Summary: The rest of the Rebels are celebrating, but Luke is suffering from a bad case of Christmas blues. Then an unexpected mission results in him spending Christmas with the last person he expected. The plot of this story is loosely based on the Christmas song 'Snoopy's Christmas'.
Author's Note: The word Christmas in this fic is an English translation of whatever the end-of-year Christmas type celebration might be called in the Star Wars galaxy.
Completed: 24 December 2002
Modified: 25 March 2008
Threepio twisted around, fearing an attack, or at the very least, a rockslide. Instead, he found something somewhat less hazardous had bumped into his metal legs.
"Artoo-Detoo! You know better than to sneak up on me like that!"
A flurry of beeps came in response.
"Well, what do you expect? This whole cavern is liable to crumble at any moment! How was I supposed to know it was only you?"
Artoo's reply was dismissive, but then he chirped out an enquiry.
"I'm guarding the entrance, that's what I'm doing here. It's all very well for you - while I was in mortal peril on Hoth, you were out flying with Master Luke. You have no idea what real danger is!"
Artoo made a long whistle, followed by a loud beep.
"What could possibly be more important than guarding the entrance? Master Luke? - what nonsense are you talking about now?! How could he be depressed - it's Christmas Eve! This is the time of year when humans give each other presents, and celebrate! Not get depressed!"
Artoo extended his wielding pincer.
"All right! All right - I'll come with you if you're going to make such a fuss. Astromech droids these days . . . ouch!"
Artoo was right about one thing. Luke was depressed. He lay on the ground, staring up at the underside of his X-Wing. Well, it wasn't really his X-wing; he'd left that behind on Bespin. He wasn't ready to call any other snub fighter his yet. Especially not this sorry excuse for a ship.
Luke slipped, and his soldering-torch ripped across the exposed circuitry, frying half the wires. He slammed the tool down in frustration, and stood up, turning angrily to face Threepio.
"What do you want!?"
Threepio scuttled backwards, and Artoo rolled behind him in fright.
"Oh, I can see you're busy, Master Luke ... Artoo and I will leave you alone. It wasn't that important, not really."
Luke sighed, rubbing his forehead. "No, look I'm sorry Threepio. I didn't mean to yell at you. What's up?"
"Artoo and I were just wondering if you were feeling all right."
"Feeling all right? Why wouldn't I?"
"No particular reason, Master Luke, but, well, it's Christmas Eve, and you appear to be the only one not celebrating."
Luke gazed around at the deserted ship hangar. From nearby rooms came the happy sound of music and chatter.
"Well, Threepio," Luke said, ducking back under the ship, and retrieving his soldering tool, "If you can give me one good reason to do so, I'll leave this rust bucket and go and celebrate with the others."
"One reason, Master Luke? I can think of quite a few."
Artoo whistled in agreement.
"Let's hear them, then," Luke said, muffled.
"We are safe from the Empire."
"For now," Luke said. "We've already been here two weeks, General Madine thinks it's time to move on. We don't want a repeat of what happened at Hoth."
"And just yesterday we received a transmission from Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca. They are safe, and Lando is joining Chewbacca's family for Christmas celebrations."
"Yeah, and they haven't found Boba Fett," Luke said, ripping out the wires he had ruined earlier.
"I've got another one."
Luke started at the sound of the female voice, and poked his head out from under the ship. "Leia!"
Leia raised her eyebrows. "You've got friends who are wondering why you're sulking in here instead of joining them for a round of Corellian champagne, courtesy of Wedge Antilles."
"I thought you had left."
"Not yet." Leia came closer and sat on an upturned crate beside him. "There was another earthquake, and the ship was delayed an hour."
"Why don't you come with me?" Leia asked.
"No," Luke said. "Like I said before, I'd only be intruding. You're going to a celebration for Alderaan survivors - and I'm not Alderaanian, am I?"
"You're still welcome, Luke, you know that. I consider you family."
Luke sighed. Family - he didn't want to hear that word right now. "Don't worry about it, I'll be fine here. I've got Artoo and Threepio for company, haven't I?"
Artoo beeped in agreement.
Leia glanced up as an announcement sounded over the base communication system. "Boarding call for transport Balsa . . . boarding call for transport Balsa."
"That's me," Leia said. She bent down and gave Luke a kiss on the cheek. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"For the last time, yes!" Luke said.
"I'll see you later tomorrow, then, grouchy."
She gave him one last smile, and turned to leave. Luke watched her until she disappeared through the doors, his repair job temporarily forgotten.
The sound of his name jolted him out of his thoughts. Mack, a fairly recent addition to the ranks of Rebel X-Wing pilots was running towards him.
"I was trying to find you at the party, then someone told me you were in here."
A datapad and light pen were thrust into Luke's face.
"I'm going back home for Christmas," Mack explained, "And my kid brothers asked me to get your autograph for them."
Luke reluctantly took the objects, and signed his name. He'd never quite got used to the whole hero thing.
"Oh, and can you write something for them? It'd really make their Christmas, I'm telling ya!"
"Okay," Luke said. He tapped the pen, trying to think of something. "How many brothers do you have, anyway?"
"And a couple of sisters."
"There are nine children in your family!?"
Mack shrugged. "My folks own a large nerf farm, on Liditey Seven. I guess they needed all the help they could get. I can't wait to see them."
Luke scribbled a message on the datapad, and then read back over it: "Keep dreaming . . . always reach for the stars. Have a wonderful Christmas, From Luke Skywalker."
It made him feel somewhat cynical. Dreaming - look where that had got him. He was about to delete it, but then he simply passed it back to Mack.
"Here ya go. Hope you have a good time."
"You too. Merry Christmas, Luke."
The man left, and Luke rolled his eyes. He was truly sick of hearing those words. Still, what did he expect from someone who came from a family like that.
He briefly thought back to his own childhood on Tatooine - Christmas was the one day a year when Uncle Owen hadn't found something to complain about ... and some years he had even been known to smile. Luke could remember searching the house in the days leading up to Christmas, determined to find where Aunt Beru was hiding his presents. She was always too smart for him, though. Luke smiled to himself, wistfully, remembering one Christmas Eve, when he had sneaked out of bed and caught his aunt and uncle kissing each other in the lounge. He had thought it was revolting at the time, but now ...
