After the destruction of the Death Star, Vader begins a crusade to find the boy responsible for it, the pilot by the name of Luke Skywalker. However, he was missing one critical piece of the puzzle; Luke was not actually a boy. Fem!Luke
Hoth, he thinks, incredibly annoyed. Of course they are on Hoth.
There are very few worlds that he holds in lower regard than Tatooine— Hoth is one of them. A planet forever covered in snow. And, much like the infinite sands of Tatooine, it gets very banal and irritating very quickly. Although the sands of Tatooine were unpleasant, but not deadly. This snow could destroy a lesser man.
Fortunately, he is not much of a man anymore, and the deadly ice is no trouble for a machine.
His comm crackles to life.
"I've cleared the system," informs Jix, sounding far too excited.
"Good." He returns. "And Admiral Piett?"
"Still combing through the Canastra IV system." He reports. "It's not him I'm worried about. The Commander though…"
Yes—it is only a matter of time before the rebels are found. They are not being particularly conspicuous. That said, the empire has mostly overlooked this planet, if only because they assume no life form would ever voluntarily take roost here.
"Do you have an ETA?"
"Hard to say," Jix quips, making a noncommittal noise. "Could be anywhere from a day to a couple of hours."
He grumbles in exasperation. "Hours?"
"Yes, well, they sent those probes out, you know… I'm pretty sure one was sent there."
Great. Perhaps even less than a few hours, depending on how foolish the rebels are. He wouldn't put it past them to unintentionally trigger an imperial probe.
"Very well," he replies at length, with a tone of finality. "Continue your reconnaissance—and don't let anyone see you. Update me if there are any changes."
"Will do!" The feed cuts off.
And then he is alone in the unending blizzard, cursing his existence, and his two children, who apparently suffer from a severe lack of self-preservation.
"We haven't heard anything back?" Leia looks up, startled.
In the distance, she could hear the distance shouts of rebel crew members shutting down the hangar bay and preparing for the upcoming storm. The reports had suggested that this would be a particularly difficult one. Not for the first time Leia had wondered why in Krith they had decided to use Hoth as their base of operations. Probably because the empire—and possibly the galaxy at large—assume that no logical and rational thinking lifeform would ever voluntarily step foot anywhere near it. They would be right. But apparently the alliance had lost all logic and rationality sometime in the interim between blowing up the death star and realizing they'd incurred the wrath of the empire at large.
At any rate, this was going to be a bad one. Which was saying something, because they were all bad ones. And to make matters worse apparently Luke hadn't clocked back in after a perimeter sweep.
Han crosses his arms, a look of genuine concern on his features. That's a first; the smuggler rarely cares about anything—aside from himself, of course. Then again, this is Luke. A dear friend to them both, More than a dear friend, even.
"Nothing." He affirms. "No one's seen her."
"Could she have come from another entrance?" She presses.
Han shakes his head. "They're all checked. No Skywalker."
Leia bites her lip, returning her attention to her screens. They are all telling her exactly what she had feared—dusk is settling in, and with the advent of the moon comes rapidly dropping temperatures. Not to mention the seemingly unending blizzard outside; it doesn't look to be stopping any time soon. And Luke could be anywhere out there. She doesn't think even Luke could survive that.
Han seems to come to the same conclusion. He reaches for his jacket, slung over one of the empty control chairs. "I'm going after her."
Leia looks up sharply. "What? No!" She retorts. "That's suicide."
"And letting Luke freeze out there is any better?" He challenges.
Leia's heart constricts. No, it's not. They are equally bad choices. She is stuck between a rock and a hard place; Luke is one of her closest friends, perhaps her closest, even though she hasn't known the other girl for very long. The very idea of anything happening to her is terrifying. And yet, Han isn't exactly nothing in her eyes, either.
He takes her silence as an affirmative, shrugging on his jacket and calling for Chewie.
"Don't go." She whispers, halting him in his steps. "You'll die."
"I'd rather chance the odds than do nothing." He snaps.
"What odds?" She whirls around, dismayed to realize there are tears in her eyes. "If Luke is out there… and we can't find her…" She trails off, unable to even formulate the thought. "But if you go out there right now, you're not coming back. And I can't—I can't lose you both."
Han blinks, reeling in shock. His mouth drops open. Is the Princess actually admitting to feeling something for him? He's not quite sure—he'd love to test the waters, but it doesn't seem the appropriate time for it. Not with Luke's death a very serious reality right now.
"A touching sentiment,"
His breath freezes in his throat. Something cold spills down his spine, igniting every nerve with a singe of ice.
"But ultimately irrelevant."
He turns around very slowly, hoping he's wrong—that this strikingly recognizable voice is simply a figment of his imagination, because there is absolutely no possible way…
For the Lord of the Sith to be standing right behind him.
Except he is. Actually, he is leaning against the wall, arms crossed, looking as if he had been watching them for some time. Han hadn't even heard a whisper of him—but then, doesn't he have strange unnatural powers? Maybe that's just one of them.
His mask is about as recognizable as his voice—but there is a thick black cloak obscuring him in darkness. Without it, he wouldn't look all that much different than anyone else here. Except for the helmet, of course, which would cause fear and terror in every person in the base. How exactly did he manage to get all the way here without alerting anyone?
'You!" Han shoots his blaster—the dark lord waves his shots away. And then after a moment, does the same with his gun. Han watches them fly through the air with disbelief, jaw dropping. He's a bit ashamed to say he was one of those who thought that this whole 'force' business was just a whole lot of mumbo jumbo. Clearly he was wrong.
"How every unwise of you," the Sith lord remarks, turning his mask towards Han. Han feels his stomach drop.
"He was surprised," Leia cuts in, with a snap to her tone that makes his jaw drop further. Does she have any idea who she's speaking to? "Rightfully so. What are you doing here?"
"Open one of your hatch doors." He demands, to Leia, totally ignoring her question. "I will go and collect the girl myself."
His eyes bulge out of his head. "You're not touching her!" He swears, ready to come at him with fists if he can't use his weapons.
Vader's fascination with Luke is as concerning as it is strange. Either way, he's not taking any chances with that.
Strangely, Leia does not seem to be sharing his sentiment. Actually, she's toggling the switch to open the door. She practically hauls him back before he can do anything stupid.
"Left corridor." She says to him. "Third door."
And then he is swooping out of the room as quietly as he had come, doors sliding behind him. Han watches the proceedings with no small amount of hysteria. And confusion.
He turns an uncomprehending look to Leia.
It quickly turns to anger when he sees that she doesn't appear to be scared at all. "What did you just do?" He hisses to her. "Leia—have you gone crazy? Or maybe just lost every single one of your memories? That's—
"I know who he is." She interrupts him, with a tone that broke no room for argument.
Han balks. "And you're letting him go?"
She snorts. "Do you really think we could keep him here if I didn't?"
This is true. But the idea of letting Vader do what he wants without even putting up a fight is utterly disturbing to him. Maybe it is the most diplomatic and tactful way to handle the situation—but he still wants to start pounding blaster bullets into the guy.
"Who the hell does he think he is?" Han snarls, but he lowers his blaster.
A strange smile lights on Leia's face. "Who knows?" She shrugs, returning to the specs.
There is a long moment of silence.
"Do you really think he'll get her?" Han asks, low.
Leia doesn't respond for some time.
"I hope so." She answers, just as quiet,
Hoth is bleak, cold and boring. Aside from an infinite layer of ice, there is very little else to see—not that sight could get you very far on a planet like Hoth. About five paces ahead of her and snow drifts have already convoluted the horizon. It's a wonder she can even see her lightsaber, held in front of her like a beacon.
She's going to freeze if she doesn't find a ray of civilization soon.
After her lovely run in with one of the native species of Hoth, Luke found herself surrounded by icy tundra with a broken speeder and a signal-less comm, totally alone. This was her fault, she thinks, sadly. There's a reason for the whole 'stay in pairs' thing the Alliance is so big on. Luke has always been a free spirit; maybe it's time to learn a bit of self-preservation.
