9 months later
Queen Leia Organa gazed gravely into the mirror in front of her.
Her dark hair had grown faster than expected, but it was still only 15 cm long and thin.
Her face was fuller, less skeletal. She had put on necessary weight and her skin, while still pale, no longer dismayed her friends and servants with its deathly pallor. Her light blue dress no longer hung in lank folds on her frame.
"Are you all right, your Highness?"
The woman who appeared behind her in the mirror wore a familiar look of irritating concern. Leia was sick and tired of everyone treating her like a breakable doll. But she realized that the anxiety sprang from loyalty, devotion, and even love.
"Yes, Kirana, I'm fine," the Queen said with a sigh, "Has there been any word from my brother?"
"Yes, your Highness," Kirana said with a smile, even as she began combing Leia's hair preparatory to arranging it with a lovely white lace scarf that would conceal the somewhat ragged ends, "He will be arriving in less than 15 minutes and will meet you in the main landing bay. Commander Piett will escort you."
Leia felt her heart lift with excitement at the first piece of news, even as the latter made her mouth turn down in a grimace. Piett was not as bad as most Imperials she had encountered, but he was still… Imperial.
And being here, on Vader's ship the Devastator, surrounded by Imperials, made her uneasy. Not terrified, given the surprising events of the last week, but not comfortable either.
Silently, she stared into the mirror as Kirana deftly finished arranging her hair and then applied make-up on her face and lips to give her more color. Not that Leia particularly felt the need to look her best. Luke wouldn't care, and she suspected the others meeting her on the planet below would be indifferent as well.
But Kirana was also tense and agitated; it was only right to let the woman perform her normal duties.
When her handmaiden was finished, Leia stood up with a smile and quiet thanks, and glided toward the door. It opened as if on cue to reveal a solemn Commander Firmus Piett.
"This way please, your Highness," Piett said, as he turned and marched toward the landing bay. Leia fell into position behind him, even as an honor guard of 8 troopers fell in behind her.
The Queen walked with a regal step, her eyes fixed on the green-gray back of the officer in front of her. Around her, stormtroopers came to attention, and she could feel the intense curiosity and speculation of the officers and underlings toiling away on this behemoth of a ship.
She ignored them all. Yes, the galaxy was lurching in shock from the events of the last few days. Yes, she was the guest of a Sith Lord of dubious stability. But she was a queen, and a daughter of Alderaan, and they could stare all they wanted, they could think what they desired. She was strong, the daughter of Bail and Breha Organa, the sister of Luke Skywalker, the biological daughter of Padme Amidala Naberrie and…
She would be strong.
The door to the landing bay was huge, and Leia felt dwarfed as she passed under it and into the bay where a myriad of ships were landing, departing, and being prepared for flight.
"Leia, oh Leia!"
Her rigid expression and regal bearing were shrugged off like a cloak, and Leia Organa was running and laughing and in the arms of her beloved twin.
"Oh Luke, oh Luke!" she cried as she hugged him fiercely.
He returned the embrace heartily and for a long minute they clung to one another before stepping back to gaze intently into one another's faces.
Leia's first thought was that Luke looked older. He was still the same tanned, blue eyed, blond youth from their first meeting almost a year ago, but his eyes had seen more, and his expression was firmer, less uncertain. And she felt something as well, a prickle in her mind and heart that was probably the movement of the mysterious Force.
Luke, in turn, felt tears of relief wet his eyes as he observed his sister's face, which had filled out, her hair which had grown, her determined eyes which showed not just mental but physical strength. It had torn him apart to be separated from Leia during these last 9 months, but Obi-wan Kenobi and his father had agreed it was the safest plan.
Luke turned to the officer standing at his sister's side. The man said courteously, "Lord Vader gave orders that his shuttle be made available for you. Your pilot is standing by."
Luke frowned a little, "Can't I fly her myself?"
The officer looked startled, then gulped, "Well, sir, I am aware that you have clearance to fly any small ship in the Fleet but perhaps it would be safer for you and the Queen if …"
"Not to worry, Commander Piett," Leia interrupted with a bright smile, "My brother is one of the best pilots in the galaxy, even if he is a trifle reckless at times. We'll take good care of Lord Vader's shuttle, and promise to return it in operational condition. I'm sure he won't mind if there are a few dents on the body."
The man grew pale with horror, and Luke, with a slight jab of his elbow into his sister's side, said reassuringly, "Don't worry, Commander. I promise you she won't get a scratch."
