Why yes, I am back, after a ludicrously long pause; thanks to everybody who's reviewed, emailed, and generally spent the last year telling me to hurry up. Just so you know, after spending some time away from the fic finishing university, and sorting out a career and accommodation, I'm taking a couple of weeks of writing holiday in Seattle, on account of which, this update, and hopefully many more to come much sooner this time.
All the best, Jon.
Vader walked through the low, narrow underground cave, which ran beneath the gnarled old tree that Yoda had led him to; it would have been a tight squeeze for anybody, but for Vader's large metal body, it was even more awkward. Sensors in the suit informed him of the local life forms that were nearby; insects and snakes mainly.
As the corridor began to stir and shift, turning dark behind what looked like a veil of heat haze, he guessed, as he gripped the handle of his lightsabre, that the test Yoda had promised him was about to begin.
He found himself floating in darkness. Absolutely empty space reached out in every direction. He felt nothing under his feet, but sensed that he could will himself to move in any direction through the force.
Nothing. Absolute darkness.
A tiny speck. There was something in the distance. He willed himself towards it, accelerating every moment. The object came into focus. A battle droid; one of the feeble reprogrammed worker droids that the Trade Federation had used all those years ago. It silently rotated in space to face him, as the lightsabre flew to his hand, ignited, and sliced straight through the droid. As it fell to pieces, each of the parts dissolved into nothing. Vader stopped and turned.
That was it…?
He saw something behind him. Something coming towards him, and quickly too. He knew the face instantly, even though he had only seen it once before, for a split second on Naboo, as a child; Darth Maul.
Maul's twin lightsabre ignited, as he flew at Vader, as quickly as Vader had charged at the droid before, and swung horizontally, bringing the lightsabre down to decapitate Vader. Vader blocked, parried, and moved back, as Maul continued the fierce and dangerous - but rather clumsy - assault.
Then Vader sensed two more presences approaching him. From his left, Dooku, with his lightsabre held at arm's length in his distinctive overhand grip. And from his right, Grievous, four lightsabres whirling in a blaze of different colours.
Vader picked his strategy at once. Striking back at Maul - enough to knock him back for a moment - Vader concentrated on Grievous; as he recalled, the General had no force training at all, and thus had no defence to Vader's force grip, which instantly tore off two of the four arms, and claimed one of the lightsabres for himself.
Grievous was the first to die almost straight after this; with Vader's own red lightsabre thrust into the blaze of whirling green and blue, bringing an immediate halt to Grievous' intimidating but ultimately inefficient attack, the second was driven through his chest plate, and reclaimed immediately after, as the General's image faded away.
Dooku and Maul caused more problems; both were trained Sith, and could not be disposed of so easily with the force as an ally. Meeting the attacks of both, he was completely unable to find any opening to pursue; any attack on either would allow the other an easy strike at him. Every passing second made him more frustrated, as every blow left him utterly on the defensive, and unable to strike back, until, seizing what looked like it might be the slightest chance to strike, he lunged with a cry at Dooku, viciously pulling off a feint to the left, but then instead bringing the lightsabre straight up in a vicious upward swing, and lopping off both the former Sith's hands, just as he had once before.
In the same breath, he turned and lunged at Maul, before Maul could do the same to him, and drove the blade up to the handle into the chest of the demon-faced Sith Lord.
Only to find himself not looking at the red and black markings of Maul at all. No sneer. No yellow eyes. No horns.
But rather, wavy brown hair. Large hazel eyes. And the mole on her left cheek.
'Anakin…' she whispered, pleadingly, as the blood soaked through her dress.
'No,' Vader responded, as he watched Padmé dying in front of him, and began to reach into the force, and find the source of his illusion, and tear it apart.
Outside, Yoda felt the waves of energy lashing out through the force, seeking to tear apart the tree, or, if necessary, the entire planet. But Yoda knew it was futile; the tree had been imbued with its power a long time ago, and had weathered worse assaults than this over the years.
'No,' repeated Vader firmly, inside, as Padmé slumped down, suspended in space somehow, still conscious, still begging with her eyes, still pleading for help. Vader's attempt to end the test became more forceful; he started getting hold of anything he could in the force, and literally tearing it apart, or crushing it to dust, but none of it did anything to the black empty world, and his dying wife.
The exertion began to tire him. He felt faint. He fell.
Hours later, Vader rested outside, lifted out of the tree's field of influence through Yoda's control of the force. And, to Vader's annoyance, matters were just as he remembered them, with Yoda providing a scolding, and he himself expected to sit there and listen to it.
