One Heart

Kenya Starflight

Rated PG (or K+)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yup, it's another challenge fic, based on the "ER challenge" on the Luke/Vader site. An explanation of the challenge will be posted at the end of the fic, so as not to give anything away…

Suffice it to say that this is a departure from my usual fare of long, humorous, "fluffy" fics. This is a very short, very angsty fic, and the reader will be well advised to have some tissues handy.

Part 1 of 3

Chaos.

The Imperials seemed totally oblivious to Luke's presence as they stampeded past him, blindly intent on escape. Not one stopped to help him, not one fired a shot, not one even gave him a second glance. In their crazed panic to get off the doomed Death Star before the Rebels immolated it, and them with it, they had no attention to spare for the sight of Luke Skywalker dragging a crippled Dark Lord away.

"Father," he groaned, struggling to support the wounded Sith's weight. "Father, you have to help me…"

Vader chose that moment to collapse, nearly taking Luke down with him. Wincing at the pain of the electric burns Palpatine had inflicted upon him, he grasped his father's arms and pulled him across the hangar, toward the shuttle that meant safety.

"Luke…" groaned Vader. "Don't… do this…"

He reached the ramp of the shuttle, and he knelt at his father's side to catch his breath.

"Leave me…" Vader ordered, his voice terribly weak. "I am not… worth your life…"

"I have to save you," Luke said stubbornly.

"You already have…" The electronic voice trailed off.

"Stay with me!" Luke ordered, shaking Vader. "You can't give up now! We're almost there!"

Vader moaned, as if the very act of staying alive was too much to ask.

"Come on," he pleaded, struggling to pull Vader onto the shuttle. "I can't lose you again."

Reluctantly, Vader unearthed the strength to pull himself to his feet and limp aboard the shuttle one laborious step at a time. Luke stayed at his side, allowing his father to lean on him for support, guiding him to a bunk in the shuttle's sleeping quarters. Belting Vader in for safety, he assured him he'd be right back and ran for the cockpit.

Great cables hung from the ceiling outside the shuttle, jerking dangerously and spraying sparks about the hangar. Flames billowed from a hallway. Stormtroopers, officers, Death Star personnel, and Palpatine's lackeys scurried about like a nest of spined-ants someone had poked with a stick. Shuttles were packed to bursting, and brutal brawls ensued in the scramble to vacate the station. Curiously, no one seemed to notice that one shuttle was almost empty as it rose and swept away.

And not a moment too soon, as a powerful shock wave slammed into the shuttle and propelled it toward the Sanctuary Moon.

Luke sighed deeply, feeling a great wave of relief. The Death Star was gone. The Emperor was dead. At long last, the Rebellion had won.

And Luke had won as well. For he had his father back.

/He's more machine now than man, twisted and evil/ Obi-wan had once said. In a sense, the Jedi Master had been right… and yet very wrong. For though Vader was indeed a cyborg, kept alive only by machinery, his heart remained human. He had slain the Emperor and saved Luke's life. Anakin Skywalker existed after all. It had taken a crisis to draw him out, but he had returned.

He was tempted to set the ship into orbit and go back to check on his father. But he decided against it, instead homing in on the nearest medical cruiser. Vader needed a doctor, and fast. All that Force lightning couldn't have done his life-support systems any good…

A wing of X-wings appeared on his scope.

/Uh-oh, they don't know if I'm friendly or not/ he realized. He keyed on the comm.

"This is Luke Skywalker. Repeat, this is Luke Skywalker. I have an injured man on board. Requesting permission to dock."

No answer. The X-wings locked their S-foils into attack position.

"Repeat, this is Luke Skywalker, with a wounded passenger aboard! Repeat, this is Luke Skywalker! Hold your fire!"

Ribbons of fire streaked across empty space, and the ship rocked with the impact. Gritting his teeth, Luke transferred all power to forward shields and continued to shout into the comm.

"Abort! Abort! I'm Luke Skywalker! I'm Luke! Cease fire!"

Nothing. No reply. And the sickening realization hit home – the ship was keyed onto an Imperial frequency. The Rebels couldn't hear him. And they could only assume, since he was in an Imperial ship, that he was an enemy.

