Summary: This is part of the Force Bond series, an AU where Vader raises Luke, but is a complete story unto itself. It is set shortly after Force Bond 2. It's Luke and Vader's first Christmas together, and Luke is dreaming of a Christmas just like he used to celebrate on Tatooine. But Christmas with a Sith Lord isn't all that simple ...
Note: Think of the word Christmas used in this fic as a translation of whatever they would call their Christmas-like holiday in the Star Wars galaxy.
Completed: I completed this fic in December 2003.
Modified: 26 March 2008
"Just ... a ... bit ... further ..." Luke mumbled to himself, stretching his arms as far as they would reach. If only he was just a few centimeters taller. A few centimeters wasn't so much to ask! Especially considering his father had height to spare.
He shifted his gaze between the end of the sparkling tinsel chain in his hand, and the spot on the ceiling just above the elevator doors, where he was determined to affix it. His height wasn't going to stop him this time. This particular ornament was the final touch, on what he had to admit was a decorating masterpiece. Threepio and Artoo had helped him turn the previously dark and foreboding corridor into a glowing, sparkling, shimmering tribute to the festive season.
There was holly, mistletoe and colored lights. There were mini-holoprojectors, causing ever-changing dimensional patterns to glow from every reflective surface. Of which there were a lot, given the tinsel and baubles hung from every available surface. Some people might say it was all a little too much, but Luke knew those were people who had not seen the corridor in its usual state. Now that was too much.
If only he could get this last decoration in place, his work of art would be complete. Luke looked down at the stepladder in frustration. It needed an extra step.
"It's not fair, Artoo," he said to his watching companion. "I'm never tall enough."
Artoo whistled knowingly.
Luke studied the inadequate object for a moment, before getting an idea. He jumped off and ran to his bedroom, and returned a minute later with a stack of databooks.
Artoo whistled questioningly as Luke stacked them up on top of the ladder, and finished with a disapproving beep.
"Relax, Artoo," Luke said. "I can balance."
He climbed back up, and placed a foot tentatively on the somewhat shaky stack.
"See," he said, placing his full weight on it. "It's fine."
Artoo's reply didn't sound nearly so confident.
Luke steadied himself against the top of the elevator, and reached across to pick up the end of the tinsel.
"Okay," Luke said. "Now I'll just stick ... it ... on ..."
Luke leaned ever closer to the desired target, while the stack he was balanced on creaked under the strain.
"Nearly ... nearly ..." Luke mumbled under his breath.
A bright light suddenly lit up in Luke's face, and a soft chime sounded. It took Luke a second to place it, given that the entire corridor was currently glowing. But this wasn't the result of anything he'd engineered - someone had arrived in the elevator! The elevator he just happened to be balanced precariously in front of ...
"No!" Luke yelled. "Wait! WAIT!"
His shouts were a second too late. The mere vibration of the door sliding across was enough energy to send him, and the stack of books, crashing towards the floor. Artoo made an ear-splitting screech as Luke tumbled head-first towards the floor, flailing his arms desperately.
Before he smashed into the floor, he felt his descent slow. He still hit the ground with a bump, but it was as if he had bounced on a stack of downy cushions. The reason for this failure of the laws of nature soon became clear as he rolled over into a sitting position. His father was looking down at him. Even though he was wearing a mask, Luke could still tell he was glaring. Funny how that happened, sometimes ...
"What in the spinning galaxy do you think you're doing!?"
"Decorating!" Luke said, grinning.
"You could have been seriously injured! You are fortunate you haven't broken your neck!" His father paused in his rant. "Decorating?"
Then his father turned slightly, and saw the corridor, in all its festive glory. Luke had never seen him simply freeze like that before. It was a full ten seconds before he spoke.
"What in the ...?" His breathing became rapid. "What have you done?!"
"Isn't it awesome?!" Luke said, from the floor.
His father didn't reply. He simply stared at the walls, seemingly transfixed.
Luke hauled himself back to his feet, and began to pick up the scattered books. "I can't reach to get this last bit of tinsel up, though. Would you mind?"
Luke offered the dangling loose end to his father, but he still hadn't moved from staring at the corridor. Luke began to wonder if he had gone into shock. Maybe he should try tugging on his cape ... he'd always wanted to, ever since he'd known his father.