His smile quickly disappeared as the image of the last time he'd seen his aunt and uncle filled his mind. Or seen what was left of them.
Another round of joyful singing started in the room next door. Luke frowned - didn't anyone ever shut up around here? Luke struggled to refocus his thoughts on the circuit.
"Threepio, can you just keep quiet for a moment? I'm trying to solder this circuit together." Not that he'd heard a word of Threepio's constant background chatter anyway.
"Oh certainly, Master Luke."
Now ... this time he was going to do it. It was tricky ... required a very steady hand ... without a protocol droid to interrupt him he should succeed. He steadied the wire with a slight touch from the Force, and brought the blade of the tool up to join the two wires ... just a little bit further ...
"Master Luke! What happened!?"
Luke jumped out from under the ship, tossing the soldering torch away. A large red burn streaked across his prosthetic hand. The ground stopped shaking a few seconds later, and Luke kicked a crate out of his way as he stormed out of the hangar.
"Wait, Master Luke! Shouldn't you go to the med center?"
"Threepio, just leave me alone!"
"But Master Luke!" Threepio tried.
No response. Luke had gone.
Artoo beeped sadly.
"No, I did not make it worse, you annoying little tincan!"
Luke didn't stop until he reached his quarters, and he made sure to seal the door. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough ... he could still hear that terrible, incessant music. What he really needed right now was Han. You could always count on Han when you wanted to be cynical about almost anything.
However, Han was frozen in carbonite and on the other side of the galaxy for all he knew. Thanks to him.
Luke lay down on his bunk, and jammed the pillow over his head. This is how he was going to spend the rest of today - and tomorrow - and Force help anyone who tried to get him to participate in any 'fun activities'.
Christmas was just for families. And all his family were dead. All of them. Every single one. There wasn't one person in the galaxy that could even remotely be considered family.
An image formed in his mind, which he quickly pushed away. Least of all him.
He brooded in silence for ten minutes, studying the underside of the pillow. Then the inevitable interruption arrived. In the form of loud banging on the door.
"Go away!" Luke groaned.
Luke's head snapped up, and he jumped off his bunk. Sounded important. He opened the door and saw General Madine waiting on the other side.
"Sorry to disturb you, Commander, but we've just picked up a distress call. Nearby research station, owned by the Sytrick government."
Luke followed the general down the corridor.
"What's the problem?"
"They say a couple of Imperial scout ships have been buzzing around making sensor sweeps. They're getting nervous . . . they have been conducting some 'sensitive' research."
"Well, what can we do?" Luke asked.
"Take a couple of wingmen, fly out there, and scare the Imperials into hyperspace. While they're off getting backup, the scientists are going to strip the station of the sensitive research."
"And give it to us if we're successful?"
"Is Wedge coming?" Luke asked.
The general smiled. "He isn't really in an appropriate condition for it. I've gathered a couple of rookies . . . "
"Great," Luke sighed to himself.
"That's not all," Madine added. "After you've chased the Imperials away . . . there's another little mission, which I'm sure you'd be happy to do."
Luke glanced at the general, confused.
They reached the hangar, and General Madine gestured at an old man, who stood waiting by a two-seater K-wing snub fighter. He had a luggage bag beside him.
"This is Caf Geronle. He just missed transport Balsa - he needs to get to the Alderaan survivors Christmas gathering on Daule."
Luke dreaded what was coming next. If he had to go to Daule, Leia would insist he stayed to celebrate with them.
"I said you'd be happy to give him a ride. I've programmed the co-ordinates into the K-Wing."
Luke nodded, resigned to the fact that life just wasn't going his way. As they approached the man, he extended his hand towards Luke.
"Commander Skywalker, I'm so sorry to inconvenience you like this."
Luke swallowed his irritation. "It's no problem. As long as you don't mind a bit of action."
As Luke shook the hand, he stared into the man's eyes, struck with how intense his gaze was. The eyes looked too young for the white-haired old man's face.
"I was quite the daredevil myself in my younger days," he remarked.
"Uh - well, I'll just get suited up and we'll be off."
"Your wingmen are waiting in the pilot ready rooms," General Madine said. "Remember - just chase the Imperial's into hyperspace. A few warning shots should do it."
"Understood," Luke said.
Half an hour later, Luke, Caf, and the two young pilots made the short jump into hyperspace. Luke waited until the small craft was steady, and then glanced over at the old man sitting beside him.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine, Commander," he said, looking at the controls with interest. "And you?"
Luke tightened his seat restraints, a little unsure of how to reply.
"Fine," he answered eventually, in a dispassionate tone. "This mission should be straightforward," he added.
There was a long period of awkward silence. Luke pretended to be concentrating on flying the ship.
"Spending Christmas with anyone special?" Caf asked, eventually.
"No," Luke said, tersely.
He immediately regretted his tone. There was no reason to make other people suffer because of his bad mood.
"How about you?" Luke asked. "I guess you'll be spending it with your family."
Caf looked down, sadly. "I'm afraid all my nearest and dearest were lost along with my planet."
Luke almost punched himself for being so tactless. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to -"
Caf held up a hand. "It's all right. I know they are in a better place."
Luke nodded. "I'm sure they are."
"Although sometimes it can be very hard," Caf continued. "This time of year is when I miss them the most."
"I know what you mean," Luke said, quietly.
"I even miss the arguments we used to have. And oh, there were arguments." Caf smiled, wistfully. "There always are in families. I was always one to hold grudges, too."
"You?" Luke said, looking at the smiling old man in surprise.
"Oh yes. Seldom a Christmas would pass where I wasn't avoiding someone or someone wasn't talking to me." He nudged Luke. "Usually the in-laws."
Caf sighed. "If only I had known. Life is too short for grudges. You never know when a Christmas might be your last together."
Luke felt a little strange, down in the pit of his stomach. It was a disturbing thought, yet a very relevant one.
"So have you heard from your mother or Vader this Christmas?" Caf asked.
