Chapter 1: In Which Luke's Grandma Talks About Kitchens
"Ready to go, Co-pilot?" The teasing, self-assured grin was bright, the blue eyes just as sharp, and Luke laughed as he threw himself into the co-pilot's chair.
A hand clothed in a heavy black glove reached out to ruffle his hair. Luke groaned and tried to whap it away, all the while he tried to decide if he wanted to stay in here until the dream dissolved or not. He wasn't five, or ten or even twelve anymore. He wasn't a baby and he knew his father was dead. These dreams were just... The engine rumbled to life beneath and behind them, a dull roar that couldn't be heard and a subtle vibration in the deck plates underneath their feet. Luke glanced to his father where he sat behind him, hands flying over the controls. There seemed to be a dark edge smudging his outline, but Luke didn't care. Hadn't ever cared he could never quite see his father's face. That was familiar - the same thing happened whenever he'd dream about having a sister.
But he didn't have a sister, and he knew it. Just like he knew his father was de---
Both of them looked up, equally startled; Luke because there never was anyone else in these private fantasy dream moments he conjured up, and the voice wasn't even Aunt Beru's, waking him up. It was soft, worn, and unfamiliar, but the expression he could faintly see on his father's face had gone from surprise to dark rage, and his stomach twisted uneasily, not understanding. Why would he react like that? Why would he react at all to something that was apparently just a new quirk of the dream? The dark halo outlining and smudging some of his father's form flickered and seemed to slide further over the dark pilot's uniform he wore as he surged up in his seat.
"Luke, I need you out in the galley. Ani, just stay there. It'll be all right."
His father staggered back, blue eyes pale and wide even as the dark twist swelled further, and Luke took the opportunity to obey. He slid out of the chair and around it, darting towards the door. For a brief moment, right before he dashed through the door out of the cockpit, he was aware of a few things. One; his father hadn't ever called him by his name, in any of these dreams, but this unknown woman did. Two; he didn't know his father had been called 'Ani', so how could he use it? Three; it didn't feel like a hand just grabbed his shoulder, just an extension of the dark smudge that usually outlined his father's form, and he didn't want to look to check. Four; he could hear the engine when before he hadn't been able to---
Luke blinked up at the ceiling of his small bedroom, realising the distant, thrumming sound wasn't that of an engine, but the worst sandstorm to plague Tatooine's northern hemisphere in... what had Uncle Owen said, thirty seven years? It'd been going on for three days now, and showed no sign of abating, yet. Uncle Owen was darkly predicting an awful lot of work to restore every single vaporator they owned when the storm finally abated.
He wasn't looking forward to that at all, but with his schooling tapering off and now conducted on a half-time, distance-learning plan, both because they didn't have the credits to send him to Bestine or pay for the extra materials that would mean Anchorhead with the others because Aunt Beru certainly couldn't home school him anymore, and because Uncle Owen needed the help, there was nothing he could do about it.
Startling, Luke scuttled back, pulling the covers with him and his hand patting around for a weapon, any weapon - all he found was the model of his T-16, set, as always, on the night stand. Blinking wide, blue eyes, it took several long moments before he could understand what he was looking at, and Luke decided, no matter how real things felt, that he must still be dreaming.
Because his grandmother was dead, and shouldn't be standing by his bed with a small, patient smile on her face that seemed similar but fundamentally different to Aunt Beru's.
"... Grandma?" He'd never dreamed of his grandmother before, but it couldn't be anyone else. He'd seen what few holos there were of her and Grandpa Cliegg (even if he wasn't his biological grandfather, just Uncle Owen's dad), and the woman standing there, the shadows in the room not quite close enough to turn her colours monochrome, looked like her.
"I need your help, Luke," she said, and even as she smiled a little, again, there was a slight pinch of a frown between her eyebrows. That pinch almost kept Luke from saying the words that came to mind, but only almost.
"In the galley?" he asked, arching an eyebrow in the way only teenagers could, slowly letting go of the sharp plastoid angles of the model T-16. His grandmother's smile deepened and she looked away, raising a hand to shield her smile before she sobered up and turned back to him with a nod.
"Kitchens are the heart of a home, Luke, no matter if they're on a planet or in a ship."
That was something Aunt Beru had told him, several times. Well, not the last bit, but the first one, and suddenly he wondered if Aunt Beru had gotten it from his grandmother. Maybe? They had known each other a few years before his grandmother had died, after all, and even lived in the homestead together for a few of those.
Looking down at his rumpled sheets, Luke sighed. He didn't want to get up, even if it was just in the sense of getting up in his dream. He was warm and comfortable, and the sandstorm's vibrating beat was calling him to sleep - it was kinda funny, actually. Aside from frantically warning Uncle Owen in the afternoon just shortly after he'd left for the vaporators furthest out on the homestead, two hours before the sandstorm rolled in without a single warning from any weather reports, Luke had felt relaxed ever since. His aunt and uncle had been tense since the communications cut out after that last emergency news broadcast about it being the worst seen in decades, but Luke... felt pretty safe. They were inside, and no Tusken would be able to attack even isolated farms like theirs in this weather, and the storm... He didn't know what it was, but he just felt relaxed with it beating away outside.
"I guess. What do you need help with?" Because why not, honestly? He'd done both weirder and more boring things in his dreams than help his dead grandmother cook a bantha stew, or whatever. He couldn't help a second sigh as he crawled out of bed, running a hand through his sleep-mussed hair, though.
Getting up really wasn't tempting. It felt like getting up in the morning, though the sandstorm outside, which he couldn't see in here, threw off any easy way to tell time aside from checking a chrono or guessing on your internal one. The floor was smooth-rough like always underneath his feet, there in a way that felt real, but everything felt very real at the moment. He supposed it was just one of those dreams.
"First we need to get your father home for dinner," his grandmother said, and Luke stopped in the doorway, blinking. Turning around to look at the woman's weathered face and gray-shot hair, Luke was torn between the usual childish desire to let dreams be dreams, especially these that pretended his father wasn't dead, and calling them out. Biting his lip and looking away as he hesitated for a few more moments, Luke stares out into the short corridor. The only light outside was the sandstorm emergency lighting, painting soft, yellow blotches along the floor and walls.
"But... Grandma, you know he's---"
"Not quite, Luke."
Head snapping up at the hand suddenly on his shoulder, Luke battled with a scowl and finally just frowned, feeling it fall into a slightly sullen pout. He'd been reprimanded by Uncle Owen so many times for pretending his father wasn't dead, while growing up and he was old enough now - fourteen, for stars' sake - to stop being childish about pretending that he wasn't dead.
"We just need to get him home, and then make sure he can eat to drive out the poison," his grandmother said, and Luke frowned. Glancing up into those warm, brown eyes, it was like the dream wavered for a moment, infinity and stars--- Sucking in a breath, Luke blinked into the yellow-lit darkness of the corridor, feeling unsettled and... and like he was on the edge of something important. Something which shifted within him, stirring something that had been sleeping up until now. Shaking his head, Luke grimaced.
"I'll help if you need it, but I don't..." he shrugged, uncertain what to say, and just set off down the corridor. He relaxed the longer they walked; out the short corridor, into the stairwell, down into the main pit... and by that point, the gentle squeeze on his shoulder redirecting him towards the stairwell that'd lead to the entrance dome seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Luke forgot he was barefoot, even with the rock underneath his feet and the feeling of sand caught between his toes. Not even the sandstorm was of any concern, even as he stepped out from the protected dome (a forcefield keeping the main pit from being drowned in sand) and into the roaring storm.
This was a dream, after all, and with the expectation of the safety of a dream, Luke didn't fear the harsh winds or the sand.
The vicious sandstorm didn't touch him, as expected. It beat around him in flowing veils of dust and sand and even rock, electric charge discharging into weirdly-coloured lightning in the distance, but he was safe. There was a pool of stillness around him, and he just... walked.
