CHAPTER NINE


Vader waited until that evening to return to his quarters, though he wanted to storm there and shake the obstinacy from his son. Upon entering the austere set of rooms, he found the young man innocently perched upon the couch in his office studying a fleet report. Vader strode past him into the bedroom; the clearance card was next to the note where he left it. He picked up the card and walked back to where Luke was sitting.

"Did you need to use my code today?"

"I wasn't hungry," Luke murmured, not taking his eyes off the report.

Vader stepped forward, plucked the report from the young man's hands and bent so that he and Luke were staring at each other nose-to-nose. "That is not what I asked."

Luke paled slightly as he stared up into the mask that loomed over him. He swallowed and forced a casual smile onto his face. "Well, you left it for me to order food with, so I thought that was what you meant."

Vader felt his lips twist into a smirk as he realized that Luke was trying very hard not to lie. He was interested in just how hard he would try.

Vader seated himself across from Luke. "How have you occupied yourself today?"

Luke shifted in discomfort; Vader could feel his nervousness radiating through the Force. "Um, read some fleet reports."

"All day?"

"Um, no."

"What else did you do?"

"Um, took a shower."

Vader glanced around the room. "Did you stay in here all day?"

"You didn't say I could leave..."

"I know that I didn't- but did you regardless?"

Luke stared at him for several silent moments and then looked away.

"You're like a droid, Skywalker. You cannot lie."

Luke's eyes darted back to the Dark Lord and slightly widened. He stood as Vader stood and began to back away as the Sith advanced.

"Where are you going, Luke?"

The young man did not take his eyes from the mask; he shook his head. "Don't call me that," he whispered.

"It is your name."

Luke continued to shake his head. "Not to you."

Vader resisted the urge to strike the boy. "I have given you nothing but kindness and hospitality."

Luke began to shake his head faster; his lips began to tremble.

"I offer you the truth, while others give you nothing but lies," Vader continued, still advancing. "And this is how you repay me?"

Luke's back hit the wall as Vader tossed a datapad at him. He hadn't meant to approach the situation this way, but his anger was getting the best of him. He watched through narrow eyes as Luke read the message he thought had been sent to his comrades. The hand holding the datapad seemed to shake as his looked back up at the Sith standing over him.

"Why don't you just kill me?" Luke asked softly. "Stop playing these games and finish it."

Vader snapped.

He raised a clenched fist, and Luke's feet rose from the floor so that the two were eye-to eye. Luke inhaled deeply, as if to test whether he could still breathe.

"That has never been my intention. Have I not made that perfectly clear? Will you stop clinging to your childish ideologies and the deceitful stories you've been fed and look at what is standing before you?"

"I SEE NOTHING!" Luke screamed into the Sith Lord's face. His blue eyes burned with something Vader had thought him incapable of—fury. The feeling flowed through them both; Vader nearly sighed in elation, and Luke paled in disbelief—but the feeling did not fade.

"That's it," Vader whispered, unwilling to let the moment simply pass. "Hold onto that."

"No."

"See what it can do," Vader urged. "Push me away."

Luke frowned; everything for a moment was forgotten. "What do you mean?"

"Take that anger and shove at me with it."

"But..."

"Just try."

Luke drove his teeth into his lower lip, his eyes burned... and suddenly Vader found himself clear cross the room, flat on his back.

Luke ran to his side, his eyes darting wildly. The anger was gone, replaced by concern. Vader shook his head; he didn't care. His untrained son had thrown him across his quarters- thrown him with a mere emotion.

"Well done," he murmured, resting his head against the floor.

"Are you all right?" Luke gasped, clearly shaken.

"Better than I have been in years, young Skywalker."

"I... I'm sorry about the message."

Vader rolled his head to the side to look at his son. "It is partially my fault; I should not have kept you in the dark for so long."

Luke smiled lopsidedly, something he had picked up from Han. "Well, why don't you-"

Luke was cut off as Vader's hand clamped over his mouth. "Do you feel that?" the Sith asked softly, climbing back to his feet.

Luke rose with him, pulling away. "Your hand on my face?"

Vader didn't react to the jab; his head was tilted back as if he were listening carefully. "A disturbance... very faint." He sharply turned to look at Luke and asked again. "Do you feel it?"

Luke frowned slightly, and closed his eyes. "I feel..." His eyes suddenly flew open. "Battle," he gasped.

"Exactly," Vader said, pride welling in him. Luke needed to be trained as soon as possible. "Come."

The Dark Lord gracefully pulled himself to his feet, as he strode towards the door as he pulled out his comlink. When the device chirped at him he spoke into it.

"Drop out of hyperspace immediately, set all sweeps, ready all squadrons, scan the area, open communications."

Luke couldn't help but smile at how confused the commanding officer on the bridge must be. He stepped into the lift next to Vader; the doors slid shut behind them.


Luke followed Vader onto the bridge; he forced himself not to say hello to Admiral Piett, who stood at attention as Vader approached him.

"Report."

"There is a skirmish in-system, Milord. Rebel fragments have found something else to occupy their time."