'Control! Control! Always you are desperate to have total control! Control life and death, be named a Master, control the galaxy, always with you how things must be! Control all things, you cannot.'
Vader sat in silence. He could not deny the general wisdom of the aged Jedi Master, though he was not in the mood for a lecture, and felt that this training ought to be focussing more on the practical; a general stratagem, or the mastery of a new skill.
'Much more training is required, yet. Much you have forgotten. Much you never learnt in the first place.'
'But, first,' Obi-Wan interjected, as Vader and Yoda both turned to look at the shimmering ghost, 'The disturbance, Anakin. The disturbance in the force that happened at the very start of this. What did the dark lord of the Sith do? How did he change the course of the Galaxy so absolutely in one moment?'
Vader hesitated for a moment, but then put aside his misgivings. As much as he had some personal dislike for Yoda and Obi-Wan, they were the only allies he had, they did potentially have the power to help him, they now had several common goals, and he had nothing to gain from hiding anything from them, 'It was not my former Master. It was Leia. She is pregnant with Luke's child.'
Yoda stared for a moment at Vader. Then swallowed. Then pulled his trembling arms together, and hunched down, as if hiding, more distressed than Vader had ever seen him before. 'No,' cried the diminutive Jedi Master, sounding more like one of the creatures that lived with him on the swamp world than a respected and composed Master.
Obi-Wan, more out of habit than necessity, sat down, and stared despondently onwards, completely lost, immediately blaming himself entirely for everything that had happened, as he had chosen not to tell Luke the truth. 'The children,' Obi-Wan whispered to himself mournfully.
'Children?' Vader asked, not following the extreme grief the others were showing.
'Padmé's children. The children of Anakin and Padmé,' murmured Yoda from his hunched position.
'Your children,' added Obi-Wan, turning to Vader to speak, after flashing a warning glance at Yoda.
Anakin allowed himself to fall to the ground; he would have lain sprawled out, though the suit automatically responded to a lack of control by lowering itself to a more dignified and artificial kneeling position. Anakin choked and sobbed and screamed at everything that had happened, but without the artificial voice box engaged, all his sounds were muffled behind the airtight mask.
To the eyes of anybody watching him, Darth Vader seemed to be kneeling in stoic acceptance. But Yoda and Obi-Wan heard his true feelings in the force; all the raging, clashing emotions that a black robotic suit could veil, but not destroy.
'How?' Anakin demanded, 'How could you leave them both out there? Leave them both completely ignorant of who they were?'
Obi-Wan looked suddenly angry, and snapped back, 'To protect them from you!' All three sat in silence for a moment, until Obi-Wan spoke again, trying to determine exactly what this all meant, 'Yoda, is there any precedent for this at all?'
'A few times, in the past, but of this exact nature, no. Sometimes at the Jedi temple, youthful spirits and hormones ruled young minds. Overlooked it, we mostly did, as long as youthful passion, it was, and not love. Sometimes, pregnancy occurred, but the Jedi… retired, they would be. Allowed to retire from the Order quietly and comfortably.'
'You expelled them?' Anakin asked, a note of anger clear in the artificial voice.
'For the good of the child,' Yoda responded. 'For the mother, such attachment. For the child, with a Jedi mother, who could never be there when the child wanted her. No, cruel, it would be, to rob a child of its mother, that is how we thought.'
'Could the child be harmed by the mother continuing to train?' Obi-Wan asked, concern playing over his shimmering ghostly features.
'Perhaps. I do not know. There is no precedent for this, as I said. But many things does this revelation explain. The child of a Jedi is rare enough, but both parents as Jedi, and them the children of one so strong with the force as Anakin Skywalker, and the mother actively training as a Jedi during the pregnancy, and an incestuous pregnancy too; prone to complications that is at any rate. The child, unique it will be. An entity such as this, never has one existed in the living force before. Change the course of history, it might. Cloud the force with a great disturbance, its conception did.'
'How can we fix this?' asked Obi-Wan.
'We?' Vader exclaimed, 'We? None of us have any right to interfere! You've been out on this swamp world for too long, plotting schemes, and treating people - children, my children - like instruments for you to achieve your ends. You tried to use my own son to kill me. You've lied to them both. Manipulated them for your own ends. You're no better than the Emperor. You had no right to interfere in their lives. You had no right to trick them into doing the dirty work you couldn't do. If you had just left them alone, they could both be happy! Now Luke is halfway down the dark path, and Leia is in mortal danger, carrying her brother's child! You've done enough harm to their lives!'
'Anakin,' began Obi-Wan, meaning to chastise his former student for being so disrespectful, before realising he had nothing he could justly reply. Instead, he continued, 'What can we do now to set things right?'