The sand underneath his feet conformed to his feet, cradling them instead of ripping at or burning - or chilling - his skin and toes, and thus walking was easy. The wind that seemed to create the little bubble he walked in made sure no sand blew into his face or mouth, even better than during the day normally, so it was even easier to walk and breathe than normal Luke wasn't sure how long they walked, or how far, but the night gentled into dawn and then aged into a late-burning afternoon. The sandstorm was still there, shielding him from the heat that should've been beating down on him and sucking him dry.
"Here we are," Grandma said, and Luke stopped, startled to realise he'd forgotten she was there - had she even been there, for most of the walk? He couldn't remember... But the thought was forgotten in favour of looking around, from his grandmother to his surroundings. The sandstorm thrumming around them kept the blue sky and the suns from view, turning the air into yellow-dusted rose, beating against the vast collection of rocks they were standing by. No, not rocks. Looking longer, it looked, vaguely, like pieces of a building. A ruin?
"... Where are we?" Luke turned back to his grandmother, who smiled that soft, patient smile again, shaking her head.
"Our kitchen, of course. I just need you to open the door, Luke."
"The door?" Turning around, just to confirm what he'd seen before, Luke frowned. "There's no door, Grandma, it's just... rock."
The laughter behind him didn't sound quite right, and Luke almost whirled around to face her. His hand was caught before he could, though, and gently stretched out so his palm was laid against wind-smoothed rock.
"It is a door; these are ruins, aren't they? Even if this doesn't look like a door, there's something inside we need, and then, that makes this a door, doesn't it?"
Biting his lip and scowling, Luke thought that over. It both sounded right and not, but he couldn't figure out in what way. Maybe it didn't matter, because dreams didn't have to make sense, right? The sand under his feet was warm, too warm, and yet didn't burn.
"... Okay. I guess so. What--- I mean, how do we open it?"
He could feel the smile more than he saw it, and the sandstorm pulsed around him.
"It's a door, isn't it? Just focus on opening it, Luke. Doors, locked or not, if they're closed, can be opened. That's all there is to it. Just open it."
"But it's huge and I'm just---"
He stilled, the sound of his name like a thunderclap through him, and the sand should be burning, shouldn't it?
"Shh. Focus on the rock, how it feels. On the sand underneath and around you, and ignore it all. Focus on you, and that you want to open the door." The words thrummed, sang. Filled him up and he couldn't not listen to them, his protests dying, forgotten.
The sand was hot, too hot, but cradled his feet. The air was also too hot, a burning flame turned into air - nothing like the heat of noon or the slowly cooling afternoon, not on the northern hemisphere anyway - and yet he could breathe. The sandstorm roared around him, a thunderous weight of impossible proportion; it was easier to focus on the smooth, but rough, stone beneath his hand, the calluses of his hand against the rock, the blood rushing in his ears...
Open the door?
He didn't understand... well, okay, he sort of did, because the rock, if it hid a tunnel or something, was a door, after a fashion anyway. But it was just rock, and he was short and slim and what muscles he was building from working on the farm wouldn't help him push the stone aside. Open the door? How was he supposed to open it when he couldn't move the rock? You moved doors, after all, even if it was just by motion detecting sensors...
Frowning, Luke thought about that. This was a rock, but it was also a dream, right? So maybe it could just be like his hand was triggering a motion detector... The stone underneath his hand was thrumming, like the sandstorm. Luke frowned harder, focused on the thought of motion detectors opening doors, on his hand, on---
Something shivered within him again, and for a moment there wasn't sand and rock around him, but light, and something that felt like a tingle, something that strove and grew and aged. Something like life. A door wasn't alive, of course, and despite the fascinating, tingling warmth, Luke focused on the distant weight underneath his hand, because it wasn't alive in that way, and remembered open the door.
Staggering forward, gasping and feeling tired suddenly, Luke blinked sweat out of his eyes and stared at the shadows beyond the doorway. It even looked like a corridor, if very weathered. The rock under his feet hummed, and Luke remembered the tingling light, and suddenly realised something.
He was very, very thirsty.
Whirling around and almost falling, heart thundering in his ears, he stared wide-eyed at the woman a few steps behind him, standing by the rock that was now to the side of the 'doorway'. He swallowed, barely generating any saliva, and fisted his trembling hands.
"You're not my grandmother."
Shmi Skywalker tilted her head, and for the first time Luke could see, against the backdrop of the sandstorm, the smudged edge of light around her form.
"Technically..." A pause in which Luke opened his mouth to yell a demand about being taken back to the homestead, but the words caught in his throat, because there was infinity and stars and a gentle, tingling light again. He couldn't breathe, felt like he was falling - if you could fall through space - like he was held suspended in something vaguely familiar along with something blazing blue, half cradled around him.
Then reality snapped back, and Luke jumped back from the burning sand, onto rock that merely pulsed with warmth instead of threatened to melt the soles of his feet. Felt very, very alone suddenly, missing the vaguely remembered blaze of blue. Like he was missing something. Somehow, he could still breathe the unforgivably hot air.
The woman in front of him didn't look like Shmi Skywalker anymore. She still had her smile, but that was all. She was wrapped in the sandstorm and her eyes were like the suns, but what she actually looked like was impossible to tell. Luke looked away, down at his dusty, sand-caked feet and pressed his trembling hands to his thighs. Felt tiny and afraid and a little angry, but also awed. He wanted a hug from Aunt Beru.
"I am. But Luke, it doesn't matter. You can still help your father."
Head snapping up against his better judgement, Luke stared for a moment, then just felt angry. Why was she mocking him?!
"Alive, Luke Skywalker, and you can help him. Do you want to?"
Breath catching in his throat, Luke stared. The woman's eyes burned like the hidden suns, jewels that glowed with power about to birth something terrible and great. It was the truth. He didn't know how he knew, why he was trusting her, but... it was the truth.
"I..." His eyes burned, but he wasn't a baby, and he wasn't going to cry. He didn't know what to do, though. Why, how was his father alive, and why would he need him to save him? Luke was just...
"Chains hold even adults, Luke, and sickness requires doctors to help heal," the woman said, whoever, whatever she was (he was shying away from the stories Aunt Beru had told him, the stories heard from the old women in Anchorhead, that revealed possibilities), and she sounded softer now, kinder. Her words just made him shudder, made him aware that he was trembling, though, because what could he do..?
Scrubbing his eyes, Luke straightened, and despite the trembling awe inside, frowned up at the woman.
"What about my aunt and uncle?"
She smiled, and like her words before, it was a softer, kind one. Exactly the one she'd had when looking like Shmi. "Are perfectly safe back at the homestead. We have a few hours before it's dawn, at the least."
That was the truth as well. Biting his lip and crossing his arms, Luke stared down at the rock he was standing on; smooth flagstones roughened by trails of sand that had blown in.
"... I... I don't know what I can do, but if I can do something, I'll do it," Luke said, finally looking back up, feeling... he wasn't sure. Like something was about to happen, more than it already had, whatever was going on, "if my father's alive and need help, I'll help him."
She smiled at him, bright and heavy and like forever, and then the weight was gone.
"This way, then."
The woman led the way inside, and only a few steps in the hot air turned cool, and there was a tingle to it like the glow of light he'd felt when trying to move the stone. Which Luke still wasn't sure how he'd done it, actually. Or why she'd said they had a few hours before it was dawn when it was late afternoon he---
Luke stopped, then hurried after her. Didn't quite run up beside her, but ended up much closer than before.
"How--- How did we get to the southern hemisphere?!" And how was he still alive? The southern hemisphere was only marginally more safe during the night, due to how hot it was. Tatooine didn't have the sort of resources that'd make it worth it to try and live down south, or even temporarily work there, and yet here he was. The woman turned her head, a shawl of shadows framing her face and falling down over her back and arms now, instead of sand.
"We walked, Luke."
Sputtering, he almost fell down the stairs that were suddenly there, but caught himself on the wall and continued down carefully.