Luke turned to Caf in shock, his mouth gaping open. "Did you just ask me if I had heard from Vader?!"
Caf, who had been looking at him in confusion, suddenly laughed. "I asked if you'd heard from your mother or father this Christmas."
Luke rubbed his forehead, still feeling his heart beating quickly. "Oh, right. I must be going deaf."
Or crazy, Luke thought.
"Quite understandable, Commander. I have hearing problems myself, on occasion."
Luke shook his head, trying to clear his mind. "Both my parents died when I was a baby. I was raised by my uncle and aunt, but they were killed by Imperial troops, about three years ago."
"A tragic story I can relate to," Caf said.
Luke gazed out at the blue swirl of hyperspace, feeling more depressed than ever.
He glanced back at Caf, curiously, wondering if it would be impolite to ask why the man was at the Rebel base in the first place. He looked like he had retired a long time ago. Perhaps he was visiting someone.
"So how did you end up on that unstable rock with us?" Luke asked.
"I would tell you," Caf said. "But I believe you are about to drop out of hyperspace."
Luke glanced back at his readouts, and gripped the controls. The man was right - that hadn't looked very professional.
As they returned to normal space, Luke quickly tried to focus his mind. He was too distracted.
"That orange planet must be Sytrick!" a wingman's voice crackled over the comm.
Obviously, Luke thought. He considered saying as much, but reminded himself he was a rookie just a few short years ago. Force, it seemed like a lifetime.
"And there's the research station," Luke said. "Lock S-foils in attack position!"
"Sir, I'm picking up two TIE Advanced Interceptors . . . 4 klicks away . . . heading straight for us!"
"Copy that, Blue 2," Luke said. "Keep your shields at maximum, and break off when they start firing. I'll deal with the leader, you two take the wingmen."
"Yes, sir," came the replies.
Luke watched the blips on his scopes draw steadily closer. TIE Advanced Interceptors had little shielding . . . they were no match for three ships, especially when one had a Force-sensitive pilot. The fact they were even attacking said much about the fanatical devotion of Imperial pilots.
Luke turned off his targeting computer, and gripped the trigger. A few seconds later, he pushed his thumbs down, and his laser fire just glanced the wing of the lead TIE. It immediately looped around and began tearing away from the station.
"Woo-hoo! Good shot, sir!"
"Yeah, yeah," Luke mumbled, swinging in behind his target. The craft ducked and dived, and Luke got off a couple more warning shots. Any moment now, it should engage its hyperdrive, and they could all go home.
"He appears to be moving closer to the planet," Caf said, calmly.
Luke watched the ship for a few more seconds, and then swore. Caf was right. The Imperial pilot wasn't making this easy. Perhaps his warning shots had damaged its hyperdrive? He checked his readouts - no, the ship was in almost perfect condition. This was just another attempt by life to annoy him further.
"The wingmen have gone, Blue leader."
"Good work. You two head on back to base. This one may take a while," Luke said.
"Are you sure, Sir?"
"Yes, you guys get back and enjoy the party."
His wingmen departed, and Luke continued his pursuit around the planet. Caf gave him a concerned glance.
"It's okay," Luke insisted. "A couple more shots should do it."
Luke lined up his guns, and fired a spread that barely missed the ducking and weaving craft.
"That's quite some targeting skill you have there," Caf remarked.
"If only he'd get the message behind it!" Luke said.
As the ship continued its stubborn refusal to depart, Caf leaned back in his seat, folding his arms behind his head. He began humming one of the tunes Luke had last heard the pilots singing. It only served to frustrate Luke further.
"Come on, you blasted thing," Luke mumbled, trying to mentally will the pilot into departing.
Luke suddenly stopped mumbling to himself, and looked out the window. He sensed something . . . no, that was impossible. There was no way in the galaxy that -
His sense of the dark presence suddenly got a whole lot stronger.
Luke broke off his pursuit of the TIE, and made a hard left.
"Commander - what?" Caf asked, gripping his seat restraints.
Luke didn't waste time explaining - they had to get out of here. Quickly. Something was telling him this situation wasn't as simple as it had first appeared.
There it was . . . the steady blip on his scope, coming up fast behind him. One curved wing TIE Fighter. Luke pushed the throttle harder but his K-Wing was already at maximum speed.
He shoved the stick right as a few shots sailed past him.
Caf turned around in fright. "Where did that come from!?" he yelled.
"I don't know! Come on you stupid ship!" He slammed his sweaty hand against the controls.
In front of them, his original pursuit continued its flight around the planet, and Luke was forced into following by carefully aimed shots from behind.
"I hope you have a strong stomach," Luke said.
"Why?" Caf asked.
Luke thrust the stick forward, and the K-Wing plunged down. His hunter matched the move, and fired underneath to force him back up.
"Stars! Do you have to be such a show off!?" Luke yelled.
His passenger looked at him in confusion, not knowing to whom his comment was addressed.
"Okay," Luke said, quietly. "Let's see how you handle this!"
Luke thrust the ship into a corkscrew climb, causing the stabilizers to whine in protest. His passenger looked sick, but it would be worth it if they could break away from the planet.
"Commander?" Caf said, weakly.
"I know, I know, we'll be away soon, just give me a -"
"No, not that. That." Caf pointed through the cockpit window.
Luke's eyes widened. "NO!"
The Executor! Hidden in the planet's sensor shadow! All the ship's alarms came on as they were caught in a tractor beam. They were well and truly done for.
Luke took off his helmet and tossed his gloves into the cockpit.
"Stay here," he said to Caf. "I'll handle them."
Caf didn't reply. The old man looked somewhat relaxed, but Luke suspected that was just a brave front. Luke pushed the cockpit open, and dropped down to the Executor's hangar bay floor. He noticed a perfect reflection of himself looking back up. They sure kept the floor clean, if nothing else. He looked up, seeing a squad of troopers rushing to meet them, rifles ready to fry him. Typical Imperial welcome party.
Luke glanced across the hangar, where Vader was disembarking from his own fighter. He had a few seconds, at least. Luke pulled out his blaster, causing the troopers to come skidding to a halt. It would have been funny, if not for the fact he was currently experiencing his worst nightmare, ever since that fateful day at Cloud City.