'If there is the slightest bit of light left in me, then there is certainly something good left in Luke. If I can turn away from the darkness, then so can he. And as for the child, the right place is with the parents. Somewhere peaceful. Somewhere where nobody will follow them and try to use them in any huge Galaxy-spanning crusade. Just like she wanted for Luke and Leia, at the lakes of Naboo. And there's only one way I can see that such a thing can happen. I have to go.'
'Anakin,' called Obi-Wan as Vader rose and walked back towards his ship, 'If you go now, anything could happen. You could be killed. You could be seduced by the dark side again.'
'That doesn't matter,' replied Anakin as he reached his TIE X-1 Advanced, 'All that matters is that I set things right for my children.'
Like she would have wanted
'Once more,' said Obi-Wan, watching the ship blast away from the planet, 'the fate of the Galaxy may rest on Anakin's shoulders.'
'Perhaps, but in Leia, there is another. For better or worse, we have done everything we can. Hope, that is all we have.'
'I will go to Leia. She requires all the support we can give her.'
'Tell her of this, you must, Obi-Wan. In that, Vader is right. Keeping the truth from them, terrible things it has caused. Wrong, we were. It is time that she knows the whole truth,. Better that, than she learn it from Luke.'
'I will do what must be done, old friend.'
Hours later, passing in and out of consciousness, Luke became faintly aware of being dragged through the jungle. Then he felt that he was in the shade, and the cool.
Then there was the pain. The terrible, unbearable pain of field surgery; Luke was not unfamiliar from receiving emergency treatment - he had taken a few blaster wounds over his time with the Rebels - but you never got used to it, and this was absolute agony.
He saw not through his vision, which was clouded by the current pain and a concussion from the impact, but through the force. That was how he knew it was the Emperor who had rescued him, and was personally overseeing his treatment.
Luke gritted his teeth and let the medi-droid get on with whatever needed to be done. He tried to focus and think, despite the pain, and, if anything, to distract himself from it. Leia had attacked him. But he wasn't angry at anybody except himself. He had been carried away by anger at the bounty hunter who just kept interfering, and Leia had reacted on instinct. He couldn't blame her for acting to save Boba Fett's life; her caring nature was part of the reason he loved her. He had to find her and explain everything. He needed to set things right.
In the meanwhile, he was once again in the hands of the Emperor, who had rescued him, and was providing essential medical treatment, which gave Luke hope that Sidious was not angry at him for trying to run away with Leia. This was fortunate, as he needed the strength of the Empire again.
He had accepted their help, and turned his back on them before. He could do it again, he told himself. He would call himself "Morningstar", and call the Emperor "Master" if that helped; titles didn't really mean anything.
Luke had plans, and with the strength of the Empire as his tool, he could achieve them. And then he could turn his back on all of it. But not now.
Sidious watched the machines at their work. Though the Sith Lord had a habit of favouring the ironic touches, the equipment that was operating on Luke was not the same as had operated on Anakin at the end of the Clone Wars; that was still gathering dust on Coruscant.
Today, cruelty had won out over irony; this equipment was even more antiquated. Luke was receiving attention from a medi-droid that had last seen service in the first half of the Clone Wars, when it had been programmed to deal with injuries received by clones, whose treatment was designed to favour the most rapid method of returning them to the immediate battle, with no care whatsoever for their pain or long-term health.
Sidious had no care for such matters; his mastery of the force - combined with the technology at his disposal - was quite sufficient to keep the young Skywalker alive for as long as he needed. That Sidious had gone to trouble of disabling the medi-droid's anaesthesia spray was another sign of his annoyance; he wished for Morningstar to suffer for attempting to break away, however briefly and futilely it had been.
But Sidious had many methods at his disposal, and currently he favoured reusing some of those that had worked so well with Anakin. To the Emperor's mind, Anakin had responded well to the crippling of his body; it had been a crucial part of breaking his spirit. It was an unsubtle yet effective way of robbing somebody of a part of their humanity.
Ideally, Sidious would have preferred to kill Leia, using her to push Luke into the darkness, but the Emperor was patient, and had his eye very much on what the child of Morningstar could grow up to become.
It was through this reasoning, as screaming echoed through the cramped Imperial shuttle, that Luke lost his entire right arm, from just below the shoulder, to an obsolete medi-droid. If Morningstar asked, the Emperor would tell him that it had been so badly damaged when Leia and Boba attacked him that there had been no option but to amputate.
The shuttle flew through hyperspace towards Coruscant; there, well guarded and removed from any distractions, Darth Sidious intended to bring about the final irredeemable step of the fall of Luke Skywalker.