Vader threw a glance at Luke, wondering if the Rebels were striking in an attempt to draw the Executor. That would be quite an amount of trouble for one pilot. His thoughts returned to the present as Piett continued.

"We've received confirmation that it is the Admonitor..."

"The Admonitor is on Outer Rim mapping duty," Vader interrupted.

Piett did not flinch. "They should be, Milord."

Vader nodded, indicating that he should continue. As Piett rattled off the rest of the details to the Sith, Luke slowly moved to stand before the viewport, his eyes trained intently upon the tiny flashes in the distance.

"They're fighting in an atmosphere," he murmured without thinking. He looked over his shoulder to find both Vader and Piett staring at him.

Piett nodded as he and Vader moved to stand next to the youth. "How did you know...?"

Luke shrugged. "There's fire. There's no fire in space battles, no oxygen to feed it."

Piett gave one brief nod; he knew this from the academy. Vader and Luke knew it from experience. "Why do you find this odd, Luke?"

Luke looked away from the viewport to face Piett. "X-wings are sluggish in atmosphere."

Vader and Piett nodded—they knew this, as the T.I.E. fighters were as well.

"The fighters would only choose not to fight in vacuum if there was a very good reason." He glanced up at Vader, as if expecting him to complete his thought.

He did. "They're drawing the T.I.E.s away from the Admonitor," Vader shook his head and crossed his arms. "Or he has forced them down into the atmosphere."

Luke raised an eyebrow at him, not quite understanding what Vader meant by his second comment. "Not that I want you to go after the Alliance fighters out there or anything, but aren't you going to help that Star Destroyer?"

Vader threw a sidelong look at the communications officer. "Have we established contact with the Grand Admiral yet?"

Luke frowned slightly at the title- who could possibly be commanding that Destroyer…? His answer came quickly as a face appeared before them, his head bent. Luke narrowed his eyes. "The transmission must be being scrambled somehow," he whispered to Piett.

Piett glanced down at him and smiled. "Why do you say that?"

"He looks blue..."

The figure before him slowly raised his head and opened his eyes; two crimson spheres shone brilliantly at them. Luke had to fight the urge to back away.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn," Vader greeted.

The Grand Admiral returned Vader's gesture. "Lord Vader, what an honor to have the Executor share space with us."

"What is the Admonitor doing so far core-ward, Admiral?" Vader asked, cutting right to the point.

Thrawn smiled secretly. "You could not expect me to miss the coming festivities."

Vader pressed his lips together. The thought of both Thrawn and Piett knowing about the Emperor's condition unsettled him; but, then again, he couldn't expect Thrawn not to know.

"Have you an able officer to command your vessel to Coruscant?"

He received one affirmative nod from the grand admiral.

"You will take care of those fighters and accompany me to Imperial Center aboard the Executor."

Again, Thrawn nodded. "As you wish, Milord."

Thrawn's face vanished, and Vader looked back at Luke, who was staring back out the viewport, watching the dogfight in the distance. He was about to speak when he saw Luke straighten suddenly; moments later he saw why. A freighter and a few X-wings emerged from behind a nearby satellite and were moving at full speed towards the Executor.

What do you suppose they plan on doing once they reach us? Vader's voice asked softly into Luke's thoughts.

The fighters will engage the Destroyer at pointblank range to draw T.I.E.s from the bay. Once the hangar is open and the aft shields are down, the Falcon will break into the ship.

Luke looked up to find Vader staring at him. "And why did you tell me that?" he asked, his voice low.

Luke smiled slightly. "Once again, they'll be killed, and even if they weren't, they'd never look for me on the bridge. It'd work out best for both sides if you simply leave the shields up and not deploy your fighters."

Piett was listening to the two carefully yet still managed to be focusing on the bridge; he cleared his throat and openly looked at the two. "Orders, Milord?"

Vader turned on his heel, slapping Luke in the leg with his cape. "Prepare for Grand Admiral Thrawn's arrival." He strode towards the lift, glancing over his shoulder. "You will accompany me, Skywalker."

Luke narrowed his eyes, casting a glance at Piett, and then followed the Dark Lord to the lift.

Once both men were settled into the lift and it began to move, Vader spoke. "If I did not know any better, I'd say that you do not want to be rescued."

Luke did not look up from where his eyes were locked upon one of his boots. "What makes you say that?"

"You evade their attempts by betraying their plans to me."

"Like I said, they have no hope to succeed—"

"No. It is something else."

Luke looked up; his eyes held a tired and worn look to them. "You have something I want," he spoke faintly.

Vader watched him closely. "Luke, I didn't kill—"

The Dark Lord's revelation was cut off as an alarm ripped through the Star Destroyer. Both men exchanged a look.

"I thought you weren't going to deploy fighters?"

"I thought they weren't going to attack unless I did?"

Luke frowned. "You didn't deploy?"

"No, Skywalker, I didn't."

Luke looked away, his brow furrowed. "Han, you are so stupid sometimes," he murmured.