Five minutes later, they were lifting off in an otherwise empty shuttle.
"Well, that was mean," Luke said with a smile at his twin.
Leia grinned impishly, even as she looked a bit embarrassed, "Yeah, it was, wasn't it? Piett – that's the commander you were talking to – isn't as bad as many of them, but the average Imperial officer is a pompous, beauracratic, arrogant irritant. Being around a crowd of Imperial military makes my skin crawl and I'm afraid I let my tongue have its way. I have been suppressing it for too long, being the Queen and all."
Luke chuckled and put one quick hand on his sister's arm, "Well, it's just you and me for a few minutes, Leia. And it's so good to have this time alone."
Leia gazed through the cockpit window at the volcanic planet below her, then at the Star Destroyers orbiting the planet. She counted five, and knew there were others out of visual range. A large fleet surrounded Mustafar.
She said, "We probably won't have much time to talk once we land so, yes, how are you doing, Luke?"
"I'm doing pretty well, Leia. It's been a hard 9 months because you and I were separated. Uncle Owen was stressed, and Ben Kenobi was on edge, which is saying something, since the Jedi Masters were trained to be totally calm, and Ben has been practicing unworldly serenity for 18 years in the desert wastes. Still, dealing with Vader would be stressful for anyone, and for Ben especially."
"Because…?" Leia asked.
"Because 18 years ago, Obi-wan fought him, cut off his three remaining limbs, and left him to burn alive in the lava fields of that planet below us," Luke said steadily, "So naturally Vader hates his guts. Or hated his guts. I don't know what's going on between them exactly. Obviously he's let Ben live for now."
"You are certain?" Leia asked with trepidation.
Luke shot her a surprised look, "Oh yes, Leia. Don't worry. I can sense Ben's presence and he's doing fine. Vader less so."
Leia was startled, "You mean Vader is injured?'
Luke nodded just slightly, before turning back to gaze into toward Mustafar, "Badly. I'm not sure that he'll survive."
"And you know this because…"
"Because," Luke sighed, and again glanced at her, "Because he's my biological father, and I've been training with Obi-wan, and a Force bond has developed between me and Vader, so I can tell. There was a huge fight 4 days ago between Vader and Palpatine, and Vader – Father – was badly injured. I can't tell how badly, but it isn't a minor impairment and his health is precarious anyway. The Emperor, of course, was killed – so Father won, I guess you could say."
Leia circled around to nestle next to Luke's left side, allowing him to pilot with his right hand.
"How are you doing with all this?" she asked tenderly.
He gave her a slight hug while starting the landing cycle. The shuttle was approaching the planet's surface and Leia could see a landing pad in the midst of the orange-red glow of Mustafar's lava fields.
"I'm sad," Luke said, with a slight waver in his voice, "And confused. And angry, I suppose. I have only met him in person that one day in your Senate office as he didn't dare come near me while the Emperor lived. I know he's caused so much suffering, so much pain, so much destruction. Ben told me things about him that make me think the galaxy is better off with him dead. But he's my father, Leia. And yours, I know, but not your real father as Bail was so wonderful. But I never had a father and I want one. I want him. But maybe that's being selfish…"
His voice trailed off and Leia felt a slight jerk as if he was swallowing a sob.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked," she apologized.
He shook his head, "No, I appreciate it. I need to talk about it. I had to pry what information I have about Father from Ben, who most definitely has his own conflicted feelings about Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader. Uncle Owen still won't discuss the whole situation at all. He didn't know what really happened to Anakin Skywalker, and he's furious with Ben for concealing the truth for 17 years."
"Well, it was insane. It could have gone so wrong," Leia replied.
"Yeah, Ben shuts me down when I try to ask him why in all the star clusters he did such a crazy thing. Father was right, though, he was shielding me. But Ben was down with some minor illness when your people showed up with the urgent news that you were so ill, and I blasted off with them before Ben was aware of it. Not that it would have made any difference if he had known. I would have stowed away on a garbage ship to get to you if necessary."
Leia closed her eyes with gratitude. The loss of her parents was like a poorly healed wound – sometimes agonizing, sometimes merely aching, yet always there. But she had Luke. She had Luke.
When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see they had landed. Luke stood up and then froze at attention.
"Someone's out there…" he murmured.
"Besides Obi-wan and… and Vader?"
"Yes, another Force sensitive, but a Light Sider."