After another few moments had passed, his father finally spoke. "Take it down," he said, in a quiet, dangerous tone. "All of it."
"But ... but this took me hours!" Luke said, shocked.
"I do not care if it took you a lifetime. I am going to my meditation chamber - if I can find it in this perverted excuse for a corridor. By the time I come out I expect every last ... monstrosity taken down and sent to the trash compactor where it belongs."
Luke quickly felt his temper flaring up. "But it's Christmas!"
"Sith Lords do not celebrate Christmas."
"Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen would have loved it!" Luke yelled, before running for his room. He was too disappointed, and too frustrated to stand there and argue any longer.
Vader was left staring after his son in surprise. It wasn't often he heard those particular names - Owen and Beru. In all the drama that had occurred over the last year, it was easy to forget they had raised his son for far longer than he had. He breathed in and out slowly, surprised at how much his son's shouted remark had affected him. It was the first time he had ever heard Luke make a direct negative comparison between his and his former guardian's parenting skills.
What parenting skills, Vader thought, somewhat regretfully.
He stalked off to his meditation chamber, trying to ignore the eyesore that assaulted him from every angle. Perhaps a few hours peace would give him the strength to face this situation with an open mind.
Once he found the correct door, and stepped into the room, he let out a relieved breath at the sight of clear, black walls. This was how every room should look. Neat and orderly. He turned to enter the meditation chamber, then stopped short. There was a sparkling green wreath hung on the jaws.
He shut his eyes, and let the anger flow into the Force. Shortly afterwards, he reopened them, and blinked in surprise. There was nothing there.
Only his son would have the decorating skills to cause him to hallucinate.
After two hours of fragmented mediation, Vader came to the conclusion that he was wasting his time. He was still angry over the mess in his hallway, and felt even less compromising than he had earlier. But he couldn't leave this any longer - Luke was miserable, and when his son was miserable, his meditation was affected.
He had to go and straighten this out.
As he stood up, he braced himself for the sight in the corridor. All hopes of it not being as bad the second time around disappeared as soon as the doors slid open. This truly was a nightmare.
He quickly made his way over to his son's bedroom, and pressed the door release. There was no relief for him inside, though. The 'decorating' extended into his son's bedroom.
Luke was sitting on his bed, and concentrating intently on a holo-comic projected by a small databook. He didn't spare him a glance.
Vader stepped over the piles of junk covering the floor, and sat down next to his son. He decided to get straight to the point - he was never one for avoiding the issue.
"Son, I will be honest with you. I hate your decorating. It makes me feel physically ill. However, I will tolerate it until noon on the day after Christmas. Agreed?"
Luke looked up at his father, incredulous. "Is that your idea of apologizing?"
"No. It is my idea of compromising. If anything, you should be apologizing to me for decorating our mutual living space without consulting me first."
"I thought I'd surprise you," Luke explained.
"You certainly did that," Vader sighed.
Luke smirked, and put the holo-comic aside. "I guess I didn't really think it through. I was just so excited ... I love Christmas. It makes me feel like a kid again."
"You are still a child," Vader said.
"Besides," Luke said, ignoring him, "it's my first Christmas with you."
Vader studied his son, feeling slightly uncomfortable. "Tell me, son," he said, eventually. "How did you used to celebrate with your aunt and uncle?" He should at least find out what his son's expectations were, before letting him down.
"Well," Luke said, "we used to get together for a big party with the other farmers in the region, in the week before Christmas. Windy and I used to stay up past midnight, because the adults were too busy talking to notice the time. And sometimes I'd go with Biggs' family to a nighttime carol sing-a-long in Anchorhead ... those candles sure attracted a lot of insects. I used to get bitten like crazy! But it was worth it. People who spent the entire year grumbling at us were suddenly friendly. One of my teachers actually hugged me once! A little gross, but nice, all the same."
Vader remained silent, long forgotten memories of his own childhood Christmases stirred up.