"I know it's harder to accept now that you no longer think you're dreaming, but the Force can do many things. Some seemingly impossible," she said as she glanced over to him with her noon-bright eyes, smiling in a way that was teasing and reassuring at once. Any protest fell away for confusion.
"The Force is life, comes from life, ties life together. A connection, from beginning to end and the space in-between," the woman said, her gaze turning distant and the whole of her form briefly seeming to almost smudge away into the shadows around them. Then she was there properly again, glancing at him with that kind of... conspirational smile from earlier. "You just used the Force the open the door, Luke."
"Me?" gaping at her, Luke couldn't wrap his head around it. He'd just--- moved a rock.
Moved a much too large rock, which he shouldn't have been able to move. Eyes wide again, Luke blinked and looked around. Found nothing much on the steps but some tiny rocks, but that was enough, wasn't it? He just... needed... Gritting his teeth, finally closing his eyes, Luke tried. And tried. And tried, but nothing happened and he didn't understand---
"Slow down, Luke," she said beside him, and Luke twitched, twisted back and stumbled against the wall again, "you're starting in the right direction, but your frame of mind isn't correct right now. And you need to pace yourself anyway, if you want to save your father. Patience, you'll learn."
Patience. Luke almost bristled, but the comment about needing to pace himself if he wanted to save his father made him slump a little and start walking again. He still didn't know how he was supposed to do that, but if he was, she was probably right. It wasn't like he knew what he needed to do, or what sort of effort it'd take.
How long it took to walk the stairs, Luke wasn't sure. His toes were getting cold, though, and it wasn't any better when they finally came to the bottom. He couldn't see anything - well, anything aside from himself, the woman, and the patch of smooth flagstones they stood on, because now she was wrapped in soft dawn, like clouds and the sky lit from the suns that were still underneath the horizon. Following her carefully across the floor and through an archway, her light started to spread and catch, and, amazingly, there was a sound of falling water. There was an odd smell here, too, like in the greenhouses before harvest...
The woman's light caught in crystals that hung from the ceiling and grew, revealing a polished dome of a room with trailing vines and small bushes, water running down the curved ceiling and into channels by the walls and---
"Krayt---" Luke staggered back, heart in his throat, then stopped abruptly, overbalanced, and fell on his behind. A carving. A life-sized statue of a Greater Krayt Dragon, with two larger crystals - the suns, he realised - and three smaller ones - the moons - hanging above it, catching the woman's light and spreading it throughout the room. In the statue's huge, wickedly clawed front paws, an actual, not carved krayt dragon pearl was cradled. "Wh-where are we?"
Looking up at the woman, he realised she was waiting for him to get back to his feet. Luke did so, feeling foolish as he dusted his sleeping pants off and, slowly, unable to help himself, crossed the room towards the statue and the pearl.
"Many have used the Force throughout the years, Luke, even here on Tatooine," the woman said, then paused. She reached the statue with him, and knelt down, stretched a hand out to brush a finger down the pearl's opalescent curve, "especially here on Tatooine. This place, and this room in particular... consider it a sort of amplifier."
Frowning, Luke snatched his fingers away from the still-polished surface of the dragon pearl and looked up at the woman. "What?"
"Your father is far, far away from here, Luke, and while you're strong, you aren't trained," she said slowly, something in her voice that reminded him of the way Uncle Owen would murmur a 'good job' and squeeze his shoulder, or Aunt Beru would smile at him and say he'd done great, "so you'll need help to reach him and yet go nowhere, because actually going anywhere would take far more work... and worry your family."
Okay, put like that Luke's annoyance over not getting to choose how to help his father dwindled, even if getting to leave Tatooine would be awesome and one day he would do just that. Maybe even soon. Taking a breath and looking from the pearl, small in the giant statue's front pair of paws, to the woman, Luke bit his lip.
"Okay... so what do I do?"
"Sit down, and put one of your hands on the pearl. Close your eyes."
Hesitating for a few more moments, his heartbeats counting out the passing seconds, Luke finally did as she told him to, crossing his legs and shifting until he was comfortable, letting his left hand dangle off his thigh and reaching out to curve his right over and around the krayt dragon pearl. His knees and bare toes pressed up against the statue's rough stone, scales carved into the rock, though the palms of the paws were smooth. The claws looked sharp enough to cut yourself on, but Luke wasn't about to try it.
Tilting his head back, he looked up along the curved neck of the krayt until he met its huge head, wicked teeth just barely bared by the gap in its snout. The eyes, he realised after a startled moment, were krayt dragon pearls as well, black and shimmering, compared to the milky rainbow iridescence of the one resting in the dragon's paws. Above the head and along the body, the two suns and the three moons hung, and Luke suddenly realised that this meant that either the pearl in the dragon's paws was supposed to be Tatooine, or the statue of the greater krayt dragon itself was. Well... maybe? It seemed silly when he thought about it...
"Ready?" The murmur thrummed around him, and Luke didn't look to the woman, rather he looked down, away from the shimmering-abyss eyes of the dragon, and to the pearl hidden underneath his hand.
His eyes slipped closed without any conscious intent or thought. What he needed to do now, though, he didn't understand, but---
"Shh. Listen to yourself, Luke. To the flow. The light; your life, is inside of you. Reach for it. You have already done it once, you can do it again."
The words didn't come from a single point of location any longer, the sound gently beating around him, sounding like the rustle of sand driven by wind, feeling like the first glimmer of dawnlight, the steady tramp of a herd of bantha on sand and rock, the hum of a generator.
It could've taken a second, hours, years, Luke didn't know.
All he knew was that every time he got frustrated or distracted, that same voice murmured something, redirected his attention, and slowly, gently... everything sharpened until there was light, and he could feel...
Something light and stretching - the vines - tiny little darting flickers - the fish that apparently were swimming in the channels following the edge of the room - the pulse under his hand from the pearl, and the inexorable, yawning abyss of light underneath him.
He almost fell right in, into the bright center of Tatooine - or the Galaxy itself, maybe? - before something touched him, burning. He almost was tossed right out, then, back into his body from that simple, light touch, but the voice, her voice, whispered again, and he suddenly hung, undisturbed, in the middle of...
Luke couldn't feel anything but himself here. Was that what she'd wanted? It was actually scary, almost as scary as what had almost happened earlier, because he couldn't... he was alone---
No, Luke. You're not. I am right here, I always will be, I always have been and you only need to look. You know what you're looking for. Remember your dreams?
He did, of course, but what did she mean? What was he supposed to take from them? They were just dreams, no matter what he might want...
Sitting there, Luke thought back on his most recent one, the cockpit, his father beside him, the black smudge around his form, his voice and eyes and... presence? Memory turned into something that seemed familiar, and Luke turned, however he did that here, and stared at a pulsing, dark spot, forbidding and distant.
That... felt somewhat like the one in his dream. But he didn't want to touch it. The sense of it got more distant as his unwillingness to get close grew. It was... similar and yet so very different from what he felt (didn't realise he'd felt) in his dreams. There was anger and violence and poison in that direction and he'd rather, much rather, never go close to it. Luke realised he was hovering close to that bright blue flame he vaguely remembered from earlier, something which felt familiar in the same way his father's presence did. Looking at it, Luke started to reach for it. Because this one felt much nicer, and he wanted to find out why it was here, why he could almost touch it. Why did this feel so much cleaner than his...
Shuddering, Luke felt like crying but didn't (could he, even, like this?), though the whole of him here rang with his upset, and again he wanted one of Aunt Beru's hugs, even if he'd turned fourteen a few months ago.
The woman had said he needed to help his father. Had mentioned something about chains and disease and that meant... The blue little blaze drifted away, and Luke finally, reluctantly, turned away from it and let it grow distant again. He was closer to that dark spot again, pulsing with... maybe, the faintest bit of light. Though maybe that was just a false impression from the frozen, dark sun that spot seemed to be.
Staring at it, Luke realised that this wasn't what it was supposed to feel or look like, his connection to his father, or his father. That was why he had to help. Still, he didn't get closer.