The stormtroopers stood still, watching him warily. They all looked right as Vader came striding over.
"Let him be," he said. "I will deal with him myself."
"What about that one, sir?" the lead trooper said, gesturing with his gun up to the K-Wing cockpit.
Vader tilted his masked head upwards, and glanced at Caf briefly.
Luke took the opportunity to bring his blaster up threateningly, and Vader quickly turned back to him. Luke watched him warily, wondering what Vader was going to do. He hadn't ignited his own saber. Well, not yet, anyway.
"So," Vader said.
It was triumphant, referring to the fact that he had captured him.
"Another one of your traps," Luke spat.
"This was no trap," Vader said. "I was surprised to see you here."
"You have grown no less skeptical since our last meeting, I see," Vader said. "But you have grown stronger -"
Luke had let his gun drop, and was holding it loosely. Suddenly, it turned end over end and went spinning into Vader's gloved hand.
" - but not strong enough. Yet."
Luke turned aside, embarrassed at being disarmed so easily.
He looked up at the clattering sound of the stormtroopers raising their guns. Caf had climbed out of the cockpit.
"Look, leave him, it's me you want," Luke said, miserably. It was bad enough that he'd got himself into this mess, without dragging someone else down too.
Vader was studying Caf silently.
"He's a civilian!" Luke said. "He's not even a member of the Rebellion ... I was only escorting him to -"
"I think," Caf said, gazing around appraisingly. "I would rather stay here. This looks like as good a place as any to spend Christmas. After all -" Caf tapped his chest. "Christmas is in here."
"Are you crazy!!" Luke yelled.
Caf grinned. "At my age? Of course!" He glanced at the stormtroopers. "Why don't you boys show me to your prison cells?"
The stormtroopers glanced at Vader, who waved his hand dismissively. They automatically moved to obey. Luke watched as they herded Caf towards the lifts.
Luke turned back to Vader, angrily. "If you harm him in any way . . ."
"He is not threat," Vader said. "Unlike you."
Vader loomed closer, and Luke backed away. One brief struggle later, Luke found his left wrist was handcuffed to Vader's right. He struggled to use the Force to break them, but Vader crushed his attempts easily.
"Come," he said, pulling him forward.
Luke could do nothing but obey. As they walked, he gazed around at the huge room, amazed at the sheer size. This hangar could hold all the Rebellion's snub fighters, with room to spare.
Vader must have picked up on his awe. "Perhaps you would like a tour."
Luke felt some pride there. In truth, he would love a tour, but he wasn't about to give Vader the satisfaction. "I would rather be shown to my cell," he said, coldly.
"I am not so foolish as to imagine a cell could contain you," Vader said. "You will come with me."
Luke sighed inwardly, and accompanied Vader towards the lifts at the far end of the hangar. This was shaping up to be the worst situation he had ever been in. Well, apart from Bespin, of course. He wondered if the Rebels would send someone to look for him. He hoped not, they'd likely be captured too. Although Vader probably planned to return the Executor to Coruscant as soon as possible.
"We are not leaving Sytrick anytime soon," Vader said. "The Executor is currently undergoing repair and re-supply. And - " Vader waved a gloved finger at Luke. "Don't take that as encouragement to attempt escape. The technicians are already working to permanently disable your ship."
"Stay out of my head!" Luke snapped.
"You should learn to shield your thoughts."
"You should learn to mind your own business!"
"Your thoughts are my business," Vader remarked.
Luke didn't respond.
Vader pressed the button to close the lift doors, and they began to travel up.
They remained in silence until they stepped out at one of the uppermost floors. Vader stayed slightly behind Luke, reaching out every so often to guide him down various corridors. Luke took a good look around - there didn't seem to be many people around. Perhaps, like the Rebel soldiers, they had all gone home for Christmas. However, the ones who remained were all hard at work at various terminals . . . not celebrating like the Rebels.
"So this is what Imperials do on Christmas Eve," Luke said, eventually. "Work."
"Not everyone in the galaxy celebrates such childish things."
"When your sole purpose is to destroy all life in the galaxy, I can see why Christmas wouldn't have much meaning," Luke said.
Vader didn't reply, and Luke smiled quietly to himself. He soon stopped smiling, however, when Vader stopped him, releasing him from the wrist binders in the process. They had obviously reached Vader's quarters. Vader stood back to allow Luke to enter first.
Luke was curious . . . it wasn't every day you got to see where someone like Vader made his home. It turned out to be exactly like he imagined it - cold, black, adequate and nothing more. No pictures, no decorations . . . nothing that could even remotely be considered unnecessary for existence.
The first room held some kind of circular pod, and a communications area. He was gently pushed through the second set of doors, into another double set of rooms. The right-hand one appeared to be a storage room, it was full of crates, holding who knows what. The left one, where he was being led, held a common black conference table and a few chairs. Down the far end of the room were a couple of black couches, placed opposite each other.
Luke flopped down into one, and folded his arms. He felt hot in his flight suit, but he wasn't about to take it off. Sooner or later Vader had to let his guard down, and Luke could make his attempt to escape.
Then again, Vader was probably about to call someone in to drug him.
He watched the black figure warily, as Vader sat down opposite him. He placed his hands by his sides, and settled his steady masked gaze on Luke.
Luke stared back for a while, and then looked away. A few seconds later, he glanced back to find Vader was still staring at him.
"Is that all you're going to do?" Luke asked. "Sit there and stare at me?"
Vader remained silent.
"I don't believe this," Luke said, eventually. "An hour ago I listening to people sing Christmas carols, and now I'm sitting here with you."
"Such is the unpredictable nature of life," Vader offered.
Luke frowned. Somehow, that wasn't comforting.
"I am considering the best way to incapacitate you for your journey to the Emperor," Vader added.
"How about death?" Luke suggested.
Vader ignored him. "As I said, you have grown stronger. Imagine how much stronger you could grow with a master to instruct you."
"Oh no you don't," Luke said, becoming tense. "Don't start that again. I gave you my answer."
"My offer still stands."
"I am not interested in your offers," Luke said.
