A/N: This is it - THE END. I've gone over the first few chapters and just stream-lined them a little - no story points have changed. This story has been my biggest, bravest project so far. And I have to send huge thanks to my wonderful beta, Thalia, for being there throughout the three years that this has taken to complete. Also thanks to you guys - for reading it. Without readers, there's not a lot of point writing. This story could have just stayed inside the confines of my head. I'm glad it didn't. And I might be just a little sad to wave goodbye to it now, but I'll relish reading your final reviews. Thanks, guys.
Equally Cursed and Blessed
The wet foliage seemed to grab and slap at his face and hands as Luke pushed his way through the undergrowth. It was hard work driving his legs through the tangle of vines and wet mud, climbing up a sharp incline. Luke grasped at the fat stems of the over-sized plant-life to give himself leverage against the slippery ground, used the thick trunks of trees to balance against when he paused to catch his breath. The next planet out from the Barutte System's star was nothing like its dry, rocky neighbour the Rebels had used as their base.
Vader was up ahead. Luke could feel his presence shining like a beacon at the top of the hill. Luke wiped away water that dripped onto his head from a leaf the shape of a dinner plate, and pressed onwards.
Eventually the foliage began to thin, giving way to rockier ground with thinner soil. The blue sky began to be revealed through the leaves of the thinning trees. Another one hundred metres up and he finally reached the summit.
"You're a hard man to find," Luke said.
Vader was waiting for him, standing with his thumbs tucked into his belt. He regarded Luke for a moment before shaking his head.
"You," he said, "are supposed to be resting."
Luke grinned. "I never was very good at that. Besides - you disappeared. When Too-Onebee finally let me out of the medical centre, you were gone."
Vader snorted. "I did not 'disappear'. I am preparing the funeral pyre."
Luke looked at the structure that Vader was building on the crest of the hill, a pyre of logs and thick branches. He sobered abruptly.
"It could have been you or me on that pyre tonight," Luke said. "It came that close."
"In many ways, it should have been me. Calrissian stayed aboard Executor in my stead," Vader replied.
Luke swallowed thickly. "Because you left to come after me." It wasn't a question. Unacknowledged guilt stung him. He felt the echo of it in Vader's own emotions. Vader looked aside briefly. Then he walked towards Luke, placing a gloved hand on his shoulder.
"Respect his choice," he said. There was a wave of something reassuring through the Force. "Don't undermine that by believing you could have avoided his death, had you not needed help. It was his decision."
Somehow Luke felt that Vader was saying the words for himself as much as he was for Luke. He nodded his understanding in the silence that followed.
"I talked to Leia," Luke said. "She said a Jedi ceremony was your idea."
Vader nodded. "It was."
Luke smiled at that, was about to say more when Vader turned aside and walked over to a pile of logs that had been cut out from a felled tree. For a moment he thought that daring to accuse Vader of doing anything 'Jedi' had overstepped the mark, but then Vader asked, "Did Obi-Wan or Yoda teach you anything about traditional Jedi funerals?"
"Yoda told me Jedi were cremated."
Vader lifted a large log with his hands. It occurred to Luke that the pyre could have been built in minutes with the use of the Force levitating the logs. But Vader had chosen not to do that. He had also chosen to do it himself, rather than recruiting help.
"Is that all?" Vader asked. "Did he teach you the death meditations to undertake in preparation for a funeral?"
Absurdly, Luke felt like he'd been found wanting for his lack of knowledge. "I didn't ask. Although now I think about it, it seems a bit unnecessary if we vanish when we die."
Vader placed the log on the pile and turned to Luke. "Obi-Wan vanishing on his death was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you. That is not the norm."
Luke blinked. "Oh," he said. "I thought..." He paused, wondering what else he had taken for granted. "Is it normal for Jedi to come back as ghosts, too? I've seen and heard Ben. He was there when I blew up the Death Star, and he told me not to leave Yoda to go to Bespin."
Vader's posture suddenly stiffened. "Obi-Wan can appear to you?" he asked sharply.
Warily, Luke answered, "Yes."
"Have you seen him recently?"
Luke shook his head. "No." And then, "But he told me that if I faced you, I'd do it alone."
Vader stared at the sky briefly before refocusing on Luke. "Interesting," he said.
Maybe he doesn't want to face the man who killed him, Luke thought, and realised too late that he hadn't shielded the thought from his father. "What I mean is -" Luke started to say, but Vader interrupted.
"I know what you meant. And you may be right. I... would not blame Obi-Wan for not wishing to confront me." He paused. "A lot has changed since we were brothers."