She stares up into the wicked sky, blinking blearily into the brilliant grey light, the indiscernible color of wetness. It's hard to tell what time it is—everything is blurry and disconcerting. Or maybe that's just her. Luke pulls a hand to her forehead; it feels like nothing. Cold. Numb. Drenched distances of artic dawn unfurl around her on all sides. Whatever tracks may have been left are impossible to see with the shifting dunes of snow, and the whipping ice sparkles lashing through the air.
It is so very strange; for all intent purposes, she is lost in an infinite wasteland, hopeless, halfway to freezing. She should be hyperventilating right now—there should be fear clotting in the back of her throat, a terror that seizes her heart in a vice that makes it impossible to think of anything else. And yet, Luke is not scared. She isn't sure if this is the Force that is keeping her so calm, or if she's simply succumbing to hyperthermia.
She really hopes it's not the latter. But it probably is, because she is growing very tired, and it's getting hard to keep her eyes open.
She crosses over a large hill of snow, dropping into the soft mantle of whiteness and finding reprieve from the ice storm under its peak. It's all too easy to sink into the snow and close her eyes—soundless and delirious. Her thoughts have grown as numb as the rest of her, but she spares a moment to wonder if Leia is okay. She likes to think on Leia a lot now. It's so strange to think they are related; strange, and yet entirely unsurprising all the same.
It's just as she's burrowing into the ice that she sees a wandering, shadowy shape crossing the arctic. A black figure glides into her nebulous musings with a cold indifference, walking briskly and efficiently through the storm.
Lord Vader peers down at the figure laid out upon the snow. Her hair spreads around her like a small sandstorm; her eyes have slipped shut, and the color has left her face.
The Dark Lord of the Sith wastes no time retrieving a thermal blanket from beneath his cape and draping it over her. He carefully rolls it around her, making sure to cover her completely, before he picks her up into his arms. It feels a few years too late to be holding her like this—like picking up a small child who has fallen asleep outside and bringing them back to their bedroom. In some ways, Luke is still just a little girl, barely out of her teenage years. She is not particularly heavy either; he spares a brief moment to scowl out into the distance. What are they feeding her in the Alliance? At any rate the weather has turned colossal and deadly, whipping about him as an endless film of indeterminable gray. It is fortunate he is more machine than man, and his helmet provides ample visibility in far more fields of vision than any lifeform could ever achieve. He is more concerned for the girl wrapped up in the thermal blanket—how long has she been out here? Her skin is very pale, far more than it should be considering her Tatooine tan. But he would need to bring her to a medical droid for a conclusive analysis.
It's as he's crossing the snow laden emptiness that his scopes pick up something besides a landscape of swelling mist and ice, crawling about the slopes like lament, or perhaps regret. He has a lot to regret over, so maybe he's just projecting. At any rate, it might be the Rebel base out in the distance. Hopefully.
The walk back towards the rebel's hovel of a base seems excruciatingly longer than the walk to find Luke. He is acutely aware of the light bundle of blankets in his arms, and how important it has suddenly become to him. More important than anything else, really. He looks down at her, studying her face closely.
It doesn't seem quite right to see her face without some sort of expression; beaming smile, irritated scowl, eruption of anger. The quiet look doesn't belong there, probably in the same way it never belonged on Anakin Skywalker. Anakin always felt far too much, all the time. It was the integral piece of his downfall, feeling too much. Oddly enough, it doesn't feel as if it will be Luke's. Everything about her seems to stem from some sort of ineffable, unrelenting positivity. She is exactly the kind of person the Jedi Order wouldn't know what to do with. To them, emotions are always dangerous, and things to be ridden of. Would they say the same if there was a person who only managed to radiate goodness?
Then again, it is very rare to meet people like Luke, so they would have never had to answer that question.
As it is, he silently questions the Force on how, exactly, Luke could possibly be related to him. Aside from their uncannily resemblance, she is far too… wonderful, to have ever come from him. Padme—well, that made more sense. He finds himself bemused at the idea that it is actually Leia he is more similar to in that regard. Luke may look like him, but she is her mother's child. Alternatively, Leia bears far too much resemblance to their mother, but seems more like Anakin.
At any rate, he could wonder on the mysteries of the Force and the gene pool, as he has been with a frequency that disturbs him, for hours on end, and he will be no closer to figuring it out than he was when he started.
"Do you have something to report?" He replies into his comm, not even bothering to reprimand Jix for his total lack of manners. It is a lost cause.
"Yeah—uh, plot twist. So I successfully lead the Commander off, but then out of nowhere a probe malfunctioned by Hoth—
"And the Admiral didn't know whether it was just a droid being funky or if it had been tampered with, so he's sending someone out to investigate."
Vader swore under his breath. "When did this happen?"
"A couple seconds ago."
Great. "How far is the ship from Hoth?"
"The next star system over," Jix relays.
This isn't terribly close, but it is also not nearly far enough. It shouldn't take that long for the Admiral to send out scouts, and after that, for the scouts to discover that Hoth isn't exactly the artic wasteland it's been made out to be.
He feels a headache coming on.
"Keep me posted," he says with finality.
"Leia, you have lost your goddamn mind."
"Could you stop telling me that?" Leia returns, exasperated.
Han spares her an incredulous look. "Well clearly someone has to, princess." He guffaws. "You just let Lord Vader walk out of the base!"
"He managed to get in here easily enough; how exactly would you expect me to stop him?"
Han floundered. "Still, letting him go without a fight?" He shakes his head, scowling. "That doesn't sit right with me."
"It doesn't have to," Leia replies. "It was my decision. Now can you please get back to checking the scopes in the northeast? I think that was the direction he made off to."
Han scowls further, but moves to comply. "How does he expect to find her in this ice storm, anyway?" He glowers into the screens. "There's zero visibility—it's impossible to find anyone in conditions like this."
Leia hides an enigmatic smile. "There are other ways of finding people than scopes, I've been told."
"Yeah, like what?"
"Well, the Force, for one."
Han pauses, leaning back and looking at her. "You believe in that crazy cult religion?"
Leia blinks. "You don't?"
He shrugs. "Don't like the idea of it."
"How exactly do you explain anything Lord Vader does?" Leia points out, amused.
Han scowls further. "Well, whatever." He says, crossly. There's nothing he can say to that.
Leia shakes her head, returning her attention to her screens. They are all saying the same thing: one hundred percent imminent death. But if that were truly the case, Vader wouldn't have went after her, right? Maybe the Force could tell him she was still alive? Luke did not explain the Force in much detail, but Leia had the feeling that was because Luke did not know much herself. But it sounded like the kind of thing that made everything possible.
Leia swallowed, suddenly finding it hard to breathe.
Luke and Lord Vader… well, it was a lot to take in. Truth be told, Leia had been keeping Luke's words far out of mind ever since the girl had come up to her after bring kidnapped for over a week.
Leia had been out of her mind with worry, convinced that Luke was dead and yet still somehow holding out faith for her safe return.
The Alliance didn't know what to make of it; none of them really knew much about Luke to begin with but she was infamous enough for her name to resound within every inch of every Rebel base, so her disappearance was just as disruptive as her emergence. Her last whereabouts was a small star system off the Correllian trade route—she wasn't there in any official capacity, so the Alliance had no information to give Leia as to why she was there. No one seemed to have any idea, not even Han, who had technically known Luke for longer than she had. And then, one day, out of the blue Luke comes barreling out of hyperspace in that crazy x-wing of hers, pinging an Alliance cruiser, asking for access.
She seemed both relieved and regretful, which seemed odd to the Princess, and she was rather tight lipped about the whole event. Eventually after the Alliance pressed her for answers she said she had been captured on a cruiser, but gave them a false name, so they hadn't known who she was. She escaped, and after shaking them off her tail for a few days she returned here. The way she spun it, it sounded entirely plausible; certainly none of the members thought anything of it. But for some reason it all rang a little… false, with Leia, and she had learned that her gut judgment had never led her astray yet, and probably wasn't about to any time soon.
Fortunately she didn't need to press Luke for answers, the moment they were alone they were very forthcoming.