"Aunt Beru always used to make this yummy dessert," Luke continued. "Uncle Owen and I used to fight for the last slice. And I'd always be searching the house for weeks before, trying to find my presents, but Aunt Beru was way too good for me. I still don't know where she managed to hide those presents ... she just told me the Sandman brought them, even when I was too old to believe in that. Uncle Owen said someone should write to the Sandman and tell him that he really doesn't like socks, but nothing ever seemed to come of that. Oh yeah - and Aunt Beru had a rule - no present opening before dawn. So I used to get up ten minutes before dawn, and wait for the first sun to appear over the horizon.
"I remember this one year," Luke said, his face lighting up. "I got a remote controlled toy speeder! No one else had one like it! Everyone was begging me for a turn to play with it! Unfortunately, it was broken a few weeks later ... I never did get around to fixing it ..."
Luke glanced over at his father. "What's the best present you ever got?" he prompted.
A vague image began to coalesce in Vader's mind. Padmé's face ... "Ani ... I'm pregnant." The words echoed in Vader's mind, as if from another lifetime.
He gradually refocused on Luke. "I don't remember," he said, vaguely. He watched his son for another minute, trying to return to the issue at hand. "You must miss your aunt and uncle very much at this time of the year," he said, eventually.
Luke nodded, looking away. "I'm happy to be with you ... I don't want to be anywhere else, but ... those were good times."
Vader felt bad for his son. All his intentions of telling Luke that he would not be celebrating Christmas disappeared with one glance at Luke's wistful expression.
"I will be busy," Vader said. "The Empire does not go on holiday. However, I will endeavor to see that we spend some time together over Christmas. Perhaps we could go for a flight somewhere."
Luke gaped at him. "You mean a real flight! Into space?"
Vader couldn't help but marvel at how easy his son was to please. He could hardly have been happier if he'd suggested giving him a billion credit trust fund.
"You mean it?! Is that a promise!?"
Vader gazed into Luke's bright, eager gaze, and wondered whether the Emperor himself could have said no to such eyes. "Very well."
"Wow! I can't wait!!"
"On the condition that I don't find any more decorations," Vader said, standing up.
"Whatever you say."
"Now that makes a nice change," Vader said, pointing at his son.
"Hey, that reminds me," Luke said, picking up a nearby datapad, and handing it to Vader. "That's my Christmas present for you. It's a contract - I'll do whatever you say for one whole day."
Vader accepted the datapad, somewhat surprised. He hadn't received a present from anyone in Force knows how long. Normally, he wouldn't have accepted it, but this sounded too good an opportunity to miss. "Very well. You can clean up your room for a start."
"Okay," Luke said, "but are you sure you want to redeem it today? You might want to save it for a day when you really want me to do something."
"Good thinking," Vader admitted. "I will save it for a later occasion."
"Keep in mind that if unused, it expires at the end of the month," Luke said, with a grin. "And it is only redeemable between midday and midnight of a single day. It's all right there in the fine print."
"I will study it at my leisure," Vader said, somewhat bemused at the work his son had put into this gift.
Christmas clearly had a strange effect on Luke.
The days soon passed, and Vader, despite himself, was even starting to get used to the decorations. Everyone seemed to become happier at this time of year, despite how dreary their lives were, and the positive energy was having an effect on Vader. He tried to resist it, but it was a lot of work to stay completely cynical in this environment.
That turned out to be a critical mistake, though.
It was two days before Christmas when everything suddenly changed. It started much like any other day on Coruscant, with a call to report to his master.
He went to the throne room immediately, and after the initial greetings were over, he waited to hear his master's request.
"I received a very interesting report today, Lord Vader," the Emperor said.
Vader remained silent, waiting to be further enlightened.
"It seems one of our small weapons research facilities has made a breakthrough. Nothing too significant, but there is a chance this could be most valuable in the future. I want you to pay this facility a visit. Make copies of all the work they have completed, and then dispose of the buildings and personnel."
"Where is this facility located, Master?" Vader asked.
"On Hadros Second. It is uninhabited, apart from the facility ... you will find all the petty details in the files. Leave as soon as possible - tonight at the latest. I want this research secure. The longer it sits in these scientist's hands, the greater the possibility that one will give in and sell it to another interested party."
"Understood, Master," Vader said.
On the inside, his thoughts were churning. The Hadros system was in the mid rim, he would be gone four days at the absolute minimum. Luke would be devastated to be abandoned like this, yet taking him with him was absolutely out of the question. He couldn't expose a child to the grim task his master expected of him.