Luke felt an echoing sting of regret from his father. A part of Luke, an idealistic part, was praying to the Force for Obi-Wan to put in an appearance now and tell his father that what was done was done, and to concentrate on stopping it from happening again.
Ben didn't appear.
Luke figured maybe it was his job, and not Ben's, to point that out to Vader.
First, though, he really needed to know what Vader had done... what had happened to Luke's mother. Luke turned a number of ideas for ways of asking in his mind, not finding any options that he felt comfortable with. Instead, he moved to help Vader with the pyre.
Vader put a hand on his arm. "You should not be out of the medical bay yet, let alone down here doing manual labour."
"I want to help."
Luke sent him a look of frustration. "I'll go easy," he promised.
Vader laughed sharply at that. "I doubt I shall ever see the day where you 'go easy' at anything." But he removed his restraining hand and allowed Luke to continue.
For a while, they continued to build the pyre in silence.
Vader had already cleared the summit and cut down several trees, his lightsaber obviously making quick work of the wood. They piled them one on top of another, trying to keep the platform level. The work gave Luke a strange sense of peace. It seemed fitting, somehow, for Lando to have a Jedi funeral, despite not being Force-sensitive. There was something appropriate about it. Maybe that feeling came from that hunch that it should not have been Lando that died yesterday, but his father or himself. Maybe it was just an acknowledgement of the reason for his sacrifice.
Luke wondered what his mother's memorial had been like. Had she had a pyre too? He supposed he would never know, not unless he asked Vader. And he still wasn't sure how to break the peace of the moment to do that.
Luke balanced another thick stem of wet wood on the pile already in his hands, and turned back for the pyre.
"Do you truly want to know what happened with your mother?"
Coming from somewhere on the other side of the pyre, Vader's voice was almost disembodied. Luke paused briefly before continuing towards the woodpile. Clearly, his shielding still needed work, and now wasn't the time to be leaking emotions. He focused for a moment, building up his shields to a strength that kept his thoughts hidden. He wasn't sure Vader would tell him the truth if he sensed the apprehension in Luke right now. "I meant what I said in the shuttle with Palpatine," Luke said, trying to sound reassuring. "I'm not running away." He paused. "I just need to know."
There was a long silence. Luke began placing the logs on the pile, one at a time. He waited.
When there was still no response, he added, "But it doesn't have to be now."
"No," Vader said. "No, we will talk about it now. This will not be easy to hear, Luke, but you should hear it."
Luke turned back to collect more logs. Somehow, physical work made this conversation bearable.
"I do not know how or why your mother died," Vader said. "I do not know if my actions killed her, but even if they did not, they were inexcusable. I... allowed my anger full rein."
Luke shivered. His body was trying to tell him to do something to shut Vader up, or to not listen. He reached to the Force to help calm his tense muscles.
"I had already sacrificed everyone else that mattered to me for her," Vader continued "I slaughtered the Jedi to try and save her. I gave away my freedom for her. I planned not only to save her life, but to rule alongside her in a galaxy where she could never be in danger again." Vader paused for a moment. "And she rejected me."
Luke looked down at the ground, memories of Bespin whispering in his mind.
I'll never join you!
If he hadn't jumped... would Vader have saved him the bother? Luke couldn't imagine that now. Vader had... changed.
"I choked her, using the Force."
The muscles in Luke's neck spasmed uncomfortably.
"She stood in front of me, days from giving birth to my children, and told me she didn't recognise me any more, that she couldn't follow me. And I was furious. I had sacrificed everything to keep her safe.
Vader paused for a second, and Luke imagined him searching for his own calm.
"Obi-Wan made his presence known then, and the last I saw of Padmé was her lying unconscious on the floor whilst I fought him."
Luke tasted the name, trying to picture the woman he should have known.
"I lost that fight. Only after I recovered did I learn she had died," Vader continued. "I assumed I killed her."
Vader paused again, and Luke realised he was looking for some reassurance that Luke wasn't about to run full-pelt down the hillside, back to the Falcon where he'd set it down in a clearing at the foot of the hill.
"Go on," Luke said. "I'm still here."
"I survived by avoiding thinking or feeling anything about my past life. My body was destroyed, my reason for living gone. I fell into step with Palpatine because he was the only thing left to me and he gave me purpose where I had none."
One of the logs Luke was placing on the pyre rolled from the pile and fell to the ground. He bent to pick it up. When he straightened, Vader was standing beside him.