She still couldn't quite wrap her head around the idea of Lord Vader letting Luke live. It was almost as absurd as Luke's supreme idiocy in following and meeting with a person she knew to be an operative of the Empire, even if that man happened to be 'perfectly charming and nice', in Luke's own words. Her surprise turned to downright shock when Luke revealed the climactic ending to her adventure; Lord Vader was searching for Luke Skywalker with an intensity that seemed notably disproportionate, even considering the destruction of the Death Star. He didn't know that she was Luke Skywalker, because no one ever did. Who in their right mind would assume Luke Skywalker was a girl? So Luke managed to get him to take her to Naboo, where she said Luke Skywalker was.
But by the time Luke got there she realized that it was all a lost cause—there was no way she was going to find her way out of this. She may as well just turn herself in then and there. Over the course of her stay as 'prisoner', she said she had come to wonder just what Lord Vader wanted from Luke Skywalker. She was convinced that the Dark Lord of the Sith was not out to kill the boy who single-handedly ruined the Empire's plans, and though that sounded crazy to Leia apparently it was true. Luke decided running away was useless, but that did not stop her from taking the opportunity to run out unsupervised in hopes of finding the real reason she had wanted to go to Naboo—Padme Amidala's grave.
However, instead of finding her dead mother, Luke instead somehow managed to find her very alive father.
Leia sighs, rubbing at her temples.
Hell, what a mess.
And that wasn't even the half of it.
She still wasn't sure if she quite believed it—and the majority of her still refused to believe it—but Luke had stumbled through a convoluted theory that they were sisters. In this, Leia was torn. A part of her wanted to believe that; it would certainly explain this uncanny affinity she had for the other girl, their similarities, their inexplicable bond. But the other part was in staunch denial of this, because if she and Luke were sisters this would inherently mean they shared the same parents. Anyway, that was all secondhand. Apparently Lord Vader had told Luke that artoo and threepio had once belonged to Padme Amidala, her mother. But Luke had pointed out that Leia had said they had belonged to her mother—at least, that was what Leia had been told by her father. Bail had said they had belonged to her mother, her biological mother. She had no way of validating that claim. Maybe those droids didn't belong to her mother, how was Leia to know? She had never met the woman.
Anyway, up until now Leia had made it a point to ignore any of the conclusions that could come to that. It was imperative of her to do so, lest she lose her mind.
But it was getting a little hard to deny now…
Static filled the room, making Leia jump.
She looks around for the source of the noise, before her eyes honed in on the communicators, flashing with an incoming frequency. Leia leaps up immediately, turning them on. "Hello?"
"Evacuate the base immediately." It doesn't surprise her that Vader was not one for greetings or formalities.
Her brow furrows. "What?"
"You must leave." He says. "There are Imperials who will be in the area soon—they are in the next system over, but it will not take them long to arrive."
Leia sucks in a breath. "How did they know we were here?" There is nothing explicitly accusing to her tone, but she doesn't know what to think nonetheless. An Imperial Commander—Lord Vader, at that—found their location and entered their base and then suddenly the Empire had found them?
"They have been combing the system with probes for weeks," the Sith Lord returns, somewhat waspishly. "The probe by Hoth malfunctioned; they are sending troops to investigate. Once they are within range they will realize that Hoth is occupied."
Leia curses under her breath.
He is right. It would only take one offhand glance at the planet with heat vision or any other kind of radiation frequency device to detect life on what was known to be a barren ice world. A lot of life, at that. And a lot of machinery.
She turns to Han. "Order an evacuation immediately." She commands. "Scramble the fighters and shuttles for nearby Alliance bases—Rieekan should take as many as possible to Nishr. But the others should split between bases on Rutan, Belsavis, and Cerea."
Han nods, but frowns questioningly at her. "Why the split?"
Leia spares him a long look. "If any of them are followed, it's best if we don't put all our eggs in one basket."
His look turns grim, but he complies anyway.
The base is empty of everything but leftover ships and droids by the time Vader returns. Leia's orders to scramble were met with approval by the Alliance heads, and they wasted no time in scattering the rebels on Hoth to safer locations. Leia would have been more worried over a false alarm had the information not come from Vader himself. She knew she shouldn't be putting such faith in a Sith Lord, but it had happened all the same.
Maybe Han was right, she thinks darkly. Maybe she is losing her mind.
At any rate Lord Vader opens the locked hatch doors as if they were made of straw, completely unhindered by the elaborate locking system they had set up. He makes a beeline for the medical bay without Leia having to direct him at all—she spares a look towards Han. If this isn't evidence of the Force, she doesn't know what is.
Unsurprisingly, the last place Han wants to be is in the medical bay with Lord Vader, so he runs off to find Chewie and gear up the Falcon. Once Luke is seen to, they should get going as soon as possible. They had the jump on the Imperials this time, but all the same Leia would prefer not to risk it.
The droids get right to work on Luke. It is an arduous but relatively short process. Since Lord Vader found her quickly, she hadn't suffered much hypothermia or nerve damage. And since she had been wrapped up in a thermal blanket the trek back did minimal damage. At any rate, Leia spends the tense half hour with the Dark Lord of the Sith—and the person she believed to be her most hated adversary, second only to the Emperor—on the opposite side of the room. They did not speak to each other.
All the same, Leia watches him out of the corner of her eye. She very diligently does not think about any genetic revelations she may or may not have had about him, and instead distracts herself by studying the man and attempting to figure out what he's thinking. For all intent purposes he seems… concerned, over Luke. It's a strange sight to see, considering what she knows of him and what she has seen first hand. She was not nearly as hidden away from the galaxy as Luke was; Leia had the unfortunate tendency to meet Lord Vader quite often, actually.
Finally, the droids release Luke, who is restlessly stirring awake.
"Lou!" Leia feels relief wash over her at the sight of Luke blinking up into wakefulness.
"Yoda…" Luke says, the moment she wakes up.
To Leia's surprise, Darth Vader visibly tenses at the name. Leia frowns at the young blonde. "Yoda? What's a Yoda?"
"Luke," Lord Vader begins, sternly, "Where did you hear that name?"
Luke blinks up into the ceiling for a long moment, rubbing her forehead. "Obi-wan told me," she says, before turning to Vader. "In a dream, I think. Does that happen often?"
"Obi-wan…" Darth Vader hisses. His old master is sending visions to Luke? What for? He is decidedly displeased with the idea of Obi-wan intended to have any influence over her.
"Think nothing of it," He replies, louder this time. "You have more important things to worry about. The imperials will be clearing the atmosphere at any moment now, and you need to be in hyperspace by then."
Luke shoots up at that, eyes wide. "The Imperials? What happened?"
"We've been discovered," Leia answers, sympathetic. It's just one thing after the other for Luke, it seems. "The rest of the base has evacuated."
"Oh," she breathes a sigh of relief. Then she smiles sheepishly. "I guess you were waiting for me, huh? Sorry about that."
Leia shakes her head. "Don't even worry about it, Lou."
Lord Vader is watching them curiously, but Leia continues to ignore him. "How are you feeling? You think you can walk?"
"I think so…" Luke returns, tentatively. She slips out of her bed to test some weight on her legs. "I'll be okay—just don't expect me to fight off any Imperial armies right now."
Leia laughs shakily. "In that case, we should definitely get a move on."
Luke grabs her hand, but then turns towards Vader. "Are you coming with us?"
Leia's eyes almost bulge out of her head, as she spares Luke a horrified look. Fortunately, Lord Vader answers for her. "Of course not." He says, and even though his mask is impenetrable and his tone monotonous Leia has the feeling he is amused. "I will see to the Imperials when they arrive. In the meantime, I would appreciate if you stopped making a sport out of near death situations."
"I didn't do it intentionally…" Luke scowls—but Luke is incapable of looking even remotely intimidating, so as usual it ends up more like a kitten glower.
Leia tugs a little harder. "Lou, let's go."
"Alright, alright." Luke agrees with a huff. "I'm going."
She brighten, turning around before they make it past the doors. "Will you say hi to Jix for me?"
Vader snorts derisively. "Absolutely not."
Lord Vader has no intentions of making rescuing his offspring into a frequent affair, but it appears the decision is not entirely in his hands.