Leia sat on the end of her bed, contemplating her own feet. Her return to the Rebel fleet had not been as happy as she might have hoped.
Her relationship with Luke was public knowledge, and his fall from grace had harmed her reputation as well; during her absence, others had risen through the ranks. Troubles in the Empire had made the Rebels more numerous and more bold; Imperial defections, and an increasingly aggressive policy by the Rebels meant that Leia was keenly aware that she, as a diplomat, was no longer as crucial to the Rebellion as she had been, even overlooking the fact she was no longer fully trusted.
The fact that the attack on the Maw - in which the Rebels, though victorious, had suffered losses - had been to rescue her, and yet, so gossip went, she had actually refused to leave with Boba Fett after he had found her, hurt her reputation as well. Of course, as everybody knew, she had been instrumental in rescuing Han, but somehow that was overlooked in the general negative mood towards her.
But if there was one thing Leia believed, it was that she had to do whatever she could, to the best of her abilities. She was determined not to fade away, or take up some minor ceremonial position in the Rebellion, as a passive symbol to remind people of Alderaan's destruction. If the Rebellion was currently not willing to let her do her duty, then she would find another way to help them, and the whole Galaxy.
She would go to where she was needed. She would finish her training. She would become a Jedi; that great noble race of protectors who had sustained peace in the Republic for millennia before the Empire had tried to wipe them out. And one day, in the new Galaxy she believed would follow, she could train others. She could form a New Order of the Jedi for the New Republic, when the Empire finally fell.
Then there was the question of Luke. Somehow, she could feel he was safe and receiving medical treatment, so his immediate health wasn't a problem. But she was worried. No matter what he had insisted about being able to control the Emperor, and turn away from the darkness, he had scared her. No matter how much she loved him, something inside him had blazed up in front of her when he saw Boba Fett; a raging fury that had taken him over for a moment.
As much as she hated to admit it, what she had seen seemed to confirm what Obi-Wan had tried to warn her about; Luke had been influenced by the dark side of the force. But she knew from the time they had spent together that there was still plenty of good in him. She just needed to speak to him. Except, of course, now she had no idea where he was, or how to find him.
If she wanted to be able to find him, then she needed to do this training. And if he came to find her, then she felt that it might be better if they could speak as equals; both of them trained in the ways of the force. In any case, the Empire had repeatedly sent agents to capture her, so a stronger grasp of the force skills would be useful to her. And though she didn't want to admit it, just in case that flash of darkness in Luke reappeared, she wanted to ready to defend herself from Luke, if it came to that.
One of Leia's strengths was a strong ability to make decisions, and then carry them out. And so, as soon as she had processed this information, she immediately stood up, and went to find Mon Mothma, in order to discuss the matter.
The meeting had not taken long. Leia had easily obtained a formal leave of absence from service, as well as permission to borrow some supplies, and an old Solar Sailor transport ship that had been donated to the Rebels many years before, which was unarmed, but fast, and exceedingly reliable. Now, though she felt it might be considered cruel, she walked quietly through the Rebel command ship, towards the hangar, hoping to just quietly slip away.
'Leia,' came Han's voice from behind her, speaking more softly than was usual. She turned and met his gaze. The treatment he had received in the Maw had left long-term consequences, and he still looked slightly pale and unsteady, and one arm was held in a sling. She had no idea what she could say to him.
Han watched her, observing her properly for the first time in a long while; in the Maw, he had only seen her briefly, and then it had been dark, and his vision had been imperfect. She was dressed in what he would describe as odd clothes; an old rough brown robe, with the hood down and hanging behind her, over a simple light-coloured tunic. Her hair was tied back in a simple pony tail. The skin on her hands was harder, with marks and scratches. She wore practical dark boots, well-fitted trousers, and, of course, a simple belt with a lightsabre handle hanging from it, looking not wholly unlike a picture in a storybook he had seen many years ago, showing a Jedi having some fantastic adventure.
But he could see that her eyes were the same; that same fiery passion and determination. The same fierce, almost confrontational look, tempered - to those who knew her well enough to see it - by the faintest hint of anxiety. Han smiled to himself; if anything, the new more practical look suited her better than the princess robes and ceremonial hairdo ever had.
'Let me come with you,' he continued, 'I want to help.'
'You can't,' she replied sadly, 'This is just something that I have to take care of. This is something that only I can do.'
'No, that's not true. You've done far too much of this alone. You don't have to handle this burden by yourself.'
'You'd come with me.'
