Part III – Recompense
Rated PG for violence
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment of the "Reborn" trilogy, which began with "Innocence" and was continued in "Experience." Unless you've at least read "Experience" you probably won't understand what's going on, but to fully appreciate this story I suggest you read "Innocence" as well.
A very brief recap – in the previous installments, Vader lost his memory and joined the Alliance, befriending Luke, Han, Chewie, and a Fosh medical officer named Forenze in the process. Luke and Vader trained under Yoda together, where they learned of their true relation as father and son. Emperor Palpatine convinced Boba Fett to join the Sith cause as Darth Kain, and they now seek to capture (and in Kain's case, kill) Vader and Luke. Han was captured and is in the possession of Jabba the Hutt. Vader regained his memory but chose to remain with the Alliance. Now Lando, Forenze, Chewie, Leia, Luke, and Vader are on a mission to rescue Han… but Vader has issues of his own to deal with first.
"She died peacefully," the old man said quietly, weathered hands reaching down and absently crumbling the rich black soil that cradled his daughter. "In her sleep, about three-and-a-half years after you left."
Darth Vader and Jobal Naberrie knelt together before the grave marker, silent most of the time, yet speaking volumes nonetheless. Slightly behind the two men stood Padme's younger brother Rio, now grown and a father himself. At the edge of the meadow hovered the regal bulk of Boss Nass, who had no desire to intrude on the human's privacy.
"She told us you'd died," he went on. "We had no idea you'd gone and become… what you are now."
"In a sense, I did die," Vader replied. "When I joined the Sith, I killed the good man she had loved and married." His voice dropped. "And that, in turn, killed her."
Jobal let the soil sift through his fingers. Time had not been gentle with Padme's father. The death of his daughter and wife had weighed heavily upon his heart, and sorrow marked his face in creases and wrinkles. His hair had thinned considerably, and when he walked it was with a painful limp. But his eyes – brown, like Padme's – were as clear as ever, and they shone with fondness now as he recalled the young headstrong senator he called daughter.
It had quite shocked both Jobal and Rio to open the front door of Rio's summer home in the Naboo lake country to find Darth Vader on the other side. Vader had had to talk fast to convince them that he was harmless, and even then they'd been very loath to allow him inside. After all, this was the former right-hand-man of the Emperor and a deadly warrior, even four years after his replacement by Darth Kain.
Until Vader had explained that he had once been Anakin Skywalker… and Jobal's son-in-law.
"If someone had told me all those years ago that my son-in-law would become a homicidal cyborg, I'd've kicked you straight out of my house," Jobal said, smiling a little.
Vader chuckled slightly. "Believe me, I never intended for it to end up like this. I honestly thought we'd get married and live happily ever after."
"I know," Jobal replied softly. "I know."
Rio knelt on his father's other side, not looking at Vader. He'd only been a boy when his sister had announced her illicit marriage to the family, and her death had deeply shaken him. Vader sensed that it would be some time yet before Rio could look at him as something besides the cause of his sister's sorrows.
"She loved you, you know," Rio said at last – rather sullenly, as if he wished it otherwise. "Right up to the very end. She never stopped loving you, even knowing who you were and what you'd done."
That wasn't surprising. Padme had possessed a gentle heart beneath her tough political exterior. And Luke seemed to have inherited that same heart from her.
"If it's any consolation, Mr. Naberrie," Vader said quietly, "I never stopped loving her either."
Jobal's shoulders hunched up as he tried to hold back a sob. "Stang it, Vader – Anakin – whoever you are now – I should hate you for what you did to my daughter… sucking her into a forbidden marriage that ruined her career… leaving her alone and pregnant… forcing her to hide the kids when you went on your Jedi-murdering rampage…" He choked on his grief. "But I can't hate you. She wouldn't want me to. She couldn't stand hatred of any sort."
/Which made my fall all the more tragic/ Vader thought with a pang of guilt.
"I know I shouldn't be angry," Rio mumbled. "But it's so hard not to be. I'm sorry, but I just can't forgive him that easily…"
"Rio, it's all right," Vader told him. "I don't expect to be forgiven right away. And I think there's a difference between hatred and anger. Anger is a reaction, but hatred is a choice." He touched his chest. "And my choice to hate is what transformed me in the first place."
Rio's lips tightened. "I'm going to need some time."
No one said much for a few minutes.
"Her son serves her memory well," Vader said at last.
That made Rio laugh a little. "When all those warnings came from the Empire about a dangerous Rebel named Luke Skywalker on the loose, our entire family had a good laugh. They flashed his name on the holovid, and my wife said 'Hey, isn't that Padme's son?'"
"Last name was a dead giveaway," Jobal added with a chuckle. "Not many Skywalkers out there. We've kept updated on all the kid's escapades since."