But who would watch after his son? The only people who remained at his base of operations were the stormtrooper guards; the rest had all left on Christmas leave. Perhaps Luke could stay with one of his friends ...
His master picked up on his distraction.
"Is there a problem, Lord Vader?"
"No, my master. I am only considering the matter of my son. He cannot be left alone over the next week."
"Your son is welcome to stay here, of course," the Emperor said, with a sinister grin. "It would be a pleasure to have him."
"Thank you, my master," Vader said, secretly imagining Luke's face if he so much as suggested that. "I will keep it in mind."
Vader took his time leaving the Imperial palace, despite the Emperor's instructions to leave as soon as possible. He needed time to consider the best way to break this news to his son. Normally, he would have taken the direct approach, as he always did, but this time, he wasn't so confidant it would work.
However, if he was going to arrange a place for Luke to stay before he left, he needed to get this unpleasant task over and done with.
After following his sense of his son, he found Luke in the ship hangar, polishing a luxury pleasure craft with the assistance of his two droids. He approached determinedly, bracing himself.
"Hi!" Luke said, when he heard his approach. "I've decided which ship we're taking when we go for the flight! It's beautiful, huh?"
Vader gazed at the ship, blankly. It certainly was a fine ship, and Luke had clearly put much work into it.
"Yes," Vader said. "About that ..." he broke off, trying to recall what he had planned to say.
Luke stared at him, tossing the polishing cloth from one hand to the other. "What?" he finally prompted. "You're not backing out, are you?"
"No. I will still take you for a flight. However, it will have to wait until after Christmas."
"Oh," Luke said, looking mildly disappointed. It only lasted a moment, though. "That's okay," he added. "As long as we go. Are we doing something else on Christmas Day? Did a long lost cousin call and invite us to -"
Vader held up a hand. "Nothing like that."
Luke frowned slightly. "What, then?"
Vader let out a heavy sigh, knowing that this wasn't going to go down well.
"I have to go on an urgent mission."
Luke's eyes grew wide with surprise.
"So pressing it cannot wait until after Christmas," Vader added, quickly. "There is some research of utmost importance to the Empire, at the scientific lab on Hadros Second. I must go and collect it. I know this is disappointing for you, but I also know you are old enough and mature enough to understand that the needs of the Empire are more important than your feelings."
"But ..." Luke looked at the floor. "It's ... it's our first Christmas together."
The heart-breaking tone was almost enough to cause Vader to go back to the Emperor and tell him to forget the whole thing. But he soon regained his senses.
"I am sorry, but I have no choice about this. We can spend some time together when I return. In the meantime, we must find somewhere for you to stay."
"Can't I stay here?" Luke asked, in a subdued voice.
"This mission may take anything up to a week," Vader explained, carefully. "I would not feel comfortable leaving you alone for so long."
"But I'm nearly thirteen!" Luke protested, tossing his polishing cloth away. It landed on Artoo's dome, which caused the droid to whistle in annoyance.
"Haven't you got a friend you could stay with?"
"If I can't spend Christmas with you, I'm not spending it with anyone," Luke said, suddenly stubborn. He folded his arms. "I'd rather be alone. Besides, Ben has already left. He and his father are spending Christmas with his uncle."
"If you cannot stay with a friend, you will have to stay at the Imperial palace," Vader said, easily matching Luke's stubborn tone. "The Emperor has offered to have you as a guest."
Luke reared back in shock, and then looked around desperately, as if he were drowning and looking for a life saver.
"But there are adults here!" Luke insisted, pointing up at a security window.
Vader followed his son's gesture, and found himself looking at a stormtrooper. Leaving his twelve-year-old son in the care of clones who were only bred to fight. For some reason, it didn't quite put his mind at ease.
"Absolutely not. They are soldiers, not babysitters."
"We'll be fine!" Luke insisted. "Besides, there's also Artoo."
Artoo rolled up and beeped in agreement.
Vader stared down, not convinced by the innocent noises. "That droid gets into more trouble than you," he said, derisively.
"What about ... what about Threepio?!" Luke said, dragging the golden droid forward. "He's responsible! Come on, you can't leave me with the Emperor!"
"Why, I'm flattered Master Luke -"
Artoo made a rude noise in disgust.