Hoping Vader was belted in tightly enough, he executed a tight roll to dodge the next volley of fire. The shuttle was fiendishly difficult to maneuver, but he managed one narrow dodge after another as he frantically tried to switch channels.

"Home one to unidentified shuttle, surrender immediately or you will be destroyed!"

Found it! He turned the volume up to ensure his message would be heard.

"Hold your fire, this is…"

The ship jerked violently from a direct hit. Sparks fountained from the console. The shuttle spun out of control, twisting like a corkscrew until the medical cruiser's tractor beam finally caught hold of it.

Luke never finished his sentence. In his haste he hadn't fastened his safety harness, and the thrashings of the shuttle had jolted him from his seat. His head slammed into the bulkhead, sending a blinding flash of white light across his vision and a blast of incredible agony through his skull.

Then the pain ended as swiftly as it had begun.

Break…

On Endor, the Ewok celebration was well underway. Bonfires dotted the village, bathing every tree and hut and figure in golden light. Both the natives and the Rebels were in exultant spirits, dancing to the tribal music provided by the Ewok warriors, sharing eager embraces, laughing and joking and exchanging congratulations. Food and drink were consumed in great quantity, and if a few of their numbers would pay for their overindulgence in the morning… well, it would be excused under these circumstances. And yes, their remained much work for the Alliance… but tonight it could be forgotten. Tonight they could savor their victory.

Leia was in no mood to celebrate, however.

Han strode over to the rope bridge where she stood, waiting, seeking any sign of a young blond man in black.

"Waiting for your brother?" he asked.

She turned to him with a smile. "Thank you for understanding, Han."

He smirked. "Hey, if it gets rid of the competition, I'm okay with it." He took her in his arms and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "He'll be back. Don't worry about it."

She looked away, her throat closing. Han could be certain of that, of course. He didn't know what she knew… he hadn't felt what she'd felt…

…a jolt of impact, a flash of light, splitting pain in her skull so horrible she thought she would pass out, a startled cry…

"Leia?" Han squeezed her arm gently. "Come back, Leia. Your mind's off in hyperspace somewhere."

She gazed into his eyes. "Han… I feel that something's happened to Luke."

His brow furrowed with concern. "He wasn't on the Death Star when it blew, was he?"

"No. I know he wasn't. I can feel it. But he's hurt…"

Han held her close. "Luke has come out of a lot of messes okay, Princess. He'll be just fine."

The bridge rocked slightly as someone approached, and Leia released Han to turn and look.

It wasn't Luke, but a medical technician. The middle-aged Mon Calamari had a grave look in her wide, moist eyes.

"Princess Leia, there's been an accident."

Her gut lurched, even though the words didn't surprise her at all. "How badly was Luke hurt?"

The technician looked slightly surprised that she knew Luke had been involved in the accident, but she didn't mention it. "Pretty badly. Apparently he evacuated the Death Star aboard a stolen Imperial shuttle, and a party of X-wing pilots misidentified him as an enemy target and opened fire. They tore the shuttle up pretty badly before the med cruiser's tractor beam caught it."

"Idiots," Han snarled. "Didn't they try contacting the shuttle first?"

"They had no knowledge that Luke was aboard the Death Star in the first place," the technician replied. "They had no reason to believe there would be a Rebel aboard." She paused, as if steeling herself for the next piece of information. "Darth Vader was aboard the shuttle as well. He, too, was wounded, though less severely."

"Vader?" repeated Han, stunned.

"It would be like Luke to help him," Leia replied. "He… he has a generous heart." She knew the true reason, of course… but she couldn't speak of it. Not yet, anyway.

"What about the kid?" demanded Han.

"Major head trauma," she replied. "Too Onebee is assessing the extent of the damage right now. He should have a complete diagnosis by the time we get back."

Taking a deep breath, she followed the tech, Han close behind.

