Vader tapped his lightsaber handle against the palm of his left hand as he walked away from the hangar. It was time. He would quickly dispose of the personnel, set the facility for self-destruct, and then jump to hyperspace before Luke was any the wiser.
He could sense the scientists still mingling around the main tech room, probably discussing the arrival his son. No doubt they were thinking he must be a negligent and uncaring parent, leaving his son alone at Christmas. Perhaps they weren't too far off the mark ...
He turned a corner, and found himself almost bumping into an astromech droid, dragging a bag along behind. It took him a moment to recognize Artoo-Detoo.
"I should have known," he said, angrily.
Artoo made a loud, rude noise, and then beeped out a question.
"Luke is in the ship hangar," Vader said. "If you care for him at all, I suggest you make absolutely certain he stays there. I have a job to do."
The droid then launched into a long tirade of beeps and whistles, while jiggling from side to side. Vader quite clearly made out the phrases 'you mean jerk!' and 'you need a memory flush and a heart upgrade!'
Vader wasn't entirely sure whether these insults were the result of Artoo overhearing his conversation with Luke, or whether he'd guessed what he was here to do. Either way, he was past caring.
"Perhaps I should convert you into a trash can," Vader suggested, stepping around him and making his way towards the tech room.
Artoo made another rude noise, and went on his way.
As Vader approached the door, he was about to ignite the blade, when the head scientist emerged from the room, looking somewhat flustered. He stopped when he saw Vader.
"My lord, I have some bad news. The storm is heading straight for us, and the winds are far too strong to risk flying. I'm afraid you will have to delay your departure."
Vader stretched out with the Force, sensing the truth in the man's words.
"How long until the storm blows over?" he demanded.
"It could be anything from a few hours to a few days, my lord," the scientist said. "The weather is extremely erratic here."
Vader frowned to himself, wondering what life was going to throw at him next. There was little point in killing the men until he was ready to leave. He noticed the scientist's gaze traveling to his lightsaber, and he quickly holstered it.
"You and your son are welcome to join us for -" the scientist started.
"I will be remaining on my ship," Vader said, turning and heading back down the corridor. The last thing he wanted was to form any kind of attachment to these people. Luke, given his open and friendly nature, had no doubt already made a friend among them. Any more exposure would only be detrimental.
Upon arriving back at the ship, he made his way to the cockpit, throwing his outer cape over the back of a chair in the process. Luke could stay in the passenger lounge until the storm passed over. Meanwhile, he had work to do. He could analyze the datatape the scientist had given him, making sure that nothing was left out or protected. He wouldn't put it past them to encode some security, to ensure their continued usefulness. The trouble with dealing with scientists, as opposed to politicians, was scientists were exceptionally intelligent. They tended to plan ahead.
After a good hour of sifting through the pages and pages of data and tables, he heard a soft beeping sound from the controls. He looked up, and saw a serving droid entering the hangar through the far doors. The scientists simply could not leave him well enough alone, it seemed. He might as well go and see what their visitor wanted. The droid waited at the bottom of the boarding ramp, until he emerged from the ship.
"Lord Vader, I am AS-34, food-serving unit. I will bring any food or beverages you require. I can be contacted on comm channel twelve, otherwise I will check back at pre-set meal times."
The words caused Vader to glance back into the ship, his gaze falling on the closed door to the passenger lounge. Luke had probably had nothing to eat since he left Coruscant.
"Do you have a menu?" Vader asked, turning back to the droid.
The droid supplied a datapad, which contained a menu of surprising magnitude. The wine list alone numbered in the tens. For a government run institution, they certainly ate well. He had intended to pick out a few simple items that might appeal to Luke's tastes, but that was proving somewhat difficult.
"Is this your regular menu?" Vader asked, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
"No, sir, this is a special menu for Christmas Eve."
Vader nodded. "Wait here." He walked up to the passenger lounge, and pressed the door release. Inside, Luke was hunched up in a corner, hugging his knees, and looking most decidedly miserable. His eyes were still red from crying. Artoo was resting nearby, making soft, comforting whistles.