Leia looked at him with wide eyes. She hadn't realized how much Luke had learned.
"I haven't actually learned all that much," Luke said apologetically (which freaked her out more – was he reading her mind?) "So I can't tell anything more."
"Well," Leia braced herself, "I'm guessing we'll find out soon enough."
At the bottom of the ramp there was indeed an individual waiting, a tall Togruta female with white and blue montrals. One of the montrals was wrapped in bacta bandages, and she had a strange pattern of injury across her face, like jagged lightning bolts. She was dressed in a simple gray jumpsuit, obviously designed for ease of movement, and at her belt were not one but two lightsabers.
The twins stopped at the bottom of the ramp and stared gravely into the woman's face. She, in turn, stared back with a look of unsettled fascination.
Leia's mind suddenly was pulled back in time, and she found herself blurting out, "Sokey?"
The solemn look vanished, and the Togruta stepped forward while reaching her hands out to Leia, "My dear Leia, I had no idea you'd remember me! You weren't quite 3 standard years old when I slipped onto Alderaan to teach you shielding. You did indeed call me 'Sokey'."
The memory clicked into place, of herself as a small child sitting beside one of the decorative ponds in the palace garden. She remembered 'Sokey' using colorful fish in the pond to teach shielding, though the details were not clear.
"So you are a Jedi?" her twin asked eagerly.
The Togruta turned to him and shook her head, "No, I was only a padawan and left the Old Jedi Order before the purges. I'm Ahsoka Tano, and I was Anakin Skywalker's padawan."
"Padawan?" Leia demanded in confusion.
"Apprentice, essentially," Luke explained, "A young Force user working under the direction of a master. I had no idea that our father had a padawan, though. But then the things I don't know about him could fill holocubes, Padawan Tano."
Ahsoka sighed and reached out to place one hand on each of the twins, then guided them off the landing platform and into a complex of rooms and passages. Luke and Leia looked around with widened eyes. Parts of the environment were man made (or alien made), whereas other sections of the passages utilized natural rock formations and corridors. Near, but not too near, were bubbling pools of lava; beyond, a river of molten rock glowed in the distance. The temperature was warm, even hot, and soon Leia felt herself sweating. Luke, she noted wryly, was not suffering as much thanks to extensive exposure to Tatooine's extremely hot climate.
After a few minutes of solemn silence, the Togruta spoke again, "Please call me Aksoka, Luke and Queen Leia. You aren't alone in not knowing much about what happened to Anakin. I thought that your father died in the Jedi Purges, and had absolutely no idea that he'd become a psychotic, vicious Sith Lord until a few months ago."
The tone was angry, and Ahsoka clearly wondered if she'd crossed a line as she quickly added, "I'm sorry, I know he's your father."
"He's not my father," Leia said with weary grief, "My father was Bail Organa and the Empire viciously destroyed him, and my mother too."
"He is my father," Luke said sadly, "But don't worry, Ahsoka, he betrayed everything we believe in and there is every reason to be angry."
"Kenobi wouldn't say so. He would say a Jedi must be at peace, must let go of all negative emotions."
"What do you say?" Luke asked curiously, "Do you think that makes sense? I was taught by my Aunt Beru to acknowledge negative emotions, even embrace them, process them, and then move on in a healthy way. Not suppress them, which is what it sounds like Ben is promoting."
Ahsoka stopped abruptly and turned to look at the youth intently. After a long moment, she nodded, even as she started walking again, "You truly are Anakin's son, Luke, quite aside from your looks – and you are the very image of him when he was younger except that you have Padme's height. He too had many questions about the Order and its requirement that members deny themselves strong emotions and close attachments to others. Romance was of course forbidden, but even close friendships were discouraged for fear that the attachment would lead to poor decisions."
"Why would it lead to poor decisions?" Leia asked in a puzzled tone, picking up the pace again.
Ahsoka shook her head, causing her montrals to swing a little, "Supposedly close attachments would lead a Jedi to betray the needs of the many for the needs of the few, or the one. And apparently that did happen, as Anakin betrayed the Jedi in the hopes of saving your mother Padme. But I have to think that if he'd had support from Obi-wan and the Jedi Council, he would have made a different decision. We'll never know, of course."
"There is no excuse for what he did," Leia said coldly.
"I agree, Queen Leia," Ahsoka said gently, "I'm merely pointing out a possible issue with the Old Order. If the Jedi are to rise again, then I believe such issues should be addressed. Of course, I'm just an ex-padawan, so what do I know?"