He gave them fair warning on Hoth, and they seemed to do a moderate job of disappearing before the Imperials could apprehend them. He was left to deal with the aftermath, but that was easy enough. He had arrived on world, only to find that the base had been long deserted. For good measure he set the whole thing up in flames; a rebel tactic to deter the Empire from finding anything in the remains of a hasty departure. The Imperials think nothing of it, and he gets rid of Admiral Ozzel for his incompetence anyway, but mostly because the man was deeply annoying to him. Piett, at least, had the good decency to be utterly terrified of him.
Now he has returned to his ship, feeling as if he is in the middle of a long overdue existential midlife crisis.
Even when he had turned to the dark side he had never felt so confused. Actually, his turn to the dark was rather straightforward—almost inevitable, really. He was a servant of the Empire, but the Empire was against Luke and Leia. An attempt to bring them into the folds of the Empire would be futile and exhausting, but he had no intention of joining the hideously ill-equipped Rebel Alliance either.
But then, what was he to do?
He continued to ignore Jix's whiny concern over the fate of the rebels—and more importantly, Luke—in favor of his own thoughts and his contemplation of the deep space out of the bridge windows.
Lord Vader spends some time staring out into space; ultimately he accomplishes nothing, because he is no closer to an answer than he was when he started. Perhaps he should just leave it up to the Force.
"Bespin?" He repeats, feeling a headache come on.
"That is correct, sir." His associate replies.
Bespin. Of course they are there—out of all the places… do they not know that Cloud City is infested with Imperial spies? No, of course they wouldn't; how were they to know where Imperial spies were? At any rate, it was fortunate that he had changed his orders for all his bounty hunters from apprehending Luke to spying on Luke and alerting him to any significant danger.
"Very well," Vader replies, after a beat.
"What are your orders, sir?"
"Remain on standby," he says, after a beat. "Do not engage unless necessary."
Meanwhile, he also took the opportunity to circle back with Jix and see what the rest of his operatives had to say. The Empire was, suffice to say, incredibly annoyed to lose yet another rebel base, but unless the Emperor wanted to leave Coruscant himself to attend to the matter there was nothing else he could do.
"I just don't like the feeling of this place, is all," Leia insists stubbornly, as they make their way through the Cloud City halls, escorted by a couple of guards.
Han shoots her a withering glance. "Sorry I can't be more accommodating, Princess. But Lou needs somewhere to rest and lay low for a little bit and we can't exactly tote her across the galaxy for that."
"Really guys, I'm fine…" Lou protests.
"Not to mention the Falcon needs some repairs. Don't worry about it—Lando and I go way back." Han talks over her.
Leia's dark gaze turns to Luke. "You are not fine." Leia retorts. "Vader barely saved you from that snowstorm and we had no time to put you in a Bacta tank. You need to rest."
"Speaking of," Han buts in. "Is anyone going to explain to me what in the galaxy happened back there?"
Luke and Leia fall suspiciously silent.
"It's nothing," Luke says, after a beat.
Han looks at her incredulously. "Nothing?" He repeats, before snorting and looking away, probably realizing this whole interrogation was a lost cause. "I don't get it" He huffs, finally. "Why is he so fixated on you, Lou? It's weird."
Luke makes a strangled noise in her throat. Chewbacca makes a noise of agreement.
"Has anyone seen Threepio?" Leia looks around, but Luke and Han pay her no mind.
The silent guards lead them to a pair of sleek white doors. The doors hiss and split open, revealing a Spartan room with very little personality. The three are two busy arguing amongst themselves to pay much heed to any of it, including the doors sliding behind them.
"Leave it alone, Han." Leia snaps. "He helped us; what more is there to it?"
"Well I'd like an explanation for one!" Han throws up his hands. "And a motivation, maybe, that would be nice too. Darth Vader does not suddenly just help out because he felt like it."
Leia rubs her temples, feeling a headache coming on. Luke is staring at her from behind Han with a guilty and sympathetic expression. She didn't mean to put Leia in a bind like this… but what else could she do? She had to tell someone, but she certainly couldn't tell everyone. Not that Han was just anyone… all the same, she could not predict his reaction with certainty, so she decided not to try.
"Didn't your friend say something about a dinner?" Leia says, tiredly. "I need to use the refresher and change…" She spares Luke a look. "Can't we just decline? Lou really needs to rest—she shouldn't be gallivanting off to a dinner party."
"I feel fine." Luke protests.
Han sighs. "I wish we could, but I'm asking a lot of Lando. The least we can do is humor him."
Leia releases a long, tense breath. "Fine. Well, if you will excuse us, Lou and I need to get ready."
That is as much a dismissal as any, and it's clear Han knows it. He walks off in a huff, crossing his arms and standing by the far windows, scowling out into the rolling clouds outside. Luke spares him a concerned look, before following Leia into the refresher. The other girl has propped open her suitcase, and is rummaging through it. It's a good thing Leia actually knows how to pack, and what to wear to an event like this. Luke hadn't even known how to wear a dress until recently. They don't speak as Leia sorts through her clothes, Luke too lost in her own thoughts, Leia too lost in hers.
Finally she unearths an objectively beautiful gown, shimmering light blue in the light. She hands it to Luke, who takes it as if it is a live Tuskan raider.
Leia rolls her eyes. "Would you like to pick your own?" She makes a vague wave to all the clothes in her luggage.
Luke shakes her head. "No," she pouts. "But do I have to wear this?"
"It's pretty, and it'll look good on you."
"I have the feeling it's going to be incredibly uncomfortable…" Luke grumbles, but shucks off her tunic all the same.
It ends up being slightly better than she thought it would be. It's not long, which is already a plus. She gives herself a critical look in the mirror. It never mattered what she looked like on Tatooine, so she had never realized that her appearance actually meant something to the greater galaxy until she finally left that planet. And apparently it meant a lot. She chances a quick glance at Leia, still sorting through her impossible amount of clothes.
Leia always looks so… put together. Her hair is always in some kind of fashionable and elaborate style, she actually knows what makeup means, and is never without a blaster and a stylish pair of shoes. She's sharp and clever and downright lethal with a blaster and she's strikingly beautiful—how exactly are her and Luke related? Luke leans back against the refresher counter, lost in thought. She wonders who takes after who… Luke is blonde and tan, and Leia is pale and brunette. Is Darth Vader blonde and tan? The thought is so very strange. And what of her mother? She'd seen a hologram of her once, when she was serving as Queen, but it was impossible to say. Luke liked to think she looked a bit like her.
"Lou?" Leia straightens up. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Luke shakes her head, taking the dress laying limp in her hands and moving to put it on. "Just thinking."
Leia purses her lips. "Alright, well while you're doing that, we really ought to do something about your hair."
"It's cute, in a just-woke-up kind of way," Leia tilts her head appraisingly. One of her hands reaches out to flick a stray lock of hair floating about Luke's head. It always sticks up every which way, no matter what she does with it. The blonde scowls, trying to use her hands to flatten it.
Leia laughs at her attempt. "That's not going to work."
By the end of it Leia has pinned her hair up into a loose approximation of a bun; she had tried to get it to stick into that spiral style Leia always used, but her hair wasn't cooperating with that. That was about as much effort as either of them were willing to put into it, and afterwards Leia went about her battle plan for her face.
"There!" She moves back once she finishes applying… something, to Luke's face. "Perfect!"
"It's kinda itchy," Luke whines. She's never worn makeup before.
Leia rolls her eyes. "You'll get used to it."
With Luke taken care of she moves to pull on her own dress; a deep burgundy that looks wonderful on her skin. She's just fixing it on properly when Han irately knocks on the door.
"Okay princesses," he calls, acerbically. "Not all of us have all day to get ready, y'know?"
"Be patient for a moment." Leia retorts just as bitingly.
Finally she wrenches the door open, revealing a furious Han on the other side. Han takes one look at her, and his expression turns gob smacked. He flounders for a moment, clearly at a loss for words. Leia is summarily unimpressed. "Well?" She cocks an eyebrow, throwing the sliding door open further to lean against the threshold. "It's all yours." She makes an elaborate display of waving her hand, smirking.
Han scowls at her, but his face is slightly red. Luke hides her smile and ducks out after Leia.