"You will be," Vader said, in an eerie echo of Yoda. "You and I - our destinies are entwined."
"Says who?" Luke said, quietly.
"I'm not going to turn," Luke repeated. "I'll die first. I've already proven that. So just go ahead and kill me, if that's all you want with me."
Vader resumed his silent staring. Perhaps he was contemplating doing just that, Luke couldn't tell.
Luke shuffled slightly, uncomfortable. It gradually grew worse.
"Is there a refresher in here?" he asked eventually, somewhat embarrassed.
"I was wondering when you would ask," Vader said. He gestured to a door behind Luke, set into the wall so it was nearly invisible. "You may want to change out of your flight uniform," Vader added. "You will be here a while."
Luke didn't respond. He was glad to get away from Vader, even for a few minutes. His presence was suffocating . . . and he didn't have the strength or the will to resist him, should he start to apply serious pressure. Especially in the form of one topic he hadn't yet brought up.
After using the facilities, Luke debated whether or not to remove his flight suit. On one hand, if he managed to escape, he'd freeze in space without it. On the other, he was nearly dying of heat with it on. He decided to leave it in the refresher . . . if he got the chance to escape, he could retrieve it. As he took it off, he couldn't help but notice the refresher was completely empty. Vader obviously did not need to use it. Curious.
Luke finally emerged back out into the main room, and found Vader had gone. He stretched out with the Force and found him in the first room, talking to an officer. Great, that gave him the opportunity for a little snooping.
Not that there was much to snoop. He found a computer and switched it on. Anything he tried to open required passwords. He jumped when he heard footsteps, and quickly turned the computer off. He returned to the couch, attempting to look innocent.
Vader, however, didn't appear to care. He strode over to where Luke was sitting, and returned to his place opposite.
"It seems some of your Rebel friends came to look for you."
"Oh?" Luke said.
"Finding no trace of your ship, they must have assumed you had been destroyed, because they re-entered hyperspace."
Luke struggled to hide his disappointment.
"You should be pleased they did not find you," Vader said. "Snub fighters are no match for the Executor."
Although Luke hated to admit it, Vader was right for once. Still, it was nice to know they had cared enough to come looking. Luke imagined for a moment what it must be like at the base. The news had probably spread that he was missing in action, and all the Christmas celebrations would have stopped.
Or maybe not. Maybe they all assumed he would show up eventually, just like he did after Hoth, and gone back to their singing and drinking.
He leaned back on the couch, and closed his eyes. Vader's breathing suddenly sounded annoyingly loud. He wondered what Vader would say if he asked him to turn the respirator off ...
"Don't call me Luke," Luke snapped. "We're not on a first name basis."
"Very well, Skywalker," Vader rumbled. "We have much to discuss."
"I've already told you I'm not interested in your offers."
"Then tell me about your life. I am curious."
"Why should I?" Luke asked.
"Then perhaps you would care to discuss why you should embrace the Dark Side."
Luke frowned. "I grew up on a farm on Tatooine."
"On a farm?" Vader leaned forward slightly.
Luke wondered why Vader found that interesting. Usually people found it exceedingly boring. "A moisture farm. Tatooine is a desert planet in the outer rim."
"I have been to Tatooine," Vader said.
"Really? You? I'd have thought that was the last place you'd ever visit."
"I was under the impression you were raised by Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Luke shook his head. "No. I lived with my aunt and uncle. Owen and Beru Lars."
Vader was silent, but his breathing seemed more rapid than usual.
"Then they were murdered. By your troops!" Luke turned away, his voice shaking slightly at the memory.
"Did they have any other children?"
Luke turned back, glaring at Vader. "You don't even care do you? You don't even care that they died!"
"I am sorry your ... your aunt and uncle were killed. But that is in the past. Now did they have any other children?"
"Why do you care?"
"I am curious."
"No. Just me."
"And Owen allowed Obi-Wan to train you?"
"You killed Uncle Owen and you killed Obi-Wan, so why does it matter to you?"
"I did not kill Owen. Don't attribute crimes to me which I did not commit."
Luke snorted with laughter. "As though one more really matters," he said.
"When did Obi-Wan start training you?!"
Vader was definitely rattled now. Luke liked that.
"I'm not listening to you," Luke said, folding his arms.
"You are listening to me, and you will answer my questions."
"La la la la la," Luke sung, clamping his hands over his ears and looking at the ceiling.
Vader rose to his full two-meter height, and took a menacing step towards Luke. Luke immediately reached for his blaster, before realizing it wasn't there.
Vader's advance was suddenly interrupted by a wall terminal making loud, incessant beeps. He paused for a moment, staring at Luke, before moving over to take the call.
"What is it?" he asked, when an officer's image appeared.
"Lord Vader, my deepest apologies for disturbing you. I commed the bridge and -"
"What is it?!" Vader interrupted.
"Sir, the Rebel prisoner you captured is suffering from a medical condition ... I was not informed whether or not this prisoner will be queued for interrogation, so I have transferred him to the medical center, under guard."
"Caf," Luke yelled, from the couch. "What have you done to him?!"
"Explain 'medical condition', Lieutenant."
"I am not sure, sir. After the troopers brought him in, he suffered some kind of abrupt seizure, and fell unconscious."
"Leave him in the medical center, under guard, Lieutenant. It seems unlikely he will survive, yet he may be useful to me in the future."
"Yes, my lord."
The comm switched off, and Luke stood up angrily.
"Medical condition? What a bunch of Imperial lies!"
"No! I want to see him - those stormtrooper thugs probably beat him -"
Vader let out a slow, weary breath. "Very well. We will go and see him. Once you are satisfied he has not been abused, we will come back here and you will answer my questions. Do we have an understanding?"
"Fine," Luke said.
The medical center turned out to be smaller than he anticipated, and the technology wasn't much more advanced than the Rebel's own. Upon entering, Luke spotted two stormtroopers, standing rigid at the foot of the bed.
"Caf!" Luke called, starting forward. The troopers raised their rifles, and Vader pulled him back roughly.
"Stand down," he said to the troopers.