"A lot, it sounds like," Luke said with a small smile. He could tell that this woman was parsecs ahead of him in training. He felt inadequate, not for the first time in his life…
Then he felt a sudden iciness, as if the temperature had dropped 50 degrees. He shivered even as he stopped in his tracks and looked around, bewildered. The area they were in seemed much like the others, with a slight drop from the path onto rock, and the molten lava farther on. Leia looked at him in surprise, Ahsoka with sadness in her eyes.
"You feel it, then?" she asked him gently.
"Yes, what is it?" Luke asked, unsettled. It was cold, and dark, and sad, and angry, and lost.
"I don't know, but I too have sensed great Darkness in this very spot. I asked Obi-wan and he threw up his shields so fast I felt like I was crashing into a stone wall. Something terrible happened to Anakin here, and Obi-wan as well."
Leia grabbed Luke's arm, "Let's get out of here, then. Is it much farther?"
"A few minutes walk," Tano said, clearly in agreement with the decision to move, as she started walking at a faster pace.
It was five minutes later that Luke that Ben and his father's Force signals suddenly flared into near proximity. Ahead of them was a plated door, firmly closed and locked.
Ahsoka pulled out a code cylinder and inserted it into the lock, causing the door to slide open.
"Before we go in," she said to Luke and Leia, "I should warn you, indeed I should have warned you earlier that Vader, Anakin, doesn't look well. I mean, he looks really bad. I mean, awful and terrible. I'm not sure…"
"Whether he'll survive. I know," Luke responded steadily, and pushed his way past her.
Inside was a large room, dominated by a strange cylindrical tank, taller than Luke, filled with a liquid which seemed to slosh more slowly than normal water. Inside the tank…
Luke froze and felt nausea rise in his throat. Beside him, he heard a gasp from Leia; she too was obviously dismayed at the man who hung silently in the tank in front of them, a tube providing breathing support through his mouth and nose, with supporting restraints keeping him in place.
Vader was completely bald, ravaged by scars, with all four limbs partially missing. He was frighteningly still except for the slight movement of his injured torso, which rose and fell slowly accompanied by breathing sounds.
Horrified though he was, Luke felt compelled to move closer. Nearer to the tank, he could make out other injuries, including a blaster wound on his father's left shoulder, and strange jagged marks, fresh ones, like those on Ahsoka Tano, but covering what remained of his body.
Belatedly, he noticed the old Jedi Ben Kenobi standing to his right, his hands touching the outside of the tank, his eyes closed in concentration. And through the Force, Luke could sense power emanating from the old man and entering into the battered body of his former apprentice and friend.
"What happened to him?" Leia whispered softly.
Ben opened his eyes and tilted his chin at Ahsoka, "Can you take over, Ahsoka? I'm growing weary."
The twins watched, wide-eyed, as Ahsoka immediately strode over to the tank, put her hands on it, and closed her eyes. After a few seconds, with the Force swirling powerfully, Kenobi withdrew and walked wearily over to a functional chair near the wall, more falling than sitting in it.
"I'm getting too old for this sort of thing," he muttered.
"Ben, what happened?" Luke demanded.
The old Jedi ran his left hand over his face and muttered, "Vader happened. Or Anakin did. Blessed if I know, Luke. The whole thing was beyond belief. I never thought in all my days that the Emperor would get wiped out this way. I truly did not expect it."
Luke and Leia exchanged glances.
"General Kenobi," Leia said courteously but firmly, "That essentially tells us nothing at all. Could you please start at the beginning and go to the end."
Obi-wan looked up in surprise, then smiled, "My dear Leia, I haven't seen you since you were a newborn, but I'd know you anywhere. The very image of Padme. Well, it's a long story but I'll try to keep it as brief as possible. As you know, Luke, I journeyed to Carida about a week ago to meet up with Ahsoka, hoping that I could sound her out on what was happening with Ana — with Vader. Your father and I had been in contact, and he assured me he truly wanted to kill Darth Sidious, but I had my doubts.