"What kind of dinner is this, anyway?" She asks, once they're situated on the couches with Chewie and Artoo. Leia is frowning out into the windows, where the sky is starting to grow dark.
"Lando didn't really say…" Leia sighs, brushing away a stray lock of hair. "Just that it was to welcome back an old friend."
Luke returns the sigh, wondering what to do now. She eyes her lightsaber on the side table, wondering if it would be possible to somehow slip it on underneath her dress.
The dinner party was doomed from the start.
Luke would never know what it was like to attend such a fancy dinner party, because it was interrupted before anyone had the chance to say otherwise. To Leia's complete lack of surprise, Lando betrayed them. He looked truly apologetic, which was odd, and Luke thought she could sense his regret through the force. Apparently the Imperials had been on this planet for a long, long time, and the fate of the Milennium Falcon and crew were sealed the moment they broke the atmosphere. To make matters worse, the Imperials were not the only ones lying in wait for them on Bespin; a bounty hunter by the name of Boba Fett made it a point to tell Han just how happy he was to see him. Also to Leia's total lack of surprise, Han had some debts he conveniently forgot to settle.
Luke wasn't entirely sure how this event could get any worse. She had started the evening thinking that the most concerning part of the night would be which serving utensil to use; it looked like she was going to end it in a holding cell in the bowels of Cloud City.
Han stood in front of them, pacing the length of the cell, cursing under his breath. Chewie was not too far, making sad, commiserative noises. Leia was sitting next to her, arms folded in a way that meant she was severely irritated. Luke thought it all must look rather strange, what with her and Leia looking so presentable, and even Han looking less scruffy than usual.
Luke is in the middle of berating herself for leaving her lightsaber when the Force practically answers her prayers.
The air duct above them rattles ominously, surprising them all.
They stare up in unison, utterly silent as it continues to shake on its hinges. After another moment, the screws holding it in place break off, and the thing almost goes clattering noisily to the ground when an alien clawed hand shoots out to catch it.
Another beat, and then a wholly inhuman form wearing some kind of dark uniform drops out of the ceiling. He has a long, vaguely snout-like nose and piercing golden eyes rimmed with dark fur. From his head are two almost flappy ears, colored light brown like the rest of his fur. Luke blinks. He looks like a strange mixture between a cat, a pig, and an owl.
"Who in the galaxy are you?" Han asks, blinking.
"You're rescuer." The alien replies dryly. Han doesn't appear to believe them, but then he tosses Han's blaster towards him.
The space smuggler catches it with no small amount of surprise; the alien turns around and tosses something else to Luke. Luke's eyes go wide with surprise and joy—it's her lightsaber!
"Where did you get this?"
"Your rooms, perhaps?" The alien suggests, blinking owlishly. For the life of her Luke cannot tell if he's being facetious or not.
"Who are you, Caamasian?" Leia narrows her eyes, appearing unmoved by the spectacle and remaining seated with her arms crossed.
"I'm here to help."
Her eyes narrow further. "Really? That's an Imperial Intelligence Operative Uniform."
The man raises a brow. "Ah, so you are familiar with us, then?"
Leia's expression grows dark. "You could say I have some unfortunate experience."
He shrugs. "All the same, I'm probably your best bet at getting out of here." He looks back up to the ceiling, crouching low before jumping gracefully back into the air duct. "I suppose I can't force you to follow me, but I would suggest it all the same."
Leia spares a very annoyed look to the talking ceiling, before standing up in a huff, smoothing out her gown.
"Wait, hold up princess," Han says, as she gathers up her skirt. "You're not actually thinking of following him, are you? You just said it yourself—he works for the Empire!"
"I know." She says, simply.
"He's a spy. He probably works for the Emperor himself!"
"The emperor has his own spies," Leia corrects, drily. "The Hands. He's certainly not one of those."
"Well, whatever. That doesn't exclude the rest of the rotten Imperial military command."
At this, Leia shares a long look with Luke. They both know just who in that 'rotten Imperial military command' would send an intelligence operative.
"He's a Caamasi," Leia shrugs.
"Is that supposed to mean something to me?"
She shakes her head. "Nevermind. Look, I'm going with him—stay and die if you want, I guess."
"Whoa, whoa, slow down there princess, I never said I wasn't going!"
Luke rolls her eyes at his antics. Chewie lifts Leia up into the ventilation system, and then offers his paw to Luke. Luke takes it gratefully, and follows her sister into the darkness. She can hear Han grumbling behind her, and in front of her are the Caamasi's large, glowing golden eyes.
"So you chose the right choice after all."
"We'll see about that." Leia snorts.
"What's your name?" Luke appears to have startled them both with that. "I'm Lou, and this is Leia."
"Oh, I'm well aware of Princess Leia Organa," he smiles. Or at least, Luke thinks he smiles. "You however, are a new face. Very well, human, if you wish to know, my name is Starvos."
"Hello, Starvos." Luke smiles back.
The strange owl-like alien with the long snout leads them through the air ducts for some time. They are all very quiet, as to keep ears to what is happening beneath them. It's easy enough to tell when their absence has been discovered, as shouting begins to erupt and platoons of stormtroopers start running around everywhere.
"How much longer?" Leia whispers.
"Depends on how long you take," the Caamasi answers, without actually answering anything at all.
"Great." Leia grumbles in response.
Turns out their rendezvous through the air system was the shortest trek of their journey—they end up perusing through the kitchens and passing through the meat freezer to go up the servant droid elevator. After that they sneak through hundreds of powered down droids and rooms of spare parts, somehow manage to pick up the lost threepio and consequently artoo, and continue onwards until they end up at a mysterious hangerbay that they definitely didn't come in through.
It looks like the supply bay, actually. Luke squints, but doesn't see anyone out there. Whoever this agent is, he clearly knows what he's doing.
She is just about to follow the alien down the steps to where all the aircrafts are parked when Han tugs her back. Luke looks up at him curiously, but his expression is hard and cold.
"Alright, that's as far as we go, alien." Han says, turning on the man with his blaster in hand.
Agent Starvos stills for a moment, and then turns around. "You're willing to stay on a planet chalk full of people who want you dead?"
"Better than following an Imperial Intelligence Operative off to somewhere that could be even worse." Han points out. Agent Starvos appears at a loss for words, before he shrugs in acknowledgment.
"Go ahead and shoot, then." The agent raises a brow. "We'll see just which species has the superior reflexes, no?"
Han narrows his eyes, and pulls the trigger.
Fortunately the blaster bolt never hits its target. It ends up flying up into the ceiling, because Luke has cut in the middle of them, lightsaber ignited.
"This is going to get us nowhere," she remarks, turning off her blade. "Han, we don't know what happened to the Falcon, and if we can even reach it in time. Not to mention there could be air support out there just waiting to flag us down."
She turns to Agent Starvos. "All the same, Han brings up a good point. How are we to know you won't just hand us over to the Imperials once we're out of here?"
Starvos blinks at her. "Why would I have gone through the trouble to rescue you only to kill you afterwards?"
"Because you're waiting to deliver us to the Emperor?" Luke suggests.
Starvos blinks again. "Well I guess that's valid. Would it help if I told you I wasn't going to?"
"Yes." Luke replies, to the man's surprise. "Look me in the eyes and say that." She says, very serious, a bit of command to her tone.
Starvos appears confused, but complies all the same. "I have no intention of delivering you to the Emperor."
"Good." Luke nods, still quite serious. "What are your orders, then?"
"I am to take Luke Skywalker off Bespin," he answers, intentionally vague. "To a safer location."
Luke narrows her eyes. He's still telling the truth, but it's still not all that enlightening.
She's just debating how to word her questions more carefully when her lightsaber flies out of her hand, She tries in vain to grab it, but all this does is send it clattering off to the floor.
There is a sharp intake of breath from behind her.
"What are you doing here?"
Luke whips back at the sound of Leia's voice. Leia's eyes have gone wide and incredulous. Luke is not sure what the expression is for, until she turns around and sees the familiar form the of the Dark Lord of the Sith rounding the corner.
Agent Starvos bows low, but Vader waves him off. "Thank you, agent," he intones. "You may leave."