"I am so responsible!" Threepio argued. "Far more than you will ever be, you pile of rusty circuits!"
Vader released a slow, weary breath, and considered the situation. His son was right, Threepio was a trustworthy droid. If he had to leave his son in the care of a droid, Threepio would be his first choice. He shifted his gaze from the droid, back to his son, who was staring at him with pleading eyes.
"We can comm you every few hours," Luke said. "Just so you know I'm okay. Please, don't make me stay at the palace! This is bad enough without making it worse."
Vader could feel himself being softened by Luke's pleas, and he felt helpless to stop it. But, after all, how much trouble could a twelve-year-old get into over Christmas? Even a twelve-year-old Skywalker?
"Very well," he said, finally. "But in exchange, you must promise me you will be on your best behavior."
"I'm always on my best behavior," Luke said, indignantly.
"That isn't reassuring, Son."
Luke glanced back at the gleaming ship, sadly. "Can't we just go for a quick flight before you leave?"
"You will enjoy it more if we wait until I get back," Vader said. "Besides, I have much to do before I leave tonight. I am going to write a new subroutine for Threepio, so he can watch after you effectively."
"You're not going to turn him into you, are you?" Luke asked, nervously.
"Of course not," Vader replied, beckoning to the droid. "Come, Threepio."
Artoo gave a lone, sad whistle as Threepio was led away.
As the morning turned into afternoon, and the afternoon turned into early evening, even Luke was starting to get worried about the protocol droid. Threepio and his father had been shut away in his private workroom for hours. Whatever his father was doing, it had to be big.
"Don't worry, Artoo, I'm sure he's okay," Luke said, hoping to reassure the agitated Artoo unit, buzzing around his bedroom.
Artoo's whistled reply didn't sound like an agreement.
"Maybe we should go see what he's up to," Luke said, getting up off his bed.
Artoo rolled toward the door, well ahead of Luke. When Luke caught up with him, out in the corridor, it was soon clear their worries were unfounded. Threepio stepped out of the nearby workroom, followed by his father.
Artoo whistled in greeting, then beeped out a question.
"Yes, of course I'm fine," Threepio said. "I only wish I could say the same for you."
Artoo whistled, happily.
"Well, I see you didn't destroy his personality," Luke said.
"Of course not," his father said. "I was building droids when I was younger than you. Now, make yourself useful and go and run through the pre-flight warm-up on a shuttle. I am due on board a Star Destroyer in half an hour."
Luke nodded sadly, and ran off down the corridor, dodging trailing decorations as he went. Threepio and Artoo rattled along behind, still arguing over something or other. Artoo was clearly trying to figure out exactly how Threepio had been changed. Luke was curious himself, but that would have to wait, for the time being.
Once in the hangar, he located a shuttle, and quickly ran through the pre-flight routines. The fuel was at maximum, and all systems were running at peak efficiency. The passenger lounge was well stocked, with survival gear and emergency rations. Even the comm unit was in perfect working order.
After he had completed the checklist, Luke returned to the pilot's seat, and flopped down with an audible sigh. He leaned back, desperately wishing he was going with his father. He'd never been without family at Christmas before. And this one was special ... his first Christmas since finding out his father wasn't dead, as he'd always been told. His first Christmas with his father, and they'd be spending it light years apart.
Luke turned, and reluctantly left the pilot's seat. He made his way down the boarding ramp, where his father was waiting.
"It's all ready," Luke said, with a heavy sigh.
"Good. Now, Threepio has a list of all my contact details, and I have also left them on a datapad in your room. I will comm you every day, to make sure you are safe."
Luke nodded, automatically.
"If anything should go wrong, and you cannot contact me, there will be someone at the Imperial Palace who will help you. Threepio also has your doctor's contact details."
Luke nodded, again, looking at his feet.
"I have told Threepio to make sure you get to bed on time, and eat regular meals. I expect you to listen to him."
"Sure," Luke mumbled.
His father pulled a datapad out of the top of his packing crate, and hastily programmed something into it.
"Here," Vader said, handing it to Luke. "You can use this to buy yourself some presents."
Luke realized it was a credit tab. His eyes widened at the figure.
"Is that not enough?" his father asked, confused. "I am too busy to keep track of what things cost."