"I cannot forgive myself for what I did to her," he said. "I do not expect your forgiveness."
Luke frowned. He brushed tree bark and dirt from his hands by rubbing them against his shirt. "I don't think it's me that should be forgiving you," he said. "It's Ben and... Padmé... and... whoever else was there. And you - you have to forgive yourself some time."
"That," Vader said curtly, "is unlikely."
Luke nodded. For a moment he didn't speak, and he felt his father quietly searching Luke's presence in the Force for some indication of his feelings. Vader shields were down, hiding nothing, and Luke felt briefly ashamed of his own need for distance: his shields were still up, and he felt his father's uncertainty rising. "But I can forgive you for not telling me sooner."
Vader pinned him with a stare. Luke felt that gaze assessing him, running over his skin like cool water. "Really," he said flatly, clearly disbelieving. "And for Cloud City?"
A shiver ran down Luke's spine at the name. "Eventually," he said. And it was true. It was too raw now... but later, maybe, when it wasn't such a scar in his memory... He focused on Vader, allowing the conviction he felt to enter the tone of his voice. "And I'm not just telling you what I think you want to hear. Leia's the diplomat, not me." He took the log from Vader's hands and placed it on the pyre.
That uncertainty he felt from his father was growing, Luke realised, despite the reassurance, along with an indecision about something. Vader considered him for a long minute. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision and Luke felt his father brace himself as he said, "When I discovered you lived, I... changed. Suddenly I had something to lose again. It was a mistake to send you to the Rebels for protection."
Luke nodded. "I guess we figured that out too late," he said.
Something in Vader's presence wavered briefly, to be replaced with a sudden spark of what Luke recognised as grit-your-teeth-and-do-it determination. "Separated, we are merely powerful. Together, we are matchless."
Luke smiled at that. "I can't disagree with you there."
"Then come with me," Vader said, forging on. "I must return to Imperial Centre after the memorial. The Empire is too vulnerable for me to linger here any longer. But... you could come with me. As my son."
Luke swallowed thickly at that. Here was the balance point, the decision he didn't know how to make. He was appalled by what Vader had told him, yet his heart whispered that he was safe, that Vader had grown, was no longer the man who had nearly killed his wife. And the very fact he was being asked, not told, was evidence of a shift in his father.
Leia had told him about the plan the Alliance Council and Vader put together, about Vader taking over as Emperor before bringing back the Senate, integrating the Alliance, returning to democratic rule... it all sounded so different to the 'rule the galaxy as father and son' offer from Bespin. Now it was just... come with me. No expectations - just come.
And everyone would know he was Vader's son. No more hiding, or pretending. It seemed everyone on the Council already knew it. And Han knew it, and Chewie. But this would be... everyone. Oddly, that wasn't as terrifying an idea as he would have expected it to be a few months ago. It was who he was, after all. And Luke had never been much good at pretending to be something he wasn't.
In his mind, he began imagining the process of following Vader back to Coruscant. Rumour had it that Vader's palace was so large it could house the Imperial Intelligence Service twice over. Luke could barely imagine it. But it wasn't, and would never be, the promise of luxury that would draw him after Vader.
"What about the Alliance?"
Vader hesitated before replying, "You cannot be in two places at once," he acknowledged.
"They need me. Leia needs me... and Han and Chewie."
I need you, seemed to whisper in his mind, but Luke wasn't sure he hadn't imagined it.
"This is your decision, Luke. You have until tonight," Vader said, and moved away to continuing building the pyre.
"I'm out of it for a little while and suddenly my girl's free for the taking."
Leia stopped outside the docking port Luke was bringing the Falcon in to dock with. Han, refusing to hold onto her arm and let her navigate him whilst his eyesight healed, bumped into her. She shook her head at him, although she knew he wouldn't be able to see the movement. "I hope you're talking about the Falcon there, Captain," she said.
Han shot her a lopsided grin, arms crossed over his chest. "Well you defrosted me, didn't you? That means I gotta count for something."
A smile wanted to come through in her voice, but she pushed it back. "You're incorrigible," she said. Incorrigible he might be, but it was oh, so good to be back around that grounding wit.
"I'm right," he said. "Besides. Now I know Luke's your-"
"Han," she snapped, warningly. She glanced left and right down the walkway, relieved to find they were still alone in the medical frigate's corridor.
"Relax, Leia," he said. "I wasn't gonna..." He trailed off. Suddenly he moved closer, managed to blindly kiss her hair, wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Still can't believe it," he said.