Couldn't quite understand the fact that apparently his father was alive, and needed his help. Why hadn't his aunt and uncle told him? Well... maybe they didn't know. If it wasn't his father or his mother who'd handed him over to them, they'd... only know what they'd been told, wouldn't they? Hovering there in hesitation, still not understanding what he should do, what he could do, since she had pointed out that he was untrained (but strong, apparently), Luke finally steeled himself and reached out for the pulsing, frozen dark.
Chapter 2: In Which the Son of the Suns Gets a Few Surprises
As the changes in the Force are felt across the galaxy, Darth Vader feels them more directly... and gets told off.
Luke, shielded from it by his current actions, his location, and being untrained, did not feel the sudden, single shudder of unconstrained anticipation that went through the Force. But relatively close to Luke, old Ben Kenobi woke up from a restless sleep and rolled out of bed. Wincing at the way his prematurely-aged joints complained, he almost stormed right out into the sandstorm still battering away around his hut.
Something was wrong.
Something was about to happen, and that something included Luke Skywalker. Staring out the single window and at the furiously wind-driven sand outside, Obi-Wan knew he couldn't fight this weather. Hopefully Luke would be safe until the storm abated.
The shockwave of anticipation didn't dissipate.
Far, far away, close to the densely glittering core of the Galaxy, His Imperial Highness Sheev Palpatine, looked up from the datapad he was reading and narrowed his eyes. Every single muscle and tendon tight with tension, Darth Sidious gently laid the datapad down, quickly made sure he wouldn't be disturbed, and descended into meditation. Something had happened, and it would affect everything. He needed to find out what it was, how it'd change things, and then put a stop to it. He would tolerate no changes.
The anticipation hummed, and didn't yet dissipate.
On Dagobah, former Jedi Grand Master Yoda looked to the cloud-covered sky and harrumphed. Tapping his gimer stick against a rock and sending a small lizard scuttling away, he closed his eyes. The Force whirled around him with anticipation and intent, tight and expectant. The cave, kilometers away, thrummed with not-yet-thwarted retaliation. Something was going to happen, and the outcome wasn't yet clear. But it would change things... oh, it would change them, and Yoda's mind brought up scenarios tainted dark from memories and history.
The anticipation pulsed, and refused to dissipate.
On a ship hovering in the shadow of Nar Shaddaa, Ahsoka Tano trembled over her holoreciever, clutching the edge of the table and simply breathed. On the other side of the connection, she heard Hera ask if Kanan was all right, but she didn't listen to that much. She was far more focused on the Force making itself known in a way she hadn't felt since--- since the Temple burned, shrieking with echoes of so many deaths. But there was no death in this tremble, merely... anticipation.
Something... something about to happen.
Knuckles aching where she was holding onto the table, she wished she had someone to ask, but pushed it away as Hera asked for the rest of the information, presumably feeling like Kanan was all right. She'd either try to figure this out later, or ignore it. Right now, she had a job to do.
The anticipation spiralled down into expectant waiting, hovering over a primeval horror scene of a world, collecting above the dark obelisk that rose above the lava and black plains and cliffs.
Inside, Darth Vader floated almost peacefully inside a bacta tube cloudy with additional elements, and didn't wake up from what could only barely be called sleep. Indeed, while his light coasting on the currents of the Dark Side had been shattered by the shudder in the Force, something else entirely had dragged him down, deeper. Mustafar trembled, but the Dark Side turning like a beached whale, clawing, did not disturb the Sith apprentice.
He had been... resting, slowly drawing closer to the end of this necessary frustration that he preferred happen as little as possible, for as short an amount of time as possible. Darth Vader was no longer resting. But he was also not awake.
Neither was he dreaming, and some tiny part of him resented this fact. For as much as those dreams hurt and made this necessary maintenance downtime even less pleasant, plaguing him with impossibilities as they did, he also... treasured them. Used the disgusted rage the dreams brought when he woke up, but treasured them, deep down where nothing would touch this fact. Though, he was thankful the earlier dream had been interrupted, because as painful as they normally were upon waking, this one had been worse.
Never before had he had to hear his mother's voice echo through them, or hear that nickname, long, long discarded. The only thing that rescued that particular dream was a possible name for the child – one that he could remember Padmé murmur once while she considered options.
He shuddered at the thought, flexing in rage, but didn't wake up. That... gave Vader pause enough to actually pay some attention. The surroundings were familiar and unwanted, but nothing special or particularly aggravating. It was simply his mind, deep in meditation. The only thing standing out was... in the distance, a tiny, glowing light.
It shouldn't be there.
Just like his mother's voice shouldn't have been in the dream. The realisation stirred a glacial rage, and Vader reached for it, preparing to snuff that light out, to make it leave him alone. He reached, and it that moment, it apparently reached out for him and touched him as well. Darth Vader reared back, blinded and burned, furious now. He reached again, simmering with rage but without seeing.
Why he stopped at the cry, he wasn't sure. Intent left hanging, and no longer unseeing in the face of the light, Vader actually looked a little closer at his intruder. It was small, so small, but burned like a young sun or a supernova. Force sensitive, of course, but that wasn't what was strange. What was strange was that it couldn't be one of the Inquisitors, not as pure as it was, and it had an... untrained quality to it that left him wondering how it was even here. It was unfamiliar to him (something tugged, vaguely, at his attention, but he ignored it), and there was no connection, so it shouldn't be able to be here.
Who are you? Speak quickly. Reaching out to keep it in place, now, Vader towered over the tiny, but oh-so-bright light. Getting too close almost hurt, but he could destroy it if need be. It wouldn't even be difficult, because this... this child (must be, so untrained and light) wouldn't know how to defend itself.
I... It trailed off, hesitation rising in reluctant waves from it, unhindered and nearly forced on him in its untrained openness. They were far too close, but he couldn't retreat. He drew himself closer in lieu of putting some space between them, pulled on the Force more firmly, and the aching light quavered, stuttering in fear and angry regret.
It almost seemed to decide to not say anything out of sullen stubbornness before it flared, rising up. He almost got a fleeting imagine of blond hair and blue eyes, achingly familiar from all those dreams. Darth Vader snarled, infuriated at being reminded, at having this pulled up again, and again almost struck.
I'm--- Wait! Wait, do you... um, do you remember... the dreams?
How, by the Force, did this child know?!
He didn't need to listen to this.
He would not listen to this.
Darth Vader reached out with the intent to crush, and the Force trembled. The Dark sang something sickly and triumphant in his ears, but he couldn't hear it. Before he could do what he wanted to do however, his hand, his intent, his power, was caught. Vader stared down at the child, sun-bright in his mind, clumsily trying to ward off the blow. That wouldn't have stopped him. It shouldn't have stopped him, but the intent of 'stop' held an incomprehensible weight behind it.
Darth Vader looked up from the light, and met brown eyes.
He reared back from Padmé Amidala, from his mother, from a woman that was yellow-white light with bright eyes and green hair, and from a being that carried sand in her robes and Tatooine's twin suns as her eyes.
Anakin, I need to you take a moment and actually pay attention. It wasn't a woman's voice, not really. The words carried a dreadful presence and held a Galaxy's weight in every single syllable; too great to be expressed by any single mortal voice. Too great to be comprehended as anything but intent. His hand was no longer caught (as much as 'hand' was a thing that existed here), but the blow he'd intended didn't fall. Staggering back, Vader almost managed to break back into awareness, the memory of women long dead giving him strength, the rage of their image being used against him filling him up---
Wait... Soft and small, the word caught him anyway, just as much as the sliver of an attempt at keeping their connection still there did. It felt like a thin wire, live with current, sparking feeling in limbs he no longer had. Vader turned back to face the presence, and was faced with the fear the child was trying to hide, an incomprehensible determination, and a creeping exhaustion.
Once again, he was struck by the confusing realisation that the presence felt familiar, something that just didn't make sense.
Why are you still here?