"Vader tracked my ship out of Tatooine and showed up at the so-called safe house where Ahsoka and I had met and arrested us. He was all fury and rage and dark power and I thought it was the end. He proceeded to drag us into the Emperor's Throne Room on Imperial City in chains, released our chains with the Force, threw our lightsabers to us, and attacked Sidious directly. We had our hands full killing off the Royal Guards, who were quite skilled, and by the time we had dispatched them Anakin had taken a blaster shot and was being bombarded with Palpatine's legitimately infamous Force lightening. Ahsoka rushed to Anakin's rescue and got blasted for her pains, but that was enough distraction that Vader was able to push past Palpatine's defenses and cut him in half. That was the greatest moment I've had in the last 20 years."
Luke's jaw dropped, "So he arrested you and then released you?"
"Of course," Obi-wan said with a chuckle, "It was brilliant, really, though I didn't think so at the time, not knowing his plan. Your father does hate me, Luke, for injuring him so badly, for putting him in that life support suit. He focused on that hatred and rage to deceive Palpatine into allowing him to bring both of us into the Throne Room – I'm guessing he told his Dark Master that he wished him to observe our deaths."
He grew more serious now, "I felt the shift in the Force the moment before he released us from our bonds. Love, love for you two, and for Padme. Hatred toward Sidious for deceiving him for so long. Palpatine told your father that he had killed your mother, you know, here on Mustafar. The guilt and self-hatred tormented Vader, ate into him, for 17 years until he found you twins on Imperial Center 9 months ago. He knew then the truth, that Padme had not died at his hand but instead had lived long enough to give birth to you two, though tragically she died in childbirth as he had foreseen in prescient dreams. He decided on the day he met you that he would kill the Emperor, and he fulfilled that promise."
Luke glanced at Leia, and she sensed his shy delight.
She in turn merely felt incredulous. Vader had been the Emperor's Kell dragon since, well, she was born. Her father Bail had quietly told her just a handful of stories of the terrors he had wrought on the innocents of the galaxy, of his Dark Powers, of his rages.
And she knew these tales were merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
It was hard to believe that Darth Vader, the Emperor's most faithful servant would destroy his master for her, Queen Leia of Alderaan, a known collaborator with the growing resistance against the Empire. For Luke Skywalker, an uneducated farmboy from Tatooine.
She glanced at her brother, and watched him as Luke slowly walked back to the tank, where he lifted his hands and placed them as Ahsoka was doing. She saw him close his eyes.
Leia Organa turned back to Kenobi, "Do you really believe any of this, General?"
She sounded rather piteous, she realized, and firmed her tone, "Do you really believe that Vader has somehow turned back from the Darkness? It seems impossible given who he is, what he has done."
Kenobi gazed at her with a mixture of sympathy and curiosity for a long moment. Finally he held out his hand to her, and she took it.
"Leia, Anakin Skywalker was always more devoted to people than to ideals. He was committed to his mother, who died, his wife, who died, and then Sidious, who manipulated and lied to him. The Darkness is still with Anakin, but so is Light, for he genuinely loves you both. This I know."
She shook her head. She had much training in politics and diplomacy, but this was beyond her.
"I… I don't know what to do, General Kenobi. What should we do?"
Kenobi smiled just a little.
"Queen Leia, my best advice to you and brother is simply that you survive. That's what your father needs from you right now."
She smiled a little, tremulously. That hadn't proven particularly easy in the past, but yes, she could try to survive.
Luke found himself submerged in a rather amateur… trance? Meditative state? Something.
(He needed more training. He needed it!)
He could clearly sense the Person who was his unconscious father, but it was a fuzzy, peculiar, strange interaction. There were flashes of love, flashes of hatred, bleeding through to impact on Luke's partially trained senses. Who was this man who was his father? What was he like now? Was he Darth Vader? Or Anakin Skywalker? Both? Neither? Still a Sith Lord? Or a Jedi returning to the Light?
He had so many questions and no answers.
He focused on the drifting form in front of him, focused his concern, his curiosity, yes, his love for the man who had sired him, the man who had risked his life to make the galaxy a safer place for Luke and Leia.
Luke felt a sudden twist in his spirit, and his eyes flew open involuntarily.
There, only centimeters away, was his father, now with his eyes opened – eyes blue like the ocean, eyes like Luke's.
And a soft voice spoke in his mind:
"I did it for you, my son, and for your sister. Because I love you."
Luke smiled, even as tears threatened to spill out of his eyes and down his cheeks.
Yes, he had a thousand questions, but maybe that was the only answer he needed right now.
Author Note: Just so you aren't worried about it – Vader doesn't DIE from his injuries. Bacta plus love plus Force power brings him back from the brink.