The troopers immediately stood aside. Caf lay on the bed, looking deathly pale. A medical droid stood nearby, but didn't appear to be providing any assistance.
Luke moved to the old man's beside, and placed a hand on his shoulder. If only he'd spent more time with Yoda, maybe he could have done something to help ...
"You have seen him," Vader said, still standing several spans away. "Now we will leave."
Luke glared at Vader.
Luke looked back down at the sound of the weak, feeble voice. Such a change from the spritely old man he had seen less than an hour ago ...
"Caf? What happened? Did they hurt you?"
He coughed. "... No ... should have told you ... earlier. I'm dying ...knew there wasn't much time."
"Shh, it's okay," Luke said, distressed at the old man's pain. "Is there anything we can do? Don't you have medication?"
"It's too ... late."
"Come on," Vader interrupted. "Leave him to die."
"NO!" Luke said. He stared into Caf's eyes. "Caf, I wish I'd got to know you better ... do you have anyone you want me to contact? Who did you come to visit at the base?"
Caf had turned aside, and didn't appear to have heard him.
"Caf," Luke said, more urgently, "Who did you come to the Rebel base to visit?"
Caf smiled, weakly. "You, of course ... big fan ... destroyed the ...battle station."
"Caf, that's ridiculous," Luke said. "I'm nobody ... I'm just ..."
Caf had closed his eyes, but abruptly his hand grasped Luke's arm, and pulled him closer.
His voice was faint and he seemed to be gathering his last strength.
"Just tell him ... I forgive them. I forgive them for my family, for Alderaan. If I can forgive them all that . . . then there's hope ... for ... for peace ... in this ... galaxy."
His head fell back, and Luke felt his life force slip away. Luke held his shoulder a few more seconds, and then turned, walking silently towards the door.
Shortly afterwards, Vader followed him.
There was a long silence.
"When I first saw him," Vader said, finally breaking the quiet, "I could see immediately that he was nearly dead. Your Force skills must be lacking indeed, if you cannot see something so obvious."
Luke didn't reply. He was rubbing his mechanical hand, gently.
"He said that he forgives you for Alderaan," Luke said, eventually.
"I was not responsible for Alderaan."
"The Empire in general, he meant, I think." Luke continued to fidget with his hand. "Is that tour still on offer?" he asked quietly.
Vader glanced at him, failing to hide his surprise from Luke.
"What do you wish to see?"
"Whatever you'd like to show me."
Luke was tired by the time they finally returned. Walking around the ship was like walking around a city. Besides, it must be nearly midnight by now. He flopped down on the couch in exhaustion, wondering if he would be allowed to sleep here.
He'd been true to his word, and answered all Vader's questions. But he was fairly sure Vader still had no idea about Yoda ...he'd exaggerated the training given to him by Ben to divert him. Whether or not he suspected that he was withholding information, Luke didn't know.
Still, they had managed to have a fairly civilised conversation. That was a first.
He opened one eye as he realized Vader hadn't followed him into the room. Soon, he heard the mechanical breathing and Vader stepped out of a storage compartment, carrying a box. Luke couldn't help but be curious.
Vader set it down on the table in front of him.
"You may wish to keep these."
"What's in there?" Luke asked, curiously.
"Old things of which I no longer have any use for."
Luke fished around and pulled out a holovid album.
"Do not look through them now," Vader said, sounding uncomfortable.
"Is that . . . Ben?" Luke said, surprised. There was no mistaking those eyes.
"Who is Ben?"
"I mean Obi-Wan."
"Why do you call him Ben?"
Luke shrugged. "That's how I knew him."
Until you killed him, he thought. If Vader heard the words, he didn't acknowledge it.
Luke turned the pages, a strange sensation beginning to creep up on him. "Who are all these people? They look like Jedi - wait, that almost looks like . . . "
He just caught himself before saying 'Yoda'. As he turned more pages, Obi-Wan began to grow older.
"You were his apprentice, huh?" Luke said, absorbed in the pictures.
"Until I saw how inadequate his instruction was."
Luke wasn't listening. A young blonde boy had begun to appear in the photos, about ten years old.
"Who's the kid?" Luke asked.
"I told you that I do not wish to discuss it," Vader said.
"Is that . . . is that my father?" Luke said, his anger threatening to get the better of him.
"I see you have not yet accepted the truth," Vader offered, sounding weary.
"Why do you have these pictures!?" Luke demanded.
"I should think that would be obvious."
"So you keep pictures of people you kill? You're worse than even I imagined . . ."
"I have already explained to you that I did not kill your father. If you refuse to accept the truth, then that is not my concern -"
"Stop it!" Luke said, standing up. "I don't want to hear it."
"Whether you want to hear it or not, you know it to be true."
"What kind of father would cut off his own son's hand?!" Luke said, his voice cracking.
"That was not my fault," Vader said, calmly. "I gave you ample opportunity to surrender, when you were clearly bested. But still you fought. And I harbor no illusions that you would not have done exactly the same thing to me, given the opportunity."
Luke turned away.
"I had no wish to damage you," Vader said. "My intent was to put you in hibernation, until you could be transported to the Emperor."
"Yes, I'm sure you had my best interests at heart . . . " Luke said, sounding cold.
"If you would only accept the truth, you would see why that is so. You cannot continue as you are now . . . the Emperor will force me to kill you, or he will kill you himself. The only way to preserve your life is to accept your destiny and take your rightful place with me."
"I would rather die than live a life of hatred and cruelty."
"Perhaps if you had remained untrained, you wouldn't have to," Vader said. "You can blame Obi-Wan for that."
"I don't blame Obi-Wan," Luke said. "It was my choice."
"Then he obviously did not inform you of the consequences of such a choice -"
"No," Luke said. "He did. Do you know why I wanted to become a Jedi?"
Vader was silent, waiting to be enlightened.
"Because of my father. All my life my Uncle told me my father was just a navigator . . . but secretly, I wasn't so sure. I had so many dreams . . . they had to have come from somewhere. And when Ben told me he was a Jedi Knight . . . I just wanted to do what he would have wanted. He gave me his lightsaber, and told me my father wanted me to have it. I used to imagine my father watching over me, and being proud - Uncle Owen never was. And then, when you . . ." Luke broke off, rubbing his eyes.