There were seas of blood on his hands, what was one child more? Especially a Force sensitive one, which would be brought to the Inquisitorus or killed anyway? Yet, he waited, feeling that sensation of familiarity that clung to the presence bearing down on him, impossible to ignore now. It shuddered and dimmed, almost left, angry and upset. Then it stilled again.
I promised... A shivering little pause and he could almost see the determination squaring the soft mouth and hardening the sand-edged lines of a teenager's face, darkening the bright blue--- Vader shook that thought away, only barely keeping a leash on his anger. That child was a dream, a figment of the past, of past hopes and dreams and future things that were dead.
I promised I'd help my father. I'm Luke Skywalker.
Luke wasn't sure why he was still here, now. He understood that clearly his father didn't know who he was. He also understood that whoever he was now, he wasn't... a kind man. There was some vague awareness that he'd almost just gotten killed in a more complete way than just dying from a lethal injury inflicted on his body, but he didn't understand more than that.
He was here still, however, because she'd helped him. He knew he'd helped himself, because he'd tried to defend himself, but without that help, without all that terrible weight of power being halted, he'd be dead. That was obvious. This was not a kind man, and yet... yet Luke couldn't help but hope.
She'd mentioned chains, said that disease needed a doctor to be healed, and while Luke still knew he wasn't a healer, he...
Staring up at the silent darkness, frozen in more ways than one, now, Luke still hoped. He was scared, and tired and angry, but some part of him just really wanted for the woman to be right, for that truth to actually be right. For those dreams to not just be dumb, childish hopes. The frozen sun heaved, yet didn't move at all.
When it was still again, Luke could pick up on that pervading sensation of wrongness from the presence, like a sticky film in the back of his mouth, cold that refused to leave his fingertips, rotten death.
And still, the presence that felt like his father hadn't moved. Looking up, he reached out - and froze, as the black sun suddenly went supernova. He'd die now. What had been before was nothing to this, and he was going to die, unable to move, go back, leave. His aunt and uncle wouldn't even know where he'd gone---
The black flared out.
Curled around him, tendrils spearing out and gently, so very gently he couldn't even pick up on the sensation of wrongness and death clinging to them, they wrapped around him. Luke still couldn't move, but suddenly the weight of hanging here was... a little less exhausting. He hadn't even noticed how tired he was until it was easier again.
No. She... the baby--- you died. It trembled, that voice, and now it sounded almost entirely like what he usually heard in his dreams. Softer, more human. It was startling, but it cemented Luke's resolve. Even if he could still also easily remember the threatening weight of the intent to kill him hovering above him. Impossible to forget that
I'm right here.
Well, for a given measure of here, anyway, considering he was on Tatooine, and he had no idea where his father was.
The darkness tilted towards him and pulled him closer. There wasn't a single flicker of suggestion of the features he usually saw in his dreams, but Luke, despite having been looking for them since he ended up here, didn't care any more. He stared into the black sun and thought he saw, distantly, a little flicker of light within it, nearly choked by something that looked very much like chains, trailing off, away, from his father.
That seemed important.
And... where is here... The hesitation was weighty, and dragged on into something that, for a very brief moment trembled with uncertainty, and then was squashed. Only flat anger and determination remained, but the frozen fire around him remained gentle. Luke..?
He almost answered without hesitation, but then stopped. Squirmed and tried to back off, but the tendrils around him tightened in response to that. Not in a way that hurt, but he couldn't move. Luke stilled, and after hesitating only briefly, drew himself up as much as he could.
I'm only telling you if you aren't going to hurt my aunt and uncle.
The black sun flinched, then swelled in rage.
I'll do what deserves to be---
Then I'm not telling you. The distance between them meant his father wouldn't be able to get it out of him, not like this, unless he told him. Even him being untrained wouldn't help the man get it out of him.
Something shivered in the distance, all too real, physical light, and the darkness tightened around him, trying to anchor itself, to pull him closer - and then just as soon to throw him back. Startled, Luke clung on out of pure surprised stubbornness.
You need to tell me, young one. I--- will not hurt them. They... have clearly taken care of you.
It'd be funny if this situation wasn't what it was, because that admission came out of his father like when Luke had to confess something he'd done to Uncle Owen. Like confessing hurt and was the single last thing he wanted to do (it usually was, in a situation like that).
They're my family, so you better not! he said fiercely, pretending not to feel the flinch and the following flush of anger. Pretended that he wasn't feeling the least bit guilty about this, because he wasn't stupid. Through all this, he kept staring at that little flicker of chained-up light, chains which, Luke realised, were threaded through the rest of the frozen black flames as well.
But the little, bright flame was the key. Somehow he knew that. Luke shifted his attention back to his father more properly, and slowly, a little hesitant, reached out to touch one of the tendrils curling around him. Felt, as he did so, the pressure of disappearing time, suddenly. That slowly broadening flicker of actual, real light meant his father would be waking up soon.
You are too, of course. Since you're my father.
Another flinch, this time more like a convulsion, and Luke wasn't sure how to take this. Couldn't read the emotions that flared up around him, and then were ruthlessly yanked back, and again that conflicting attempt to throw him back out into the real world and pull him closer. That crack of very real light, hard and weird, was even wider now.
Luke took a decision and dove.
Dove and slid right through the tendrils and the looming presence since he was going closer instead of trying to retreat, and reached out for the chained little light. He had no idea how to fix this, but he would try.
The warning rang through him, but his father was too slow. Whatever he did do needed to happen now, because he could feel the connection start to stretch out due to wakefulness. Not his, but his father's, and his time was running out. Luke reached the last little distance and pushed against the chains.
The chains cracked.
Links flew around them and disintegrated in the mottled gray around them as they were yanked apart, and while most of the chains seemed to linger, the little light was no longer choked by the black metal. A shockwave rolled through him, and suddenly he was alone again. Staring into the nothing around him, Luke didn't know how he'd--- he was so tired...
It's all right. This way, Luke, the whisper sounded a little like the woman, but yet nothing like the voice she'd used when she appeared to be his grandmother or the sand- or shadow-veiled being. A brown cascade of curls cushioned his head against a narrow shoulder, and a sweep of blue fabric, heavy and soft, was draped over his shoulders, along with an arm. She led him, and suddenly there was the warmth of Tatooine's air, even cooled by the cave, around him. Sleep, baby. Remember I love you. And thank you. Thank you so much.
Luke could swear, as he curled up on the floor and struggled to keep his eyes open but was losing, that he felt lips press against his forehead.
Choking on the bacta fluid for a moment, there was an undeniable, instinctive attempt to get up and move the second the fluid was gone. Except he couldn't. The arms came down, catching him before he fell to the grating on the floor, and then his limbs were attached. Too slow, too slow, too slow. The awareness burned him, like those few words did.
'I'm Luke Skywalker',
Because of course it was Tatooine.
The child had survived. His master had lied to him. And Obi-Wan... Obi-Wan had--- Something cracked, very loudly. Vaneé's fingers twitched where he was assisting with the suit, bent by his left leg, but otherwise showed no reaction. That was the single positive with enduring this 'assistance', instead of using droids and other simpler, automated systems like the arms that reattached his limbs; any reactions were kept to the minimum and nothing would be asked of him directly.
It had been good enough for years. Now, though...
A child. The knowledge burned and what was he supposed to do? Bring the boy to Mustafar?
Aside from the visceral urge to recoil at that thought, it wasn't safe. Not just because the planet basically was a pool of lava, but because of the Dark Side here and his master's agents, masquerading as his 'attendants' and 'security' to make sure no one attacked him while he was in the bacta. But what then? If not here, where, then?
He could not, would not, leave the boy on Tatooine. And his master would know. Sooner or later, he would know (might already know, and the slow process that was 'dressing' compounded every passing second), and both he and Luke needed to be ready for that. Though how the child, as much potential as he had, could ever stand against his master...
How old was Luke, anyway?
That thought made Vader pause, and suddenly all he could remember was the swell of her... of Padmé's stomach under his hand, the life pulsing brightly away within, echoing a little oddly and making it impossible to get very close in the Force. That was...