"Ah ... no, no it's fine," Luke said, hastily pocketing the datapad. "Um ... what's the earliest you will be back?"
"One day after Christmas. If all goes to plan, I will see you then."
"Okay," Luke said, wishing he could hug his father goodbye. He had a feeling his father wouldn't appreciate it, though. "Um ... have a nice trip."
His father briefly placed a hand on his shoulder, and then moved up the ramp. Luke shifted back against the far wall, in anticipation of the engines igniting. A minute later, the walls began to vibrate as the shuttle hummed into life. It rose up off the floor, and reversed around until it was facing the hangar bay exit.
Luke waved, even though he doubted his father was watching. Shortly afterwards, the engines lit up, and the force field across the exit shimmered as the shuttle passed through.
Then he was alone.
It was a long time before Artoo finally convinced Luke to leave the ship hangar. He followed his droid back to his bedroom, wondering vaguely how he was going to occupy himself. As he walked down the final corridor, he reached out to tear down some of the decorations. It just didn't feel like Christmas anymore. The Emperor had taken it from him.
In his bedroom, he lay on his bed, and stared listlessly at the ceiling. Four whole days until his father returned. It was already dragging ...
Artoo made a questioning beep, and then rolled up to his bedside, carrying his holovid remote. Luke accepted it reluctantly, and switched on the projector. Maybe that's how he could fill his time. Watching holovid for four days straight. It had to set some kind of record, at least.
A short time later, his bedroom doors opened, and Threepio entered, carrying a tray.
"I brought your dinner, Master Luke."
"Thanks, Threepio," Luke said, standing up to take it. He studied the plate for a moment, and then screwed up his nose. "Ew! Stringy vegetables!" He picked up one of the forks, and poked at the dull green knotted heap, as if to make sure it was dead.
"It contains seventy percent of your daily vitamin needs."
Luke stared at Threepio for a moment. "Riiight," he said, finally, putting the tray down. "I'm really not that hungry right now, though. Maybe I'll eat it later."
Threepio suddenly stiffened, and began looking from side to side.
"What's wrong?" Luke asked, concerned.
"No appetite! Oh dear! It might be Ithorian Flu! I must call the hospital!"
"Hold on!" Luke said, hastily picking up the tray. "I'm eating it see!" He made an attempt to swallow some of the bland vegetable, hoping it would look convincing.
"I must call the hospital at the first sign of any illness!" Threepio repeated, already heading for the holocom.
"No!" Luke quickly ran to stop him. "Artoo, can you do something? He's stuck in a subroutine."
Artoo rolled forward, dutifully, and managed to act as a barrier.
"Get out of my way you stupid -"
Artoo interrupted with a flurry of whistles.
"Threepio, I'm fine," Luke added. "See! I'm healthy." Luke returned to his bed, and tried to swallow another mouthful. Unfortunately, it was so bland, he ended up spitting it out.
"Oh no! You could suffer from malnutrition!"
Luke frowned, deciding it was time for drastic measures. He stood up and reached for Threepio's off switch. He flicked it once. He flicked it twice. Nothing happened.
"Darn it, he's overridden the switch!" Luke complained.
Artoo whistled, and then extended one of his tools.
"No, that's a little drastic," Luke said. "I've got another idea. Threepio, I'm going to go into the refresher to eat my food. See?" Luke entered the adjoining refresher, plate in hand. Once there, he scraped all the food into the trash compactor. He waited five minutes, and then returned.
"See," he said, showing the plate. "All gone. Mmm, I'm full now." He made a point of rubbing his stomach, while Threepio looked between the plate and Luke. Finally, he seemed satisfied, and turned away from the comm equipment. Artoo made a whistle that sounded like a sigh of relief.
"I will take the tray back to the kitchen. Your father left instructions that you must be in bed by 21 hundred, Master Luke."
"What?! I'm not going to bed that early!"
Threepio suddenly stiffened again, and made another attempt at moving towards the comm.
"Wait!" Luke protested. "Nine, you say? I was planning to have an early night anyway."
Threepio appeared satisfied, and finally left the room.
Luke could only groan. "What did he do to him? I don't believe this! He's turned him into worry worm!"
Artoo beeped in protest.
"Well, more of a worry worm, at least," Luke added.