Vader was obviously uncomfortable. He stood up, and placed himself a distance away in front of the far windows.
"What happened to you?" Luke managed to choke out.
When the reply came it was almost too quiet for Luke to hear.
"Too much," he said.
A sweep of black, and then he left the room.
Luke stared after him, realizing he was shaking. He sighed, and glanced over at the chronometer. One minute after midnight. It was Christmas.
When Luke woke up the next morning, he had forgotten where he was. It wasn't until he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, that he realized being captured by his archenemy hadn't been a nightmare, as it had been for the last few years.
No, he was here, on the Executor, and at risk from a fate worse than death. He was also starving.
He stood up, stretched, and heard his backbones click. Then he marched with determination towards the door. If Vader thought for one minute that he was going to be starved into turning to the Dark Side, then he had something coming ...
Before he reached the doors, they slid open by themselves, causing him to rear back in surprise. Once satisfied there were no traps, he stepped forward cautiously.
In the outer room, Vader sat in his meditation chamber, reading a datapad. He glanced up when Luke entered.
"You finally decided to wake up, I see."
"I'm hungry," Luke said. "Don't you Imperials feed your prisoners? I want some breakfast!"
"Breakfast?" Vader said, swivelling his chair so he was facing Luke. "It's nearly lunchtime."
Luke glanced at his wrist-chrono, seeing Vader was right.
"No wonder the Rebellion is loosing this war, when its pilots are so lacking in discipline they cannot even wake up at a reasonable hour."
"I don't usually stay up half the night talking!" Luke said, annoyed at the slight.
Vader made a dismissive gesture. "Go back into the other room, and I will contact someone to bring you some food."
"Don't order me around!" Luke said, folding his arms.
"Do you want to eat, or don't you?"
Luke gave Vader one last glare, then turned, heading back for the dining room. He sat at the table, and tapped his fingers impatiently. His stomach made loud rumbling noises, making his hunger even worse.
"Oh Force, I'm so HUNGRY!" Luke shouted to the air.
On his last word, the doors slid open again, and a solid black serving droid entered the room, carrying two trays, a glass, and a bottle of Corellian champagne in its four arms. Luke's mouth fell open in shock as the gourmet feast was placed in front of him.
The droid rolled off to the side, shutting down into stand by mode. Luke glanced back at the food, and cautiously picked up a fork.
If he hadn't been so starving, he wouldn't have known where to begin. He'd never seen food this good ...vegetables, meat, dessert ...
Luke poured himself a drink, and started eating.
Half an hour later, Vader entered through the doors, and came to a halt on the other side of the table.
"You know," Luke said, talking with his mouth full, "this could make getting captured by the Imperials very popular among my friends."
Vader was silent, while Luke poured himself another glass.
"This champagne is great! I wish Han was here ... he would love it ..."
"I doubt Captain Solo would notice the difference between that and the filth consumed at the cesspits on Tatooine."
"That's what I thought when I first met him," Luke said, waving a vegetable around on a fork while he spoke, "But ol' Han ... he can surprise ya. I guess that's why he and Leia fell in love ...did I ever tell you -"
Luke paused to take another bite of food.
"About how they used to argue, and fight, and drive everyone crazy with their -"
Vader picked up the champagne bottle, studying the label.
"- constant snapping ... I mean, everyone knew they were in love. Wedge and I had this bet going and -"
"You are not used to alcohol, are you, young one?" Vader observed.
"Why don't you have some?" Luke said. "I can't drink the rest of that all by myself. Use a straw, or whatever you use."
"I don't drink."
"Neither do I," Luke said, grinning. "Oh boy ... I'm so full! But look at this dessert! I can't let it go to waste!"
Luke picked up a spoon, and dug it into a plate of ice cream, with jelly and fruit. He missed his mouth slightly as he pushed the spoon into his mouth, and ended up with a smear of cream across his face. He didn't stop to wipe it off.
Vader sat down to watch him.
"You know," Luke said, eating and talking at the same time, "you probably don't realize this - but I actually think you're pretty neat."
"Really," Vader said, dryly.
"Oh yes. Not the killing and the oppression - I hate that. But I think you're a great pilot. I admire the way you're always out of the frontlines with your troops - Tatooine would freeze over before you'd see some of the Alliance leaders on the frontlines with us. And I like the way you're always so controlled. It's as though nothing could ever phase you."
"It comes with age and years of meditation," Vader explained.
"Ha! You mean when you were young you were as reckless as me? I don't believe it."
"You'd be surprised," Vader said.
"Prove it," Luke said. "Tell me the most stupid thing you ever did."
"There are too many to choose from," Vader said.
"Come on," Luke said, eating another spoonful of dessert. "I'll tell you mine."
"I already know yours," Vader said. "It was taking on me in a lightsaber duel when you were barely trained."
Luke appeared to think for a moment. "Yeah, you're probably right. You must have thought I was a few sand grains short of a dune."
"I did not expect any less from a son of mine," Vader said.
Luke smirked at Vader. "You know, I've just realized something."
"Why don't you enlighten me?" Vader suggested.
"You think I'm pretty neat too."
"What made you come to that conclusion?"
"I can feel it," Luke said. "Under that whole evil persona, you like me. Come on, admit it."
Vader leaned back, studying Luke for a moment. "I am impressed with the strength of your Force abilities. And your piloting skills are admirable - commanding your own squadron at your age is no mean feat."
"See, now that wasn't so hard," Luke said, pouring himself another glass of champagne. "Are you sure you don't want some of this?"
Vader stood up, making his way around the table until he was standing next to Luke. He removed the glass from Luke's hands, and pulled his chair back from the table.
"Wait," Luke said, struggling to move forward. "There's still food left! I can't let it be wasted!"
"I'm sure there are some lifeforms in the trash compactors who will enjoy it," Vader said.
Luke stood up, reluctantly, leaning against the table for support. Vader gripped him by the underarms, and began guiding him towards the couch.
"There was one other thing I was going to tell you," Luke said.
Spare me, Vader thought.