"He's a fine young man. I'm sure she'd be very proud of him."
Jobal nodded. "Always wondered where Padme took him. That old man… I think she called him Ben Kenobi… he always hung around our place, especially after the birth… convinced her she should split the twins up for their own safety…"
Vader turned sharply to stare at them, startled. "Twins?"
"Yeah, twins." He arced an eyebrow. "You never found that out?"
He shook his head. This was shocking news, to say the very least! To think that Luke had a twin brother out there somewhere…
"Whatever happened to the other twin?" he inquired. "What was his name? Where did she take him? Is he still alive?"
"It was actually a girl," Jobal explained, looking somewhat crestfallen. "As for the rest of the information, we were hoping you could tell us. We weren't told much of anything after she and Ben took off, not even the names of the babies."
"All we know is that Padme and Ben dropped Luke off on Tatooine to be raised by some relatives of yours," Rio said with a shrug. "Padme went to Alderaan, wrote us saying she'd found some employment in the Royal House of Alderaan… and that was the last we heard for three years. Then she came back without warning, saying that she'd left the girl in the custody of the Organa family so she could visit her family." His voice broke. "She must've known it was coming… she must have… she took so long saying good night…"
"She died that night," Jobal finished gruffly.
Vader was silent, guilt weighing down his stomach. Had he been there for her, she might still be alive. He had to wonder at Obi-wan's audacity, though. He had to know that losing Anakin had been a brutal loss to Padme. But separating her from her child would have broken her heart. No doubt she had been slowly dying from the loss for those three years.
"Lost my wife a few months later," Jobal went on. "Thought the Organas might contact us, give us an update on the girl, but they never did. Either Padme didn't leave a comm code or they thought it best to cut ties. And after Alderaan was destroyed… we gave her up for dead."
Vader considered that information a moment, gazing at Padme's grave as if his dead wife could provide an answer. Jobal had given him vital clues as to his daughter's identity. If he could piece them together…
"Leia," he breathed. Of course. It should have been obvious from the start. Taken to the Royal House of Alderaan, raised by the Organa family, a politician and advocate of justice like her mother... and, of course, her mother's feisty personality, her activist attitude, even her brown hair and eyes.
"Princess Leia?" gaped Rio. "The senator?"
"The same," Vader replied. "It can be no other. And it pleases me to inform you that she is alive, well, and a leader of the Rebel Alliance."
"Stars!" exclaimed Jobal. "Both her kids in the Rebellion! And here we thought all the Organas were dead!" He grinned brightly. "They sure take after her, don't they?"
"I'm sure both Luke and Leia will be quite surprised to learn they are brother and sister," Vader replied.
"I'll say," Jobal rejoined. "But then, this has been the day for surprises."
"I'd like to meet them someday," said Rio.
"Perhaps that can be arranged," Vader replied.
Rio stood with the aid of a hand on his knee. Jobal attempted, with some difficulty, to rise as well, but it took the aid of his son to get fully to his feet.
"Sure you can't stay for supper?" Jobal asked.
"I am sure," Vader replied, rising. "There are other matters to be settled. I am a Rebel, after all, and we still have a war to fight against the Empire."
Jobal embraced him as if he were one of his own sons. "Take care, my boy. Remember that you always have a place here. You're family now, you know."
A smile formed beneath Vader's mask. "Now I know where Padme's heart came from."
Rio shifted uncomfortably. "Father, we'd better get back to the house. Rabe will be worried sick."
"Oh c'mon, hasn't been that long," Jobal grumbled. "Well, better get going myself, before Rio gets impatient and drags me back. Bring the grandkids next time you come, eh? Been dying to see them."
"You have my solemn vow," Vader replied, bowing slightly.
The two men walked away, arm in arm.
Boss Nass stepped forward and clapped Vader's shoulder with a beefy hand, almost knocking him over. "Wesa been wondering when yousa be back, Ani," he boomed. "Been a longo time, it has."
"Indeed," he agreed. "But I doubt your people would have appreciated a Sith in their midst."
He snarled. "Smart-e of you. Wesa no care about de Empire. Dey tear up de forests to build deir fancy homes, dey blast our people for target practice, and deir mekkanics destroy our sacred places."
"I'm sorry, Nass. I hope to make restitution for that as soon as I can."
Nass smiled. "De Gungans been hoping to find a Rebel someday. De Naboo seems to have forgotten about us. Dey have de Empire now and don't be needing us, eh? But if de Rebels wanted us to join…"
"We'd be most glad for the aid of the Gungan army," Vader replied. Having seen their warriors in action, he could attest to their battle skills.
"Den dat be your restitution," Nass replied, giving him another hard whack. "Tell de Rebel bosses de Gungans wish to join de Alliance. Wesa not too handy with de blasters, but wesa put up a good fight."