Fourteen years ago.
Empire Day had been a few months ago, the fourteenth time it had happened. Fourteen years. Fourteen years missed, and his master would make him lose more if (when) he found out. But how was he supposed to hide the child, hide that knowledge from his master when he was always---
There was an emptiness in the choking spot where a vague but undeniable connection to his master should be.
Flexing his hands as he pulled on his gloves, Vader stared at nothing. There. Was an emptiness there. For fourteen years - no. With its sudden absence, Darth Vader could tell that some variation of it had been there long before he swore himself to his master.
The realisation made the floor under him tremble, and the Force quavered around him as another long, deep crack appeared in the transparisteel of the bacta tank. The Dark wailed, flickered, and came to him. The Force... the Force hummed of treachery, far older than he'd already thought. Far more extensive, beyond the realisation that his master had orchestrated both sides of the war. That, of course, had been in the pursuit of ordering the Galaxy, but some part of Vader still snarled about how ineffective that method had been.
And now that connection was gone, an empty hole where there'd been something he hadn't even noticed was there. Almost, almost he reached out for it out of a dizzying sense of wrongness. Almost he turned around to stalk to the comm center to contact his master and correct this.
The faint, bright flicker of the new connection to his son stopped him. That bright, overflowing presence had, somehow, reached out.
And now the immediate tie to his master was gone. This... might give him some time. Some time to figure out what to do (his master must die, and the boy would do better for the Galaxy in his master's stead, if nothing else. The child deserved nothing less.), how to do it, and not concern himself with his master finding out, as long as he acted now.
His master might still know something, but if he acted now, he could protect the child. He wouldn't have an infinite amount of time either way, because when it came to his maintenance, there were not many options... But he would have more time.
His course of action, then, was crystal clear, and Darth Vader left the bacta tank chamber, striding away from the guards and Vaneé. Halfway out, a comlink beeped, and Vader ignored it. On the shuttle, it chimed for attention again, and he crushed it in his hand. Three hours later, the shuttle crashed and himself seated in a familiar pilot's seat, Vader... hesitated. Turning his head towards the co-pilot's seat, he remembered the dream. Remembered the appearance of the blazing presence. Remembered---
Almost killing the boy. More than once. And yet the child had persisted. With help, yes (help he couldn't, wouldn't, acknowledge more than that), but persisted. Incomprehension and confused dread washed through him at the understanding of the amount of willing goodwill that had taken, and Vader closed his eyes and reached.
The connection was there; a fine thread of light, pulsing brightly, thin and pale with distance, but there. And at the other end of it... he didn't dare disturb the quiescent glow. It was enough to know the boy was alive, and that he would pick him up soon. He hadn't imagined it, it hadn't disappeared in the time between he left Mustafar and came here, but then... if it had, he'd have noticed earlier because he'd been checking constantly.
He had had to check constantly, because it seemed like he must have imagined the whole thing. For no matter the bright, blinding brilliance of his son's presence, the light had been small. Fourteen. Luke was only fourteen.
And his master had tried to contact him. His master knew something had happened. How much? Impossible to know without opening a comm, without wasting time.
No longer hesitating, Vader quickly took the Amidala into the air, and, minutes later, into hyperspace. The goal might be a place he would rather never set foot on again, but he'd do it for this thing only (he would've done it if his master commanded, out of whatever imagined or supposed need).
The boy was worth more than the pain.
Chapter 3: In Which Father and Son Meet
... in the flesh, that is, and consequences of these events start to become clear. To some, it'll seem be a tragedy, and for some others, merely an annoyance. The Force, on the other hand, is quite pleased.
Luke dreamed of Tatooine covered in green, though extensive deserts still stretched over large parts of the southern hemisphere. Luke dreamed of walking along the edge of the desert and a forest full of slender, needle-leafed trees of some sort, swaying in the wind and shuddering slightly from every step of the huge, black greater krayt dragon walking beside him. Luke... woke up, blinking into a shadow cast by the light from the suns-and-moons crystals above. A shadow which wasn't cast by the statue of the krayt dragon, but rather a huge, black form and a hand hovering over his head.
Letting out a yelp, Luke jerked and rolled away, thumping into the paws cradling the pearl and then staggering to his feet, staring wide-eyed up at the veritable giant of a black-armoured and -suited man that rose to his feet as well, staring down at him. Well. Presumably he was staring down at him, anyway, considering the masked helmet that covered his whole face, even his eyes.
There was no change in the body language (still and stiff and guarded), nothing to look for in the face, but Luke could swear he felt something like a flinch before the figure straightened up, and, somehow, became even taller.
It felt familiar, somehow, in a very unfamiliar way.
There was a lingering warmth about his shoulders, something which let him straighten up himself and stare whoever this was in the... um. mask. The silence stretched, a few seconds into half a minute into a minute, and Luke glanced around, then back at the figure. Both unwilling and unable to take his eyes off of them.
"... We talked. In a less than conventional fashion, a few hours ago." The voice rumbled through the huge space like an echo yelled into a canyon, coming back, vibrating and amplified. There wasn't anything human in that baritone, but Luke blinked and took a cautious step closer, then stopped.
"You're..." His throat closed up, and he couldn't, quite, finish that sentence. Felt something like dread, confused disappointment and quiet awe warring inside of him. This wasn't what he'd imagined. Even when he'd first had that presence - connection? - inside of him pointed out, and when he'd hovered in front of the blazing cold fire that was Anakin Skywalker, this was not what he'd imagined. Luke wasn't sure what he was looking at, or how it had happened.
As if in response, the man, his father, no matter what he looked like, because Luke could tell, now, that the presence was the same as he felt before, took a step back and then stilled. His frame stiffened even further, if that was possible. It was the retreat more than anything that did it. Confused disappointment or not, Luke... wanted to know this man.
It still took the hum of encouragement invisibly vibrating around him - the Force, he supposed, vaguely - to finally make him switch his weight forward. But having done that, it wasn't so hard to continue walking.
He was still afraid, just a little, and maybe a little angry too - he'd felt what the man was capable of, what he'd intended to do before he knew who Luke was, after all, and he was so much bigger and more dangerous than Luke was - but he was also curious now. And wanted that stiffness in the armoured frame to go away. He didn't like that he'd put it there, and wanted to do something to fix it. The only thing he could figure was that since his hesitation had made the man... had made his father, retreat and stiffen further, maybe... this would help?
This, being Luke approaching slowly, mostly for himself, keeping close, nervous attention on the towering figure in black, but also for the man himself, who seemed to somehow stiffen again as he approached, one hand twitching as if about to reach out, then closed into a fist at his side.
Stopping in front of him, Luke looked up.
The lenses in the mask's eyes were tinted red, and were opaque. There was, maybe, a barest hint of something behind them, but Luke couldn't swear it wasn't a trick of shadows and light. It was closed tight with the helmet, and the rhythmic, even noise of regulated breathing was loud in the silence. Armour covered the chest, shoulders, down below the belt and the shins, over the boots. The thick, long fall of the cloak seemed to absorb the light as much as the armour and leather reflected it. This didn't much look like a navigator on a spice freighter, which made Luke wonder what had happened since his aunt and uncle heard from his father last, assuming he was dead, and this.
Still staring, Luke slowly reached out.
His arm cast a shadow over the smooth flagstone underneath them, and then it disappeared into the shadow cast by the other. His fingers brushed heavy, textured leather, and for a very brief moment, he could swear the hand under his trembled.
"You're..." a breath. He wasn't stopping this time, but while the presence was right, and while the figure in front of him in some ways seemed to correspond with the overwhelming black sun he could feel, vaguely, burning at the edge of his awareness, filling up the space, Luke still... wanted some sort of confirmation. Something more tangible, despite having had the truth spoken in the Force, feeling the rightness of the words that had thrummed in his head. "You're Anakin Skywalker?"
The frozen fire he could just barely pick up on suddenly swelled and flared, but he didn't get the chance to flinch, because it all seemed to rush past him.