"I like the way you dress in black," Luke said. "Don't be surprised if you see me in black one of these days."
"I won't," Vader said, shifting a pillow out of the way, as Luke fell down onto the couch.
"You are the perfect illustration of what this 'Christmas' business is really about," Vader said, pointing at Luke. "Consuming too much food and drink, and then making a complete fool of yourself."
"No, it's about more than that," Luke said, sleepily. "It's about celebrating the good in this galaxy and spending time with your family and ..." Luke paused to yawn. "And I am so sleepy. Call Han or Leia and tell them I'll be home later, okay? They'll be worried about me."
"Night, Father," Luke said, curling up into a fetal position.
Vader let out a long, slow breath. He was reminded of one of the more memorable Christmas Days he and Obi-Wan had spent together in his youth. "This stuff should contain a warning," Obi-Wan had said, of Corellian champagne. "Not suitable for consumption by Skywalkers."
"Oh, stars," Luke said, rubbing his eyes. "Will you please turn out that light!"
"There is no light on in here," Vader said, handing his son a pillow.
Luke covered his eyes.
Abruptly, he sat up and made a mad dash for the refresher. When he came out, ten minutes later, he looked somewhat more presentable.
"I guess I had one too many."
"Only two glasses," Vader said. "Corellian champagne obviously does not agree with you."
"I didn't say anything stupid, did I?" Luke asked.
Vader was silent.
"Oh, I did!" Luke said, holding his head. "Forget everything I said!"
"You want me to forget that you like the way I dress?"
Luke groaned, covering his eyes. "I'm really sorry you had to see me like that. I swear, that's never happened before."
"I wasn't aware you cared about my opinion of you, Luke."
Luke blushed, and turned away. "What's the time? Stars, I don't even know what time it is ..."
"It is 20-hundred."
"The same day as it was when you fell asleep."
"Oh," Luke said, flopping down onto the couch again, looking dejected.
"You don't need to look so ashamed," Vader said, eventually. "I see you as nothing more than a human being."
Luke blinked at Vader, surprised at the words. "You don't know how much I've needed to hear that from somebody," Luke said, feeling a strange peace begin to settle on him. Vader was right - he was only a human being. He had made some mistakes in the past ... but perhaps that made him more of a person, instead of less.
"We are quite similar, you and I," Vader added.
"I wouldn't go that far," Luke said, smiling. He couldn't believe how happy he was feeling, all of a sudden. By all accounts, it made no sense. He was an Imperial prisoner, separated from his friends and yet ... at that moment, life didn't seem bad, at all.
"You know," Luke said, rubbing his temples, "I've forgotten what you said you were going to do with me."
"I've had a fairly recent change of plan," Vader said, standing up. "Go and get your flightsuit, bring that box of holophotos, and come with me."
Luke couldn't believe it. He was standing in the Executor's ship hangar, staring up at an X-Wing. His X-Wing. Just like he'd left it on Bespin. Right down to the stains from the Dagobah swamp.
"Well," Vader said. "What are you waiting for?"
Luke glanced at him, confused.
"You have your flight suit, you have an X-Wing. Now leave."
Luke's mouth fell open for a brief instant, and then he quickly moved into action, pulling on the flight suit. He pushed the box of holophotos into the storage compartment, and started to climb up the ladder. Halfway up, he paused, looking back at Vader.
"Must I give a reason?"
"You've put a homing device on this, haven't you?"
"No homing device."
"You're going to shoot me down once I leave the hangar?"
"As I told you, the Executor is undergoing repair and resupply. You would have to remain with me, until such time as we could leave orbit. I don't think I can put up with you for that long. You have a bad affect on me. Besides, I sense that we will meet again, in the near future. Under a far more ideal circumstance."
As much as Luke couldn't believe it, he could feel Vader was telling the truth.
He took another step up the ladder, and paused again.
"You know, I think I've actually enjoyed today. We should do this again, next year."
"Are you sure you are not still under the influence of that champagne?" Vader asked.
"Not at all," Luke said, grinning.
"Perhaps you enjoyed it because you were asleep for the vast majority of it."
"I know, but ..." Luke paused, trying to phrase his thoughts. "Look, I know we haven't ... resolved anything, but give me some time."
"Go," Vader said, insistently. "Before I change my mind."
Luke took the hint.
When Luke landed at the Rebel base, he was surprised to find the hangar as deserted and quiet as when he had left. He pushed open the cockpit, and stood up, surveying the room. It was good to be back.
A door off to the side slid open, and a group of people came rushing out.
"Leia!" Luke called, grinning. He quickly climbed down the ladder, and was engulfed in a warm hug before he'd even reached the ground.
"Luke, I was so worried! Where have you been?"
Luke stepped back, and gazed around at his friends. Artoo and Threepio were on one side, with Wedge, Lando and Chewie on the other. The sight of them made him feel a pure, unrestrained joy he hadn't felt in years. He couldn't stop smiling, causing the others to stare at him in confusion. Luke realized they were still waiting for an answer.
"Well ..." Luke started.
Chewie roared, and Artoo beeped, encouraging him to continue.
"Where did you think I was?" Luke asked.
"We only realized you were missing an hour ago," Wedge explained. "When the other two pilots came back alone, we thought you'd gone on to join the Alderaanian's party."
"And then when I came back and realized you weren't here, we thought you'd had an accident," Leia said.
"So what's the deal?" Lando asked. "We're waiting here, come on."
Luke let go of Leia, and dusted off his flightsuit.
"Well, it's kind of a long story," he shrugged.
Luke thought for a moment. "I bumped my head on the cockpit, and blacked out. When I woke up, and had got a little lost ... but well, here I am."
He looked back at the skeptical faces of his friends.
"Are you trying to tell us that you spent Christmas with a certain special someone?" Lando asked, grinning.
Luke shrugged, smiling.
The rest of them laughed.
"Come on," Leia said. "There's still time to celebrate." She put her arm around Luke, and led him towards the party going on in the next room. The rest of them followed behind.
"You're in luck, Luke," Wedge said. "There's one bottle of champagne left."
Luke's eyes widened. "No champagne!" he said, firmly.