/Please/ she prayed to whatever deity might be listening/let Luke be all right./

Break…

Vader awakened to make a few interesting discoveries. For starters, he couldn't move. His arms and legs were cuffed securely to the medical cot on which he found himself. Also, his entire body throbbed and ached – no surprise seeing as he had nearly been executed via electrocution. The pain was most intense just beneath his ribcage. Curious. As far as he knew, he had never been injured there, even in the fateful duel with Kenobi…

The duel… not that one, but a more recent one… with his son…

/Luke/

Recent events came rushing back. They had defeated the Emperor, they had overthrown him together, just as Vader had dreamed of doing for so many years. And then… Luke had saved his life. Despite all Vader had done, Luke had rescued him from sure death aboard the Death Star. They had made their escape… then the ship had been attacked…

And he'd impaled himself on a twisted jut of metal. He remembered now. The force of the impact had been enough to rend the ship apart, and strapped to the bunk as he'd been, he hadn't been able to dodge the hazard. Then again, if he hadn't been secured, he could have been much worse off…

Someone was whispering in the doorway, and he caught his name in the mix. He lay perfectly still, wishing he could quiet the hiss of his respirator in order to hear better. As it was, he could barely make out the words.

"…keep him comfortable. Mothma's orders." That would be a medical droid. The synthesized voice was deep and oddly emotional.

"Why are we treating the chaos-spawned Sith in the first place? We should dump him out the airlock!" That second voice wasn't a droid but organic… and very angry.

"Mothma has instructed us to treat him as we would any other patient in his circumstances. We don't stoop to the Empire's level. Copy?"

"I guess…"

"Good. Remember – no heroic measures, no ventilators, do not resuscitate."

So they had access to his medical records – and had discovered the living will he had drafted without the Emperor's knowledge. Strangely enough, he felt a sense of relief at that. He had no idea how badly he was injured, but from the droid's tone, he would probably die shortly. And the Rebellion fully intended to let him die – something he'd wanted for years. Stang, death would be a welcome relief after all the hell the Emperor had put him through…

No, all the hell that he had put himself through. It had been his decision to follow Palpatine, his decision to slaughter the Jedi, his decision to murder, destroy, torture, subjugate…

"If you have any questions, check the file. I must see to Skywalker now."

"All right." That second voice was much more subdued now – almost a whisper. That disturbed Vader. What had happened to his son?

Metallic footsteps signaled the droid's departure, and the human doctor entered the room, his face carefully blank. He said nothing as he checked the monitors, performed a brisk examination of Vader (as best he could with the armor), inspected a thick bandage that Vader just now noticed across his abdomen, and made notes on a chart. Vader made no move to engage the man in conversation – the man saw him as an enemy, a Sith, something evil and putrid. Speaking with him would do no good.

Finally the man looked him in the eye. "Pain?"

"No," Vader lied. He suspected that, even if he admitted he were in pain, drugs would not be readily forthcoming from this man. "An explanation would be good, however."

"You have mild burns from some sort of electrical field and a deep puncture wound to the abdomen that ruptured your liver," he replied, mincing no words. "Actually, 'shredded' would be a better choice of words. I'll be perfectly honest – you'll die within days without a transplant."

/And no doctor in their right mind will perform a liver transplant on an Imperial warlord./ "What of Skywalker?"

The doctor gave him a look that plainly said "none of your business." Aloud, however, he said, "Information about patients is strictly confidential."

"I must know," Vader replied.

He could have used the Jedi mind trick, of course, or a show of force to coerce him into talking. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. The less he used the Force from this point forward, the less chance he had of resorting to the dark side again.

The doctor didn't bother to disguise his hatred as he addressed Vader, all medical professionalism discarded in his disgust. "Evidently Skywalker saw something in you worth saving, Lord Vader, because he gave his life to save you."

Vader's head jerked up. Had he not been strapped down, he would have shot bolt upright. "What?"

"From all appearances, he was so concerned with your safety that he neglected his own. In the attack he suffered massive head trauma, and the med droids have detected no brain activity. Luke Skywalker is brain dead. I hope you're happy."

For a long, shocked moment, all was still.

Then a wild, heart-rending howl filled the room, and anything not fastened down rattled ominously as the room filled with an unspeakable power… the power of a Force-wielder who has suffered a terrible loss. Throughout the cruiser, Rebels cringed as they felt the grieved cry of the Chosen One.

/No… it can't be… no… I can't have lost him again…/

But the Force confirmed it when he lashed out wildly, seeking his son's mind somewhere, anywhere. His heart still beat, machinery still inflated his lungs… but his soul was gone.

/My son… my son…/