"That name---- means nothing, anymore," the man snarled, and all that poisoned darkness was reeled back in, seemed to pool in his shadow and darken the room as a whole, bringing a rotten chill that clung.
This time, it didn't make Luke afraid, though. Instead it left him staring for a moment, utterly incredulous, and then he straightened up, feeling angry without being quite able to put a finger on why. There'd been no denial of actually being Anakin Skywalker, just that the name didn't mean anything, and that was just wrong, because it was a claim to something very, very important.
Luke. The woman's voice from earlier whispered through him, and there was suddenly a bright weight at his back that lightened the deadening chill that seemed to be creeping up his bare feet and hands. It made it a little easier to think, and while he was still angry, it didn't seem as immediate anymore. Maybe it was more like feeling offended rather than angry. Remember where your father comes from, and have patience. Chains take time to unwind.
And Luke Skywalker didn't know Darth Vader - knew of him, yes, as something in passing; a very, very distant idea and a name, not as a figure attached to a look, meaning or duty. Didn't know of the years of terror and bloodshed. Didn't know of Mustafar. Didn't know of Order 66, or the Jedi padawans, or the war and the anger, the exhaustion; the bright, anchoring love. Didn't know of the years before that, spent alongside a teacher who tried but didn't understand or see what needed to be, and the time spent at the hand of a mentor who saw, but needed to not see. Luke Skywalker knew only of the nine years before all that, and spottily at best. But he knew enough of it, and remembered her words about chains, both now and earlier.
Didn't know if that meant anything here and now, but very, very carefully and quickly squeezed the wrist he'd apparently grasped without realising it, and then let go, taking a breath.
"... Okay," he said, and maybe that was a little less than graceful, but it wasn't the accusation he'd been about to yell, "what, then?"
Staring down at the child, who he knew to have blond hair and blue eyes, though of course the colours were currently rendered in various shades of red, Darth Vader could do nothing about his simmering anger. Anyone else challenging him like this would be dead, but he had already almost killed the boy, and would not let such a thing happen again. Still, it took longer to reply than it probably should; it was a simple question with a simple answer, burned into his core for fourteen years.
Completely aside from the fact that he would rather snarl that he was the boy's father and should be addressed as such (what right did he have to it, though? What right didn't he have to it, fourteen years behind, when the boy was his son?), Luke Skywalker didn't belong to Darth Vader. Darth Vader was his master's apprentice and the fist of the Empire, had been for fourteen years.
Where was the space for a child in that?
Yet, he'd left Mustafar and an implicit summons by his master to claim what was his. He could still feel the lingering pressure where Luke had squeezed his wrist. The long-gone, light brush of fingertips against the leather that now seemed branded into it, body-heat lingering despite that that was impossible.
That touch couldn't be felt like the barely-remembered touches from more than a decade back. Skin and flesh reacted differently than stark metal prosthetics cushioned by leather - there were more life-like prosthetics, but they were inadequate for his purposes. Yet the touch burned, as much as the occurrence of that touch did.
He didn't care. He didn't care that he could remember the last willing, kind touch to a hand he no longer had.
He didn't care.
It didn't matter.
The child was still staring up at him, chin raised, pale eyes narrowed and a fierce set to his face - the boy felt like determination, was a veritable flame of it, and not fear, however. Not much of it, anyway. There was some, underneath there, and no wonder. He'd almost killed his own son, and yet---
The touch burned like the leather didn't exist and like the metal underneath, only capable of registering pressure and temperature, was bone, flesh, and skin.
"Darth Vader," he finally said, his title floating like ashes between them, weightless despite the baritone he spoke with, and the statue of the krayt dragon seemed to stare accusingly, judging him for a lie.
But he was Darth Vader, and if he had a son, then that meant that was, also, what Darth Vader was. Luke Skywalker's father, and he would give him precisely what he deserved. The boy was his (the proof hurt), and more than that, he was... clearly... Padmé's child (that more than hurt). He'd almost, again, killed the child. Killed her.
Almost killed the only thing that was left of her.
"Okay..." Luke's narrow shoulders slumped, then he shifted to look around the huge, round room, gaze lingering on the pearl cradled in the first pair of stony paws of the statue before he looked back at him. It was... a curious place, this ruin, and the Light Side lingered here, its presence colouring the Force at every twitch and shift, but it was old. Older than the Empire, far older than just a few thousand years. The crystals that represented Tatooine's suns and moons were kyber crystals. It was curious, because either Tatooine had a cache of kyber crystals somewhere, or they'd been imported. It didn't matter. This place didn't exist.
"Um... what now?" Luke looked back up at him, head tilted, and Vader straightened.
"Now, we leave," he said, gesturing sharply towards the doorway. The boy frowned, crossing his arms instead and didn't move.
"What about my aunt and uncle? What about Biggs? I can't just---"
"We are leaving," he growled, grabbing the thin arm - gently, moving slow enough it should be obvious he didn't intend to hurt the child - and strode out of there.
Somehow, Luke had picked up on the finality in his statement, and implicitly understood what he'd unintentionally revealed. And the boy wasn't even trained. That, at least, was obvious; the only reason he really had been able to tell where the child was as he flew in was the tug of their connection, not the bright flame of a presence that belonged to a trained Force sensitive. Luke's awareness of the Force was, if obviously there, not enough to make much of any splash, yet, despite his monumental potential.
"I don't even have---" Luke cut himself off with a curse, and Vader looked down, frowning. Realising why the boy was muttering Huttese swearwords under his breath; he was barefoot and had hit his toes on one of the stair's steps. The boy was... wasn't actually dressed his brain finally informed him, as he put together the pieces of the thin, worn-threadbare but obviously comfortable singlet and almost-too-short pants, along with the bare feet. "How'd you fly through the sandstorm?"
"It was abating as I approached. It was of no issue." Even if the worst sandstorm in a century had been ravaging Tatooine, he wouldn't have let that stop him. "Why aren't you dressed?" The question felt ridiculous, but Luke made a grimace, a faint flush on his cheeks, and looked away. He'd stopped trying to get his arm back, at least.
"... thought I was dreaming, at first. Why would I get dressed?" That answer was patently ridiculous, but then, Luke being in some sort of long-abandoned ruin of a temple to the Force of some kind, on Tatooine's southern hemisphere, was also patently ridiculous. And impossible, because there was no ship outside the entrance but his own. And somehow, Luke had ended up here anyway.
"How did you get here?" Vader regretted the question the second he asked it, as Luke glanced up at him, then looked away, something complicated on his face and uncertainty blindingly strong in their connection.
"... Grandmother walked me here," Luke said, his voice soft and confused but certain, and Darth Vader regretted asking even more, angrily about to shake the boy because his mother was dead, when he just. Stopped. Because he remembered well hearing his mother's voice in the dream, seeing her image flash by among those who'd stopped him from harming the child, and, last in the row, the being with the suns as her eyes.
He pushed those thoughts away, relieved to find an excuse by stepping out of the cave-like entrance and into a hot evening, and a soft, worried 'Blast!' from Luke, which continued into; "... Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru must be worried--- Wow." Glancing down, Vader knew what Luke had reacted to, but some undefinable warmth still curled around something within him to see the boy stare, wide-eyed, at the Amidala, moonlight setting the silvered plating alight. And then...
"... What's my Skyhopper doing here?"
Rage and dread immediately shot through him, and he tightened his grip on Luke's arm over the boy's protests, and whirled around, lightsaber in hand. Some part of the rocks that were the top of the ruined temple turned into a man wearing an old, ratty robe, and Vader snarled.
Obi-Wan, older, hair white and skin wrinkled, aged by the suns, but Obi-Wan.
"Ben?!" Luke stared at Obi-Wan, then up at him, and back.
"Your aunt and uncle are worried, Luke. I apologise for taking your Skyhopper without asking, but it was necessary. Darth... let the boy go," Obi-Wan said, his voice hardening from the softer tone he'd directed towards Luke, and in his hand was his lightsaber, still unlit.