"Yes, my lord." The Caamasi nods, throwing his hood up and walking into the shadows. Luke wonders if he actually disappears in there, or just blends in so well that he was indiscernible to the eye.
This leaves just them in the hall, in a sudden silence that loomed heavy above them.
Lord Vader doesn't say anything for some time, even though it was clear Leia expected a response. The only sound in the room is the rhythmic timing of his breathing. Luke supposes they probably do look rather ridiculous, all dressed up in ball gowns, crawling through the air ducts. Most of Leia's hair has fallen from its perfect twin buns to curtain around her shoulders in untamable curls, her dress is ripped at the hems and Luke is fairly sure she threw her heels off a long time ago. Luke herself probably doesn't look all that much better.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader has found himself in a predicament.
He had ever intention of rescuing his wayward offspring, yes, but for some reason the reality that he would have to actually see them to rescue them hadn't crossed his mind.
He had met Princess Leia enough times to remember her—not very many, but certainly enough to get a good look at her. It was true, she reminded him of Padme a tiny bit, but he had assumed that was because she was a short, dark-haired and dark-eyed senator with a stubborn streak a parsec wide. Okay, maybe a little more than a bit. All the same it felt as if he was staring at an entirely different person, now that he knew the truth about her. Suddenly it was impossible not to see her mother in the young girl—hell, and he had thought Luke was bad. She looks even more like Padme than usual, with her mother's dark hair curling down her shoulders, wearing a dress fit for a queen.
The Dark Lord of the Sith says nothing, simply pivoting on one foot and walking down the stairs, as if expecting them to follow.
Luke does without hesitation, meanwhile Leia is half on top of Han wrestling his blaster away before he does something stupid. Chewie shoves them both forward, and artoo and threepio stay in the back, where artoo appears to be bickering with the golden droid.
Vader briefly wonders how in the force he ended up in this situation.
The motley crew follows him up the ramp of the ship; he spares a look behind, to make sure the corridor is still clear. Good. His operatives are actually doing a decent job. All the same, it still feels strange and surreal to have to deploy a covert operation against his own Imperial forces. He could just as easily waltz right into the city and demand the prisoners and no one would dare protest, but that would defeat the purpose of doing this clandestinely. And people would start to wonder why he was forcing himself into the situation at all. The last thing he needs is to draw undue attention to himself that could lead to any kind of interest in his relationship with Luke. And Leia.
It is a very tense ride into space, made infinitely worse by the fact that no one seemed to be in the mood for conversation. Not even threepio, who normally could chatter on for ages unless someone muted his vocal chords.
Luke could tell that Han was ready to rip the seat cushions out in frustration; she and Leia were definitely not helping with that, being as tight lipped as they were. But what exactly was she supposed to say? She was actually relieved for Vader's presence, if only because it was the only thing stopping Han from launching an interrogation at her.
The Sith Lord in question did not acknowledge any of them, sitting up in the pilot seat and providing the appropriate Imperial codes to get past the blockade. Of course there was a blockade, Luke thinks, warily. Not for the first time she wonders where exactly she would be without him. Stuck in Bespin, fighting an uphill battle for her life, probably. Or maybe still in Hoth, fighting there. She can imagine this whole ordeal being incredibly difficult; all of them piling into the Falcon, after finding each other in the rat maze of Cloud City and breaking out of their cell—battling their way out of the hangar bay, out of the atmosphere, and then somehow past this brigade of ships waiting for them just outside the exosphere. As it is, they casually fly right past them, and the entirety of the empire seems to give way as Lord Vader crosses through.
Luke finds herself unwillingly curious.
Against her better judgment, she crosses the ship until she's in the cockpit, taking the copilot seat.
Vader spares her a brief glance, before turning to his scopes. She can't read anything in his gaze, although she knows there is… something, there.
"So what kind of ship is this?" Luke finds herself asking, curiously.
"Standard Imperial A-5 Cruiser." And, after a beat, "I'm afraid it's nothing all that interesting."
Luke pouts. "I'm sure you have a lot of cool ships." She says, prodding for information.
Vader makes a noncommittal noise.
"At least, that's what Jix said."
For some reason, she thinks he is annoyed. But she's not quite sure why she has that feeling. "Do you talk to Jix often?"
"Well, sometimes." Luke shrugs, feeling shy all of a sudden. "I can't really talk to him, but I'll get a message here and there from a random planet, and I'm fairly sure they're from him."
So Jix was disobeying his orders, as usual, the dark lord thought disparagingly. He is not at all pleased with this predicament—but then, he is even more displeased with whatever predicament is going on between the Princess and that smuggler. Luke he will forgive, because she was raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere, but Leia has no such excuse. She is a princess! She should know better than to consort with someone so beneath her. Maybe it is in her blood, though. After all, he knows another royal who was irrationally smitten with someone far beneath her…
He shakes those thoughts away.
Vader is about to extract more information out of his talkative daughter, when he realizes something amiss in the force. He looks over to find Luke seemingly asleep. But one careful probe with the Force reveals how sick she actually is. All this traipsing through the city was not going to help her already exhausted body recover. She needs medical attention—real medical attention with real medics, not a patch job done by a bunch of droids on a time constraint.
With that thought, he turns on the thrusters for full power, intent on getting back to his private ship as soon as possible. He is quickly realizing he is not a fan of covert operations; they are tedious and require far more resources than any regular rescue mission would. As it is, he will have to make a better excuse to the Executor as to why he is taking so long.
The change in speed throws everyone in the main compartment sprawling backwards.
"What the hell?" He hears the smuggler say, crossly.
Unsurprisingly it is the Princess that determinably makes her way to the cockpit. "Lord Vader," she says, crisply. "Where are you taking us?"
He points to a rather unremarkable looking cruiser hanging just inside the orbital zone of Bespin. It is quite large, but wholly uninteresting, and looks like a tourist ship of some kind. This of course makes it ideal for clandestine operations.
"What is that?"
"A starship." He answers, dryly.
She narrows her eyes at him. "She is unwell," he continues, referring to Luke. "And needs real medical attention immediately."
Leia gasps, rushing over to her—her sister. The thought is still not sinking in. She places a hand on the girl's forehead. "Burning up." She whispers, looking dismayed.
"Your 'ship' will be waiting for you when we arrive." He says, not really sure if that dilapidated conglomerate of metal could truly be called anything approaching a 'ship'. "You are to take it and immediately head for a rebel base—preferably one not already infested with Imperials."
Leia frowns, looking cross. The expression drifts away, leaving something curious and thoughtful. She appears to be searching him for some kind of answer.
"You're letting us go?" She asks, quietly, with wide eyes.
He spares her a long look. "Would you prefer to return to the Star Destroyer?"
Leia scowls at him, clearly not taking well to being patronized. "I suppose not." She replies, snappishly, standing up abruptly and returning to her seat in the back.
Vader stares at her retreating form for a moment, before returning to the view out the windshield.
Well, as far as conversations with moody teenage daughters, he supposes that could have went a lot worse.
He feels a tad bit more relieved when Leia, threepio, the Wookie, and the smuggler are all safely returned to their hovel of a ship, and blasting off into hyperspace. Artoo refused to even contemplate the idea of leaving without Luke. Leia has proven to have a good head on her shoulders (occasionally) so hopefully they will disappear back into the relative safety of the Rebel Alliance. Lord Vader is still not sure how he feels about aiding the Alliance—it feels as if it is a necessary evil these days.
He turns away from the viewport, focusing his attention once again to a small girl sleeping in the medbay.
Or, a small girl who is supposed to be sleeping.
"You need to rest," Vader intones, without turning around.
Predictably, Luke ignores it. "Where's Leia? And Han, and Chewie?"
"They have left for a rebel base." And then, when Luke opens her mouth, "You will be joining them once you are well."
Lord Vader steps aside then, revealing the very familiar blue and white hull of her favorite astromech droid.
"Artoo!" She greets happily, as the droid rolls over to beep up at her. "You stayed with me, huh?"
"Your ship was picked up by Imperial forces on Hoth," he says by way of explanation. "You will need an astromech to pilot it."
Luke looks up, eyes wide. "You're letting me go?"