"Thank you, Nass. I will let Lady Mothma know."
Nass pulled Vader to his chest in a crushing hug. "Anything to help de children of Queen Amidala. When yousa come back, visit us. De Gungans will always welcome you."
"May the Force be with you, Boss Nass."
Once the Gungan leader had departed, Vader turned back to the grave. A lump gelled in his throat. He'd been warned that coming back to Naboo would cause him great pain, but it had been so worth it. There was no hatred here – some bitter feelings, maybe, but also forgiveness. And perhaps now the wounds he had torn could begin to be healed.
/I love you, Padme/ he thought. /I always loved you, even during my darkest hours. Though at the end I'm sure it didn't show…/ He swallowed hard at the memory of those searing arguments they'd had, her accusations that he'd grown distant and cold, his enraged retorts and even occasional blows…
/I know I hurt you deeply, my love. I know I filled your life with great pain. But I pray that your soul can forgive me for my foolishness. And I pray that I can make restitution for all I have done to your family./
/Thank you, Padme, for the gift of our son and daughter. They have brought me much joy. You would be very proud of them, for they serve your memory well. Please forgive me for abandoning them and you, my angel. I swear I will do all in my power to make amends for the pain I caused the three of you./
A cool wind stirred the trees and seemed to circle him, to brush his mask like a gentle hand, to murmur something he didn't quite catch. For a moment he felt her presence near, glowing, warm, full of peace and light. Then the air settled as suddenly as it had come to life.
She had forgiven him.
Tears flowed down his face. "May the Force be with you, my love."
With great reluctance he left the glade where Padme and her mother were buried. The visit to Naboo had been pleasant enough, but it had to be cut short. The others would be either at Jabba's palace by now or at least en route to it. If he wished to play his role in Han's rescue, he had to leave quickly.
/And I'd never forgive myself if I didn't play some part/ he thought as he picked his way through the marsh where his ship, the modified N-1 starfighter Desert Angel, was parked. After all, it was partially his fault Han was in Jabba's clutches. Emperor Palpatine and Darth Kain had captured the pirate in an insane plot to trap both Vader and Skywalker for their own vile ends, using him and his companions as bait.
Even thinking about that awful day now, almost a year later, brought a shudder of revulsion. It had nearly destroyed him, facing down his old master. Not just physically – though the Emperor had nearly killed him twice, first via Force lightning, then by throwing him out a window. But when the floodgates of his memory had opened, he had nearly drowned in the deluge. A lifetime of remembered agonies and crimes had inudated his mind and soul, and he still hadn't entirely recovered from that vicious onslaught.
The Desert Angel gleamed crimson in the meadow where he had left it. To his great dismay, two Imperial stormtroopers were inspecting the ship, muttering between themselves.
"Never seen anything like it," the first muttered. "Definitely not a Rebel craft, it's too well maintained."
"I thought I saw something like it in the Theed museum," the second noted. "Only it was yellow."
Before Vader could conceal himself, one of the men suddenly turned and saw him.
"Stang!" he hissed, ripping his blaster loose.
Before a shot could be fired off, Vader raised a hand. "There's no need for hostilities."
The other trooper put a hand on his comrade's arm, pushing his weapon down. "There's no need for hostilities," he said dully.
"I'm just passing through."
"He's just passing through," the first trooper mumbled, holstering his weapon.
They shuffled aside as he strode forward and climbed into the Angel's cockpit.
"Within five minutes, neither of you are going to remember any of this," he told them. "You'll go back to your commanding officer and tell him you found nothing. Then you'll want to sit down and think long and hard about your lives."
"Yes sir," they both replied.
The bubble-shaped cockpit slid shut, and his astromech chirped indignantly from her socket.
"Be quiet, Midnight," he replied. "I told you I'd be awhile."
She fired off a retort.
"Then next time run a full system check or change the hydraulic fluids. Make yourself useful."
She beeped wearily, with all the resigned patience of a tolerant housewife.
"Stang, you're moody today. Set our course for Tatooine, please. Take the long way. I don't want to risk running into a convoy, especially around Palpatine's vacation retreat."
While she plotted the hyperspace course, he shrugged back into the worn robes that were his disguise for entering Jabba's palace. It had taken almost a year for everyone involved to situate themselves in the proper places. Jabba was a cunning creature, and if anyone moved too quickly or slipped up, he would quickly suspect their true intentions.
He pulled the final piece of his wardrobe from a compartment in the console – a specially designed mask. It had been customized to fit over his own mask without hampering his sight or blocking his air intake. Once he'd pressed it over the durasteel mask and pulled up his hood, he was indistinguishable from the alien race he'd chosen to represent.
The Angel bolted into hyperspace, the stars becoming swaths of light on either side.
/Hold on, Han. We're coming for you./