"You will die, now, my old master---"
He jerked, startled as the small, but sun-bright light of Luke flared up, angry, desperate, and above all determined as it hammered against him. It forced him to divide his attention between his old master and his son to try and ward the boy off. At least Obi-Wan had seemed equally startled, though he'd undoubtedly not heard Luke, just felt him in the Force.
"Leave him alone! You better not hurt anyone," Luke snapped, barefoot and with sand clinging to his toes, thin and small and glowering up at him. His hands, though, despite the fierce tone of voice, fisted at his sides, were trembling just a shade.
In the corner of his vision, where his red-tinted HUD insisted there was nothing, a vague figure that was veiled in a twirl of sand hovered beyond Obi-Wan. The eyes blinded him with sunlight and power both. Waiting. The gaze not on him, but on Luke. Gritting his teeth, Darth Vader hesitated.
Heart hammering from the sudden rush of pure, untainted power from Luke, an untrained shock wave in the Force, Obi-Wan stared from the boy, his arm caught in a tight, cruel grip, to Darth Vader, towering above the teenager and holding said arm.
He was too late, but... maybe this could still be salvaged. If he could just get Vader to let the boy go, then he could distract him enough to urge Luke to take the Skyhopper. (He was trying not to look at the ship standing further away, shining in the moonlight, and awkwardly familiar.) It wouldn't take much, he hoped. But that he hadn't been able to tell Vader was on the planet at all before he came in distant view of the ship unsettled him.
And if he hadn't left his hut for the Lars homestead while the sandstorm still raged, if a little calmed, he wouldn't have been here in time at all. At some points it had felt like the sandstorm was specifically out after choking him in sand and burying him, as the storm somehow always seemed the worst around him as he walked. It'd taken hours upon hours to get to the farmstead, and then he'd been assaulted by accusations and deluged by entreaties both. Because of course he would have something to do with Luke's disappearance. Of course he'd be able to do something about it.
The fact that it seemed like he couldn't, the storm closing behind his back as he entered the homestead, had eaten him up. Hours had passed, the day inching on... And then the storm had, slowly, kind of, abated.
He'd taken a chance, having spent hours in meditation and very focused on Luke's distant presence, which he knew only from the fourteen long years of having spent looking after the child and making sure he was safe even when he got into trouble. If he hadn't been attuned to that vague, twitching sense that told him Luke was in trouble, he wouldn't have found him at all. The strangest thing was, he'd had the hardest time pinpointing Luke's presence, even the closer he got to it...
No matter. He was here, now, and all he needed to do was make sure Vader didn't leave with Luke. Nothing else mattered, here.
Vader shifted and his presence, poison-slick and deathly chill, so at odds with Anakin's, shivered and then reared up, and his grip on the lightsaber changed. Luke was pulled back, and Obi-Wan very carefully smiled tightly at the armour wearing a dead man's body. Darth Vader snarled and slashed his hand, and despite that this was a simple thing to counter, that he'd been ready, Obi-Wan went flying.
He still heard Luke's cry over the crack of his body hitting the rock, and he fell with a thump into the sand, turning his head in time not to choke on it. He couldn't move. He could feel everything, could even twitch his fingers and toes, but he couldn't move. The Force thrummed like a live thing around, over him, and he couldn't move. He had a headache.
"My son would rather I didn't kill you, Obi-Wan. Mercy you do not deserve, but you'll have to live with this failure as well," Vader rumbled, his voice growing as he came closer, ending with black boots filling Obi-Wan's vision. He frowned, trying not to feel the growing despair. He had failed. They had lost.
"... Ben? Are you okay?" Luke's bright, earnestly concerned question and the following, quiet hiss at Vader that he 'better be' was only a slight comfort. That concern and light would soon be snuffed out. But. That was no reason not to reassure the boy right now. He tried to shift himself, to push, but despite that the Force heeded him, nothing could move him. For some reason, he was reminded of some lesson or other Qui-Gon had taught him, so very long ago, but he couldn't remember it exactly.
"I'm... fine, young Luke. Just---"
"The Emperor will know something has happened. Make sure Owen and Beru are and remain alive and unharmed, Obi-Wan." The black boots in his vision turned around, and the cloak Vader wore snapped over his face and sent sand whirling around him. He couldn't turn his head enough to follow them all the way to the ship, but he listened to Luke's attempted protests to let him go back to talk to his aunt and uncle, and, something he must have imagined for as quiet as it was, Vader saying he could comm them later. Engines filled the silence, and suddenly he could move again.
Rolling to his hands and knees, Obi-Wan coughed up sand and felt very, very old.
They had failed. It was all over now. There was...
One other. Closing his eyes, hands clutching uselessly at the sand, Obi-Wan Kenobi listened to the Force, and there was no sense of impending doom.
He didn't understand. It felt like there ought to be some trace of grief for the loss of something as bright as Luke Skywalker, but... the Force was vast, of course. And there was still Leia Organa. Pushing down fear and grief, letting it run off him with practised weariness, Obi-Wan finally stood up and realised that, if nothing else and for whatever reason Vader had to warn him of the Emperor's possible attention, that was correct. Owen and Beru would need to be moved, and he needed to move as well.
And there was one more child that could still save them.
Walking to the Skyhopper to fly back to the homestead and try to deliver the news of his failure and get two very rooted, practical, and self-sufficient people to leave the only life they'd ever known, Obi-Wan still couldn't help but glance up at the now-empty and star-twinkling night sky. The J-type Nubian ship was long gone, of course, and the Force hummed around him. Perhaps that was just for the traces of Light Side power that lingered in this place, however.
Obi-Wan Kenobi left the ruins behind, and never noticed the pattern in the sand where he'd fallen, which wasn't in the shape of a Human man, but the paw of a greater krayt dragon.
Little over a month later, the Emperor sat, eyes closed, and listened to the murmur of his Ruling Council, before a datapad was put on the throne's armrest and left there. Minutes later, drifting in the whisper of the Dark that had revealed nothing useful for weeks, Sidious opened his eyes. The details were there; the Death Star, his goals, Darth Vader... but none of them were connected any longer, ships floating in the dark without tractor beams to keep them locked to the planetary docking ring.
It was... unsettling. With a soft, annoyed huff, he picked up the datapad. Nothing interesting, truly, but a scattering of news that would linger in the back of his head, form connections and lines and finally, perhaps, a pattern to use.
His eyes froze on a single line of seized communications within Hutt space, however.
Jabba Desilijic Tiure was dead.
The very same Jabba whose stronghold outside Hutt space was Tatooine. The insignificant, frustrating speck of dust that his wayward apprentice had come from. The very same planet the very same infuriating apprentice had travelled to over a month ago and then promptly disappeared with no trace.
Despite this annoyance, Sidious wasn't particularly concerned. Sooner or later, Vader would resurface - to crawl back to him, realising his place as he had no other way to turn, to give him the power he needed, to keep his wreck of a body alive and in nominally functioning condition. Or come back to confront him in proper Sith fashion, to attempt to usurp him.
Sooner or later, Vader would need maintenance.
And yet here was something that spoke of a path not considered. Jabba Desilijic Tiure was dead, his palace destroyed, and a 100% loss of property reported, specifically in live cargo, to 'attrition'. Which would mean that every single slave on Tatooine had somehow escaped or been set free, their transmitters not working. Or just not taking a single slave with them when they were engaged.
Staring at the few short lines of aurebesh, Darth Sidious frowned, not comprehending what he was reading at all, aside from the words' literal meaning, and yet understanding this single thing; Darth Vader was making his move, whatever it was meant to lead to.
In the Sith's mind, he was suddenly blinded by the glare from two suns. Slowly, he shook his head and turned the datapad off. He merely had to wait. His apprentice would, sooner or later, one way or another, come to him, and he?
Darth Sidious had survived more than one apprentice attempting to usurp him. Nothing would come in his way. Not even the Jedi's Chosen One, broken as he already was.