"Nor can I," she whispered back. His arm tightened around her shoulder.
The docking control panel starting winking, indicating a ship had started to dock. She let out a long breath.
"You know I'm tempted to force my way in there and blast the Falcon outta here. You, me and the kid, even if I have to drag him kickin' and screamin'."
"It's his choice, Han," she pointed out. "If he wants to go with Vader... Besides - you can't leave Chewie behind."
"True," he said.
The word belied the depth of his concern about the wookiee, though she knew he'd spent the last few hours periodically harassing the medical droid on Battalion for updates. And he wasn't happy the wookiee wouldn't be out of the bacta in time for Lando's memorial.
Leia had wondered if some of that anger had really been irritation at not being able to corner Luke and let him have a piece of Solo-advice about not following bad guys back to their lairs. But since Luke had taken off in the Falcon, flying down to the memorial site, almost as soon as he was released from the medical ward, he'd had to wait.
"After the memorial, then," Han continued. "You, me, the kid and Chewie. Your Alliance needs a new base - I say we go hunting."
Don't tempt me, she thought. "It's his choice," she said again.
Han snorted. "Some choice," he said acerbically. And then, "He's too trusting."
"You're too suspicious," she shot back.
"Which is why he needs to hang around me to give us both some balance. Come on, admit it - it's when we go off on our own things get ugly. Look at Lando."
They both winced at that. Han stared briefly at the corridor ceiling, either composing himself or biting back more anger over Lando's death. He hadn't said much about it so far. She'd wondered when it was going to come out.
"All I'm saying is, if the kid goes runnin' off to Coruscant, who's gonna watch his back, huh?"
Vader will, she said to herself, but she didn't voice the thought. They'd been over Han's scepticism about the Dark Lord's intentions too many times in the last couple of hours to revisit the topic again.
"I keep forgetting you haven't seen Luke since Hoth," she said. "He's... well, you'll see."
He raised his eyebrows at that. "I ain't seeing a lot right now, Your Highness."
"Right," she said.
The airlock began to cycle open.
Luke was standing on the other side, looking hesitant. Leia wondered if he could feel Han's disapproval, somehow. She wondered if he thought that disapproval was aimed at himself generally, or at Vader being their father, instead of the fond exasperation she believed Han really felt for Luke.
She moved to put pay to those worries - she gave Han a surreptitious shove towards Luke.
"Hey, kid!" Han said, managing to clap his arm around Luke's shoulder despite his weak eyesight. Then, despite a niggling fear in Leia, he pulled Luke into a brief hug. "Still in one piece without me there to watch you're back - that's pretty good going."
Luke shot Leia a look that said he knew she'd shoved Han forwards, and returned Han's grin. "Han," he said, "you've no idea..."
The twilight sky was clear and cold, the colour fading rapidly from the cobalt blue of the day to a deep, dark blue. The air held the chill of the approaching night, the breath of Calrissian's friends and comrades crystallising in the frigid air as they climbed the hill to the pyre.
Lando's body was carried on a pallet. Vader's gaze followed Luke as he helped lower his friend to the pyre before moving to stand beside his sister.
Following the Jedi tradition, no words were spoken before the fire was lit. This was a time for silent contemplation. Afterwards, when the flames had taken hold, there would be time for Calrissian's comrades to share words. For now, the congregation ringed the pyre, standing in silence for several minutes. Along with the Rebel commanders and colleagues present, Piett also stood in the circle, as did the two Intelligence operatives Vader had sent with Luke so long ago now.
Vader opened his senses fully to the Force as the silence lasted, tasting the emotions of those present - the anger and sorrow, guilt and discomfort - as a part of the tapestry of the planet's pulse in the universe.
It was Leia who eventually lit the pyre. The damp wood had needed lacing with an accelerant and the flames took hold swiftly. Her eyes caught his gaze briefly before she looked away and stepped back beside her brother, tossing the lit torch to the foot of the pyre.
The flames burned brightly against the darkening sky.
And what becomes of us now? Mon Mothma thought, watching the flames dance whilst her mind listened to a background hum of uncertain thoughts, nervous anticipation of the future. Having spent so many years in open rebellion, the idea of leaving that life behind and coming back to the governmental fold was... hard to even contemplate. The running could stop. The hiding could stop. She wouldn't miss any of that - but this wasn't exactly how she'd imagined triumph to look.
Perhaps it had something to do with the man standing a few feet away from her. Dealing with Darth Vader had never before seemed a feasible possibility. Yet here they were, the deal done.