Why does this come as such a surprise to her?
"Would you prefer to stay prisoner on a Star Destroyer?"
"Well, not really." Luke mumbles, her gaze flickering downwards.
"I had assumed as much. Now, you have a long period of recovery awaiting you." He points back to her bed. "I suggest you use the opportunity wisely."
"I'm not tired!" Luke insists.
Vader's only response is to herd her back into her bed, where she pouts up at him, much like a fickle young child refusing to go to sleep.
"Sleep, young one." He holds a gloved hand out in front of her, sending soothing force waves towards her.
It works like a charm. In a few moments, she is fast asleep, despite her protests.
Luke awakes slowly, after what feels like an eternity asleep.
She feels… better. There is still an anxious swell of nervousness in the pit of her stomach, accompanied by an onslaught of memories from earlier; she isn't sure when her entire life started to seem like one big convoluted adventure, but she isn't sure if she likes it. She can remember a time when all she ever worried about was farming, and getting away from farming. Now there is a whole galaxy's worth of problems awaiting her, and everyone seems to want to turn to her for the answers. It's overwhelming. She's just—she's just Luke. How is she supposed to know how to fix all this?
I bet Lord Vader could fix it, she thinks, sadly. He doesn't seem like the kind of person who would ever shy away from his duties. He seems like the kind of person who is capable of doing everything. Anakin Skywalker—the hero with no fear. He may not be Anakin Skywalker any longer, but she still sees him as fearless and indomitable.
Luke sits up, blinking wide blue eyes into the galaxy of stars outside the window.
It's so strange to think that he is her father. How could they possibly be related? He's the most powerful man in the galaxy and she's just Luke. Up until a few months ago she was a nobody from nowhere with nothing special about her!
And now she learns her mother was a Royal Queen and member of the Galactic Senate; her sister is a Royal Princess, member of the Galactic Senate, and leader of the Rebel Alliance; and her father is Lord Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith.
She palms her face.
How is she supposed to live up to all that?
She senses a familiar presence, even with her eyes closed and her face turned away. "How long was I asleep?" She asks, groggily.
"A few hours." Vader replies. "Your friends are safely on Nishr. Your ship already has the coordinates."
Luke nods absently, rubbing at her eyes. She still feels out of sorts, and she's not sure if it's the residual hypothermia, exhaustion, or her thoughts from earlier; she feels uncertain and scared. She feels too small for her own destiny.
"Come," he continues. "Your ship is waiting for you."
At the mention of her ship, Luke immediately brightens. There's not much that can cheer her up so conclusively in the galaxy, but her ship is definitely one of them. It was the first thing she did when she left Tatooine; she insisted upon building her own x-wing fighter. Even now she still haunts the star systems looking for new parts to upgrade it with.
She follows the sith lord down the empty hallways, wondering where all the people were. What ship were they on? Certainly not a star destroyer. She wonders if this is Lord Vader's personal ship. Is this where he lives? Always in transit? Or maybe he lives on Coruscant. She can't bring herself to ask.
There is still so much she doesn't know about the man, even though she's spent all her spare time trying to learn more about him. The galactic archives have very little to say about the enigmatic sith lord. They have even less to say on Anakin Skywalker—everything she knows about him came from old news archives, or the people who used to know him. He was such a mysterious character; what happened to him that made him turn into Lord Vader? And what happened to her mother? The idea of Lord Vader being in love with anyone was still kind of hard to wrap her mind around.
Her thoughts are waylaid as they enter a wide, dome shaped room. The hangar bay.
And there, in front of her, is her beloved x-wing. By her side, Artoo makes a happy noise at the sight.
Lord Vader comes to a halt some feet away from it, and Luke fidgets nervously, suddenly realizing that this is goodbye. Her gaze flickers to the figure next to her, tall and taciturn and incredibly difficult to read. His force signature is engulfed in an impenetrable blackness.
She looks down at herself, feeling rather foolish when she realizes she's still wearing her dress, now a bit dirty and scuffed up, and heels that are most definitely dirty and scuffed up. She doesn't even want to know what her hair looks like. Hopefully she can find something to change into on Endor. It occurs to her that she's missing something very vital, turning back to the sith lord.
"Lord Vader?" Luke asks, hesitantly. "Um… can I have my lightsaber back?"
Lord Vader pulls something out of his cloak. He looks down to the weapon in question, before handing it back to the girl. "This isn't your lightsaber," he comments.
Luke blinks. "Well, no." She admits. "I got it from Obi-Wan. He said it was—" She cuts herself off as her eyes go wide with recognition. "Oh." Luke says, lamely, after a beat. "Do you want it back?"
"Of course not." The idea is preposterous; he has no ties to the life of Anakin Skywalker. Unfortunately everything about that statement is proving to be untrue, because here he is holding Anakin's lightsaber, surrounded by his stupidly reckless, stubborn children. "You would do well to remember not to let it roll around on the ground."
"It wasn't intentional!" And it was mostly his fault, anyway, for using the Force to pull it out of her grip in the first place. She grumbles, but takes the offered lightsaber all the same. She spends a long minute just looking at it, as if it has taken on a new meaning to her now that she knows it was once his.
It's strange to think he barely knows the girl, and he is already lecturing her on the proper care and handling of her lightsaber.
"Did Obi-wan teach you nothing?" He snorts, shaking his head. He can remember his days as a Jedi padawan—they were rife with nothing but lectures from his old master.
Luke shrugged. "He didn't really have time." She looks away, reminding them both just why that is.
Darth Vader studies her carefully; Luke isn't looking at him, making a complicated expression at her feet as she scuffs the heel of her shoe against the floor.
"Earlier, you mentioned a dream." He starts, surprising her. "What was it?"
"I did?" She frowns. "Oh! Well, I don't remember much; I think Obi-wan was there… he was telling me to do something…"
"Yoda," he prods. "You mentioned Yoda."
Luke nods. Her gaze flitters up to him, briefly, before she fixates it again to the floor. When one of her hands comes up to idly fiddle with the ends of her hair he recognizes something is amiss.
"What are you not telling me?"
"Luke." He demands.
Luke eyes him very carefully. In a long, tense moment of silence.
"He told me not to trust you." She reveals, in a small voice.
Vader almost wants to hit something. So even now, Obi-wan is turning those he loves against him. The Sith Lord pauses. Loves? Sith Lords do not love. That is preposterous. Regardless of if his argument is invalidated, he still feels irrational anger at the idea of his old master having so much sway on his daughter.
"What did he tell you, Luke?" He asks, slowly, hiding his impatience.
"He said I wasn't strong enough." She sighs, shrugging. "That I need to train to become a Jedi."
For a long moment, he says nothing.
On general principle he feels great anger at this; he does not want Luke to become a Jedi. But on the other hand, he also does not want Luke to become a Sith. And if one thing has become obvious in the past few weeks, it is that Luke must be trained. She cannot go unprotected like this—he will not always be there to assist her. It will only be a matter of time before either he will no longer be able to, or the Emperor will find out who she is, and at that point he will have bigger things to worry about. His hand curls into a fist. He does not know if he can protect her from his master, as much as it pains him to admit it.
He can gather enough from what little she is telling him. Obi-wan must sense this as well; he must want her to train with Yoda, a Jedi he had believed dead. Vader pauses. Just how old would Yoda be, now? He was already quite ancient when he was still bossing Anakin around. All the same he was one of the strongest Jedi Vader had ever known, and he cannot think of a better person to teach Luke the ways of the force.
He wags his finger in front of her. "It will not be easy."
Luke shoots him a dour look. "I know." She insists, mulishly.
"Yoda is a difficult taskmaster," he continues on. "But you must listen intently to his words. None of this back talking you are so fond of."
"Learning the Force is a long and difficult journey; do not become frustrated."
Luke pouts, crossing her arms. "Why can't you teach me?" She asks, plaintively.
"I am not a Jedi." He responds, immediately.
To his great chagrin, she does not look all that convinced. Fortunately Luke does not say anything. She simply sighs in defeat, closing her eyes for a moment. "Well, alright then. Master Yoda it is." She pauses, sparing him a conflicted look. "You don't…" She swallows. "You don't want to teach me how to be a Sith?"