'Yes. Of course I would,' Han replied, unnecessarily; Leia had meant it as a statement, not a question. She knew that Han would leave the rebel fleet for her, and follow her. But she knew that Han was more use as a pilot to the Rebels, than as a source of personal comfort to her. And she knew that no matter what she said, or how long she argued or pleaded or begged, he would never choose to leave her side.
But she had to go. She would cause him nothing but pain from now on, in every moment they were together. Leia wasn't intentionally prying into his mind, but this was the first time she had been able to spend a calm moment with Han since her training began, and she could not miss the fact that his feelings for her were strong, and far stronger than her feelings were for him, as fond as she was.
And when the time came to confront Luke - in whatever sense she had to do so - she would have to do it alone; what she had learnt from Boba about the events of the Maw made it clear that Han's presence would most likely make Luke more volatile. And so, though it almost broke her heart to do it, she had no choice.
Leia brought her hands up to Han's face, running her fingers over his stubble, and round to the back of his neck.
'Shh,' she replied, tilting her head at a slight angle, meeting his gaze, opening her mouth ever so slightly, sending off clear signals that required no force intuition to interpret that she was inviting him to kiss her.
He closed his eyes, and leaned down to her, ignoring the fact that he knew this made no sense. Because he loved her so-
………. You like me because I'm a scou-
L… L… L…
By the time Han opened his eyes, the corridor was empty. He could have sworn that there had been somebody there a moment ago.
Whatever it was, it can't have been that important
Leia fled through the Rebel ship, trying to control her breathing, trying to hold back the tears, and trying to keep her emotions in check, just as Obi-Wan had always taught her.
Leia may not have been the most natural or talented pilot or fighter, but she was a trained diplomat; using the force to distract and influence people appealed to her nature, and she had an aptitude for it, right from the first moment she had used a mind trick on Boba in the Falcon; it was the one force skill she absolutely excelled in.
Just for a second, she had needed Han to drop all his mental shields, to make it easier for her to make the tiny tweak she needed to perform. So that he would never miss her. So that he wouldn't waste his life waiting for her. So that he would never follow her to his death. So that whenever he thought of Leia, he just viewed her with a wry smile, as a bossy, self-important, high-and-mighty member of a defunct royal house. Just like he had before he had fallen in love with her.
Maybe, she considered, this was why the Jedi had been so determined to avoid attachment; so that they never had to do what she had just done.
Obi-Wan watched all of this in silence. He would show himself as soon as she left from the fleet, so she didn't have to be alone during the journey to wherever it was she chose to be in the end.
If he was being honest, the reason he was staying invisible was that he was afraid. When he appeared, she would tell him that she was pregnant, as he now already knew. And somehow she would bring herself to carry on, driven on by hope that things would turn out well yet.
Even though she was carrying a child whose father was missing, and who had scared her, and who had taken a Sith Lord title. Even though she must have realised by now that it was possible that she might even have to duel the father of her child, and the man she loved. Even though the entire fate of the Galaxy might rest on her shoulders.
And despite all that, she would carry on, because, as Obi-Wan now realised, he had perhaps never met anybody in the entire Galaxy more determined than Leia.
And he knew that when he did appear, he wouldn't be able to tell her the truth. He couldn't tell her that than man she loved, and whose child she was carrying, was her brother. He couldn't add to her burden. He couldn't make it even more painful for her.
He had to tell her. Just not now.
From a shadowy doorway, one other figure had watched Leia's actions. Lando was sharp enough to guess what had happened, even if he didn't understand how, and he respected her choice to leave, and admired her decision to ensure that Han stayed fighting with the rebels. But he did want her to have some support, just in case. He reached for his communicator, 'Bounty hunter, I think we should discuss extending your employment.'
A sudden collective gasp and the sound of concerned chatter nearby stirred him; the Rebels were normally fairly unflappable; a life in which your friends could well die during any operation made sure of that. Lando moved to investigate the source of the disturbance.
The projected image in the meeting room of the Home One made it clear.
Though clearly far from complete, the image was all too familiar to every person in the room.
The new Death Star.
'The intelligence gathered by the Bothan spies has now been confirmed by a single cloaked observer-class drone, and from the images it recorded, we have put together this mock-up of the current Death Star,' Mon Mothma continued, silencing the rest of the room, 'All data suggests that the station itself is almost undefended, aside from the guns on the surface, and the local escort fleet. The location is near the small forest moon of Endor; the Empire is hiding the Death Star in the Outer Rim, due to its current vulnerability. Data we gathered suggests that the Empire intends to project a protective field from the moon itself, but that facility is still under construction. With the Empire still damaged from our recent victory at the Maw, and the force field not yet operational, this is our window of opportunity. As soon as we can gather and arm every ship and man, we will attack the Death Star.'