She shifted her weight on her feet, folding her arms inside her robe.
What happened in the coming months would write a new chapter in galactic history, she knew that much. Things would change. The future was turning and taking them in a new direction.
But where their final destination would be... that she couldn't see.
His shoulder ached, but Admiral Piett didn't slacken his stance to relieve the pain.
After all, it was a minor hurt next to the death and suffering of so many today. The final death toll aboard Executor still remained unknown. It would be in the thousands, probably. So Piett stood to attention for them as well as for Calrissian, the man who had saved the lives of thousands more.
Luke Skywalker stood across the pyre from Piett, his gaze flicking between the flames and Lord Vader. Would the boy go with Vader? In truth, Piett didn't know - but he certainly hoped he would.
Because Piett had seen a change in Vader since the Tallir mission. A... refinement. He had a feeling, an intuition, that it was the boy that was behind that change.
And it was a change the Empire needed.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
The 'pilot' nodded, and noted without much surprise that his partner had been the first to break the silence with his conspiratorial whisper. "Yes, but I think if he was going to choke us for letting the boy out of our sight, he'd have done it by now."
The other man frowned. "That wasn't what I was thinking," he said.
The 'pilot' glanced up at him, eyebrows raised.
"I was thinking I could do with a holiday," the 'medic' said. "Somewhere with a decent bar, and preferably far, far away from danger-chasing Jedi and Sith."
The 'pilot' suppressed a snort of amusement. "That," he said, "was a much more productive thought than mine."
For not the first time in the ceremony, Luke's gaze was drawn back to Vader, who stood straight and silent in the circle of onlookers. The flames, less fierce now as the fire died down, created churning patterns of orange and red on the surface of his mask. Luke clasped his hands together tightly, turning back to the pyre.
What do you think, Lando? Do I go with him? he sent into the dying flames.
"If you can forgive him, then I envy you. Sometimes I look at him and I can only see Alderaan exploding."
Luke turned at Leia's voice. She'd moved closer to him. She took his clasped hands in hers and held them.
"I don't know what to do," Luke whispered.
"I know," she said.
Luke glanced down at Leia. Her elaborate braids seemed to take on an auburn colour in the firelight. How long had he spent trying to get back to her? Was he really ready to walk away only the day after discovering she was his sister?
It's not walking away, he thought firmly. I can see her any time I take a ship off Coruscant.
And then there was Han. Luke hadn't had the heart to put up much of a fight against the lecture Han had given him about being too trusting, about the fact he didn't really know what to expect if he went to Coruscant. Han was right: he probably was too trusting. But trusting people had been what'd saved his life on more than one occasion recently.
"It's been suggested that I act as emissary for the Alliance once the Senate is reinstated. I'll be on Coruscant most of the time," Leia whispered.
It had sounded like she'd struggled to tell him that. Maybe she thought it would sway him in favour of going with Vader, if she and Han were going to be there in the future. Oddly, the information didn't cause much of a reaction in him. Which should probably tell him that his heart already knew what his choice was going to be. He just needed his head to accept it.
"Who's the Empire's emissary?"
"Admiral Piett," she whispered, glancing at the Imperial officer stood across the flames from them.
Luke blinked. "He's an admiral?" he said, shaking his head. "Oh." That explained why the man had seemed so oddly familiar.
They watched the flames in silence for a long time, until they lost their ferocity and began to die back down to a smouldering fire. It was almost time.
Thank you, he sent to Lando, reaching out to touch the Force. He closed his eyes. Clear skies.
When he opened his eyes again, Leia was watching him.
"You've already decided, haven't you?" she said.
"Where is he?" Vader demanded.
Solo jumped in front of Leia at the sound of Vader's voice. An instinctive move, Vader thought, watching the smuggler reach down for his blaster.
"Han!" Leia said, reaching to get to the blaster first. She lifted the weapon away from Solo's grasp.
"Sorry," Solo said, without much apology. "Must have forgotten he's on our side." His glare was openly untrusting. "Can't think why."
Vader addressed Leia. "Where is Luke?"
"Maybe he's come to his senses and started runnin'," Solo said.
"I don't have time for this," Vader said, pointing a finger at the man. Ah, he'd forgotten how under-whelmed he was by his daughter's choice of partner. "But rest assured, when I do have time, we will be having a... conversation... about your attitude."
"Lookin' forward to it," Han said, with a bring-it-on smile.
Vader sighed. "Well?" he asked Leia.
"He left a few minutes ago," she said. She looked worried.
She shook her head.