The thought is so amusing he smiles behind his mask. And Luke looks so incredibly serious. "Luke," he replies, warmly. "You would be a horrible Sith."
It's unfortunate, that, but woefully true. He's know the girl long enough to realize she would never be able to fully accept the dark side. Now Leia, however… that was a far more promising scenario.
She fights off a smile, looking away. Luke clears her throat. "How long will it—how long will I be gone?"
"It depends on how quick a study you are." He returns. But something tells him Luke will have no trouble learning the Force.
Luke nods. "Will you… look after her for me?"
They both know who she's referring to.
She nods again. "Okay." She whispers, and then, more to herself, "Okay." She squares her shoulders, turning around as Artoo slips past them to ready her ship.
All of a sudden she stops mid step, turns around, and throws herself at him. It is all rather horrifying; he looks down in abject terror to see a pillow of sunny hair latched onto his chest like a sarlaac. Fortunately the limpet is gone as soon as it had come, tearing off down the hangar bay. She turns around again as she climbs onto her ship, waving at him and smiling.
And then the hatch is closing in on her, and he is once again watching her take off into space.
"You're flying is making me sick," Leia grits out, head bowed between her arms as she keeps a death grip against the console.
"Would you prefer to fly?" Vader asks acerbically, in no mood for this.
Their space shuttle weaves in and out of shots as TIE fighters and X-Wings zoom past them.
It is an absolute mess, and Vader is flying through it defenseless and blind. This piece of junk was already on its last legs when he'd gotten to it, the navigation system is fried and the calibration settings are useless, and he is attempting at atmospheric exit into outer space. For any other pilot this would certainly be considered flying defenseless and blind—but Vader is not an ordinary pilot.
Even Leia, doubled over and willing herself not to be sick, can see this. They barely dodge through parades of blaster fire, Vader expertly avoiding other ships and their artilleries without any kind of machine assistance.
It's probably the Force, she thinks, warily.
It still scares her.
The idea of her having this power too scares her even more.
TIE Fighters roar past them, X-Wings giving chase. Vader expertly maneuvers through the crowd, continuing their miraculous upward climb into space.
"And you have no room to complain," he continues scolding her, rather patronizingly. "You were the one who got yourself into this mess."
"I'm well aware." Leia agrees bitterly, as she takes in a heavy breath of air, releasing it unsteadily.
She doesn't need a reminder that Vader was more or less rescuing her. Again.
I guess Luke and I are even now, she smiles slightly at the thought. "Careful now," Leia finds herself saying, to her own surprise. "You're villainous reputation is going to be ruined with all this rescuing you've been doing."
Vader makes what she thinks is a disgruntled noise, distorted by the mask. "I wouldn't have to rescue anyone if the two of you could manage to keep yourselves out of trouble for at least a marginal period of time." He's definitely scolding her now, as he concentrates the viewport.
Leia rolls her eyes. "Yeah, well—
She doubles over again, groaning as a wave of nausea hits her, her mouth growing bitter with the taste of bile. "Oh stars, I'm really going to be sick." She bemoans, practically collapsing out of her co-pilots chair and onto the console.
"What is wrong with you?" He berates waspishly, as he executes a well-timed barrel roll to avoid incoming fire, making Leia groan again.
"You've been through heavier fire than this, and had no illnesses then." He points out, even as he clears through a thundercloud he had specifically tried to avoid, in order to evade the infighting for a smoother flight, It would be more difficult for him, since he would have to rely completely on his Force abilities to navigate them out into space, but it would be better for Leia.
Why he was going through all this trouble, he had no idea.
Leia swallows several times, before she feels well enough to speak. "That was different." She protests.
"Pray tell, how so?" Vader asks, rather irately. "Because I assure you, I am the best pilot in the galaxy and if you mean to insult my piloting skills—
"I'm not insulting your piloting skills." Leia rolls her eyes, smiling in exasperation. He and Luke were two peas in a pod; Luke took every slight to her piloting skills very personally, Apparently so did Vader.
"You certainly were earlier." He points out, sourly.
Leia took another deep breath, finally feeling good enough to sit up straight. She collapsed against the co=pilots chair, sagging into it with relief. The viewport in front of them was covered in an opaque film of gray as they travelled deeper into the cloud formation.
"I was just annoyed." She replies. Vader turns to her. Even without seeing his expression she knows he's annoyed.
"Not at you!" She hurries to say. He's somewhat mollified; honestly that's probably as close to a thank you as he's going to get. "Being so sick all the time is making me crabby." She complains with a sigh, reaching up to wipe her heated, sweaty forehead with the back of her hand.
The movement reveals a dark stain against her bodysuit, formerly covered by her arm. The girl does not seem to notice, her eyes slipping shut as she begins to drift off.
"When were you injured?" He demands, sharply.
"W—What?" Leia opens her eyes blearily, blinking the spots out of her eyes. Now that she's not in any danger of throwing up everything she's ever eaten in her entire life, the exhaustion has finally hit her.
"You're injured." Vader reveals.
"On the left side of your abdomen."
Leia's eyes snap open at that, and she jumps in her seat. She begins to furiously claw at the top of her body suit, fumbling with the zipper until she can peel it off. She spares him no mind as she unzips it all the way down to her stomach, leaving her in nothing but a binding strip across her chest. He has half a mind to turn away, but she has already gotten to the wound.
He breathes a sigh of relief. It doesn't appear to be too deep—nothing life-threatening.
But Leia looks terrified.
"I need to get to a medic." She says immediately. "Now."
"The wound is not life-threatening." He tells her, thinking this will reassure her.
It definitely does not. If anything, it does the opposite. Her brown eyes are big and fearful, and as always, it is impossible not to think of her when he sees them.
"No it's—" She swallows thickly. "I have to go to a medic—as soon as possible. Please."
Vader grows concerned; Leia is not the type of person to beg. Least of all to him.
"I will take you as soon as I am able." He replies, evenly.
"No!" She retorts, pressing a hand to her wound. "We—we have to go immediately. As soon as possible. I don't care where."
"The majority of the ships which have medical personnel are Imperial." He points out. "Not to mention, they are all most likely engaged in pursuing the rebels."
"I don't care." She repeats with a steely determination that surprises him.
This is even more concerning. Leia is not fond of the Empire either.
This time he well and truly faces her. "You are wiling to voluntarily board an Imperial ship? Not only is that very unlike you, it is also highly dangerous, considering your position."
"None of that matters to me right now!" She all but shouts at him, looking a little hysterical as she turns to face him too.
"What is wrong with you?" He asks, utterly perplexed by her behavior.
She looks at him, deeply and truly, her eyes wide and utterly terrified, her face growing paler by the second.
A few months before the day Vader considers to be the most absurd day of his life, and he is still silently wondering why the Force gave him two girls—or any children, at all.
They really were the strife of the galaxy.
At least one of them is relatively safe, holed up with a Jedi Master hopefully in a place so backwater even the Empire doesn't want it. He'd thought out of the two of them Luke would be the one with a penchant for trouble—turns out he was wrong. Luke was troublesome—but so was Leia.
"I tried my best." Jix swears. "But she wouldn't even give me the time of day."
Of course Leia would choose now to be uncooperative.
"No offense, boss," Jix continues, "but I really don't think she wants to talk to you."
"I don't care what she wants." Vader scoffs. "If she refuses to do this the easy way, than I will simply have to go around her."
Jix raises a brow. "Meaning?"
"I have other ways of seeing into the Alliance." Vader reminds him blandly.
"Right, of course." Jix agrees, growing confused. "But then—why do you want her to cooperate? Her intel can't be any better than our own, right?"
"It's not her intel I want." He replies vaguely, attention directed towards the datapad in his hand. Then he looks up. "Jix, you are going to infiltrate the Alliance."
His brow furrows. "Don't I do that already?"
At this, he looks surprised.
"P—Permanently?" He sputters. "As in—as in forever? As in, you want me to actually join the Alliance?"
"Obviously you will still be working for me." Vader replies drily. "But your primary objective will be your operations within the Alliance for the foreseeable future."
Jix nods slowly.