and the cold fire that was Vader surrounded his mind, seemingly in response to his cry. It cut him off from the pain and he was finally able to open his eyes.
Darth Vader stood over him, one leg on either side of his body in a clearly protective stance. Confusion and terror mingled freely in Luke’s mind as two quick flashes of the blood-red blade brought down the two remaining guards. For a breathless moment, the lightsaber continued humming and Luke almost hoped for it to slice downwards at him, killing him quickly and relatively painlessly.
But the deathblow never came and Luke shuddered as the lightsaber deactivated. The Sith was going to take him alive. He knew the bounty on the pilot who destroyed the Death Star was alive only, but he had hoped, prayed, that they had not yet identified him. And as far as he knew, the bounty was still nameless. So why was the Emperor’s enforcer taking him alive?
Vader took half a step back so both his legs were on the same side of Luke before he crouched down next to him.
“No…” Luke’s plea came out as more of a whimper as he tried to slide away, still weak from too many hits to the head today and unable to sit up, even if whatever Vader was doing to his mind was easing the pain.
Vader reached out and grasped Luke’s arm, preventing him from even attempting to move away. Luke continued to pull against his grip, refusing to give up without a fight, no matter how feeble that fight may be.
“Please, no,” Luke gasped, hating the desperation he could hear in his own voice. “Just kill me now.”
“You think I want to kill you?” There was dry amusement in Vader’s voice. “If I wanted you dead, I would have let the Red Guards drag you to the Emperor.”
Why did Vader not want him taken to the Emperor? He was the Emperor’s Second-in-Command, his chief enforcer. Was he not as loyal as everyone seemed to think? Or did he just want to get information out of him before he was executed as a Rebel? But wouldn’t the Emperor have him interrogated too? Too many questions swarmed Luke’s mind and he pushed them away, knowing that finding out the answers to most of them would mean his death.
“I’m not worth taking. I won’t tell you anything,” Luke tried again. He remembered the pain on Leia’s face whenever she recalled her “interrogation” at Vader’s hands and he could not help the shudder of fear that passed through him.
“Wrong again. You are far too important to destroy, either physically or mentally.” There was something in Vader’s tone that surprised Luke even more than the words themselves, something almost… fond? Caring? He couldn’t place the exact emotion, but whatever it was, it was very out of place in the Dark Lord. The cold fire surrounding his mind became soft and it somehow seemed to caress him in a way that vaguely reminded him of his aunt carefully brushing his hair off his forehead as she tucked him in at night. The juxtaposition shocked Luke enough that he stopped fighting and Vader lost no time in taking advantage of his lapse. He stood, pulling an unresisting Luke up with him.
Luke stumbled, his legs unable to support him, and he fell against Vader. The Sith caught him, wrapping an arm around his waist to hold him up. He recoiled, or tried to, but Vader’s grip on him was firm and Luke was still too dizzy to put up enough of a fight.
“Let go of me!” he demanded.
“If I release you, Skywalker, you will fall.” Again, there was amusement in Vader’s voice. Luke started at the use of his name.
“I don’t care.” He tried to cover his sudden surge of terror with bravado. They had identified him. How had they identified him? Did the Rebellion have a traitor, or had someone just sold him out for the large bounty on his head?
Luke struggled in Vader’s arms, pushing against his chest with his bound hands, but the man was as unmovable as a durasteel wall. He sensed what felt like laughter from the Sith and he cursed the helplessness of the situation he had found himself in.
“What do you want with me?” he cried.
“You will find out soon enough,” came Vader’s cryptic and terrifying response. He withdrew a hypospray from a pouch on his belt and Luke reared back.
“No, no, no…”
Please just kill me, just kill me now, don’t take me in…
“Calm down, my son.”
Luke froze at Vader’s words, unable to believe what he had heard.
“What?” he whispered, staring up at Vader’s mask. He had stopped fighting and though Vader made no move to inject him with whatever was in the hypospray, he did use the moment to pull Luke closer again. Luke found himself pressed against Vader, his hands trapped between them.
“I’m not your son. You killed my father, you murdered him!” He had meant to sound confident and accusing, but it came out as pleading, begging for confirmation. But he knew his words were lies as soon as they crossed his lips. They tasted bitter on his tongue and the Force trembled around him. He managed to deny it, to cling hopelessly to his childhood vision of his father who was not this black-clad Sith in front of him, for one moment longer before the man spoke again.
“No, child, I did not.” Vader’s quiet words shattered his fragile hopes like glass and he knew he had lost.
Luke finally surrendered. He was tired, and sore, and confused, and the Sith’s hold on him was unyielding. He slumped into Vader’s arms and leaned his head against his armoured chest, no longer having the strength to resist.
“No, no, it’s not true…” He continued to mutter his denials even as the Force screamed the truth at him, but they were just words and he did not struggle when he felt Vader press the hypospray against his neck and inject him with whatever drug was in it. Sleep would be a welcome escape at this point.
“I did not kill your father, Luke. I am your father.” Vader’s voice was gentle and Luke heard the truth resonate in his words. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt a bright thread spark into existence, a thread that connected his mind to Vader’s. He drew in a shaky breath, fighting against the lump that was forming in his throat. He grasped at the heavy fabric of his father’s cloak where his hands rested against it and turned his head to bury his face in Vader’s chest. He could feel the drug working its way through him, numbing his limbs and his mind, and he was unable to stop the tears from welling in his eyes. Tears of pain and confusion and grief and, oddly enough, happiness.
Vader’s hand that was not at his waist came up and rested lightly on the back of Luke’s head, fingers running gently through his hair. The motion was soothing and Luke felt the last of the tension drain from his body, though whether that was from his father’s actions or the drug he wasn’t sure.
The heavy blanket of sleep reached to envelop him and he surrendered to it willingly, feeling his body go limp in his father’s strong arms before his mind chased the drug into darkness.