Vader felt disappointment churning in his gut. He looked down at the ground, reminding himself that he had told both himself and Luke that he would not force the boy to come with him. If this was Luke's decision, then he had to allow him that choice. Which didn't make accepting it any easier.
"I see," he finally said.
Leia stepped closer to him, shrugging off Solo's attempts to hold her back. "You said you'd accept his decision," she said.
He stood straighter to answer her. "And I will." He resisted the temptation to glance once more around the clearing for his son, or to reach out with the Force along their paternal bond and locate him. "I must leave now," he said.
She nodded. She opened her mouth to say something, but the words didn't come. Vader lifted a hand, slowly, and she watched it warily. He cupped her chin with his fingers and drew her gaze upwards.
"Keep safe, Princes Organa. We will meet again very soon."
Several different emotions too fleeting to name flickered in her eyes, along with the reflected firelight. "Safe journey, Lord Vader," she said. "I look forward to being on Coruscant to witness the return of democracy to the galaxy."
He supposed that was as close as she could get to saying she was sorry he was leaving. He felt the skin on his face ache with the smile he was smiling.
He nodded. "As do I," he said.
He turned, orienting himself in the nighttime landscape, and started in the direction of the shuttle he had arrived planet-side in. Each step felt heavy and reluctant, but he kept a firm pace. He could feel Leia's gaze on his back, watching him leave.
As he moved from the fire, the shadows pressed in. At the edge of the last of the light, he turned briefly and offered a brief glance backwards. Not looking or waiting for a response, he ducked into the darkness of the foliage and made his way down the slope.
Mud and plant-life tried to steal his footing, and Vader concentrated on making the journey swiftly and safely. Better that than spend it considering Luke's rejection.
He blocked out thought of the implications of that, or of the loneliness that would greet him at Imperial Centre.
He should not be surprised that Luke was not ready to face the father who hardly fitted the paternal archetype.
He should not feel angry with himself for telling the boy the full story of his role in Padmé's death.
He should not feel regret at the death of his hopes for a... well, if not a happy ending, then a hopeful one.
It was only about halfway to the shuttle that he realised attempting to not think these things was allowing them purchase on his soul.
He paused, allowed himself a moment to stretch out to the Force and accept the calm it offered. Live in the moment, he thought. In this moment, he has rejected you. In another, he may come to you.
He walked on.
The Lambda-class shuttle's running lights were on, a string of winking red dots around her belly. Vader frowned: he was certain he had powered the craft down fully.
His hand went to his lightsaber.
Was this some trick by the Alliance? Did they plan to attack him now, renege on their deal? Now he thought about it, there had been something hidden in that last conversation with Organa. Something unspoken.
The boarding ramp began to lower, and the interior light raced across the forest floor towards Vader. He strode forward, lightsaber hilt held tight.
A figure appeared at the top of the ramp.
Vader let out a sound of disbelief. Instinctively, he took a step closer.
"What took you so long?" Luke asked.
He was grinning.
Vader began to climb the boarding ramp, but then paused at its foot.
There were too many things he wanted to say. Too little time. Or maybe not - maybe there would be enough time, after all. Hope accelerated through his mind.
"I thought you had decided to stay with the Rebellion," Vader finally said, reattaching the lightsaber hilt to his belt.
Luke frowned. "No, I needed to grab my things from the Falcon. I..." He stopped. "Leia didn't tell you?"
"No," Vader said, caustically, and he stretched out to his daughter's presence. He'd expected amusement, but instead there was quiet apology in her mind.
I wanted you to realise the value of his loyalty, was what he felt from her, if it could be put into words.
I do, he sent back. I do.
He refocused on Luke. The boy was shaking his head with amusement. Vader began striding up the boarding ramp. The boy watched every step Vader took, his expression softening to a quiet smile. When he finally reached him, Vader clapped a hand on his son's shoulder. "You will not regret this," he said. "I guarantee you that."
Luke shook his head. "I don't need any guarantee, Father," he said. "I know I won't."
Vader considered that for a moment, that self-assurance. What had he told Palpatine?
My children have proved they are more than capable of looking after themselves, protecting themselves. Even from me.
"Ready?" Luke interrupted the train of his thoughts, before they could get too far down the line of analysing where the truth in that statement might take them.
Vader nodded. "More than ready," he confirmed.
"Then let's go," Luke said. He paused halfway through turning towards the cockpit, though. "But on one condition,"
Vader considered that for a moment. "Go on," he said, feeling uncharacteristically indulgent.
Luke grinned again. "I'm flying."