Vader let out a weary breath at the sight. Luke was sensitive, especially when it came to his father's criticism ... perhaps he had been a little harsh with him, earlier. His son had been foolish, and he had endangered his life, but perhaps he had gone the wrong way about communicating his displeasure. His son appeared more fearful and upset right now, than remorseful.
"Come and choose what you would like to eat from this menu," Vader said, extending the datapad in his son's direction.
Luke didn't look up. "I'm not hungry," he mumbled.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Luke didn't reply.
Vader felt his patience wearing thin, but he restrained his temper. The boy was being stubborn, that was all. He could handle it.
"Very well, I will choose for you," Vader said, studying the datapad. "Stringy vegetables with essence of petrified wood soup. How does that sound?"
"I'm not hungry," Luke repeated.
Vader studied Luke for a moment, before turning and leaving the room. No doubt his son would change his mind once he had the food in front of him. He glanced over the menu for a third time, trying to spot something that would tempt a hungry Skywalker out of a sulk.
"My son will have the steak and vegetables," he said, finally returning the menu to the droid. "With juice as a beverage."
"And dessert, sir?"
"Anything large and sweet."
"Yes, sir. I will return in approximately twenty minutes."
Vader nodded. On his way back to the cockpit, he glanced back in the passenger lounge, and switched the door controls so the door would remain permanently open.
"Your food will be twenty minutes," he said. "You are welcome to join me in the cockpit while you wait."
He didn't expect Luke to answer, but a quiet voice came in reply. "Are we leaving tonight?"
"Unfortunately, the storm has hit, and the winds are too high to make a safe liftoff. We will have to wait until it has passed over."
Vader sensed disappointment radiating from his son. He clearly wanted to leave this place as much as he did. Ironic, after all the effort he had expended to get here. A fact that he still found hard to believe.
He waited a few seconds longer, debating with himself whether to repeat his invitation, then decided against it. Luke would come if he wanted to.
It was a good fifteen minutes, though, before Vader heard the squeak of the pilot's chair. Luke had climbed into it, and was hunched up in a similar position to the one he had assumed in the passenger lounge. His food soon arrived, and he ate it in silence. Despite his earlier insistence, Vader noted that he consumed it quite rapidly. Especially the dessert.
After the droid had returned to clear away the utensils, Luke remained in silence, and Vader was grateful. It was proving quite difficult to determine whether the data had been encoded or not. Perhaps he should have paid more attention during the scientists' presentation, instead of endlessly worrying about his son. He glanced over at Luke, wondering how many of his problems could trace their roots back to the start of the boy's presence in his life.
Still, as frustrating as Luke could be sometimes, he knew, deep down, that he wouldn't have it any other way. And despite his initial anger, he was starting to feel much calmer about the situation. At least if Luke was here, under his eye, he didn't have to worry about what he was getting up to on Coruscant.
"Are you all right?" Vader asked, finally becoming concerned about Luke's persistent silence. It was very unusual for his son.
Luke shook his head, shaking slightly.
"What is wrong?" Vader asked, standing up immediately. He reached over to feel Luke's forehead, concerned the boy might have caught some disease from a passenger on his flight over.
"I'm ... f-freezing," Luke explained, continuing to shiver.
Vader could have kicked himself. His own life support suit had left him unaware of the dropping temperature around him, and meanwhile his son was on his way to hypothermia. He quickly leaned over to turn up the ship's thermostat, and then went to the supply locker. There was only one thermal blanket inside, but it would have to do.
He returned to the cockpit, and wrapped it around his son.
"Why didn't you say something earlier?" he demanded.
"I t-thought you wouldn't care," Luke said, gratefully taking advantage of the blanket. "You'd t-think it serves me r-right for coming here."
"Son, that is the last thing I would think," Vader said, returning to the co-pilot's seat. "Your health and well being is far more important than any disagreement we may have over your presence here."
Luke continued to shiver for a while, before adding. "You h-hate me."
Vader let out a weary breath, and reached over to switch off the computer. It was clear he had another matter to attend to first - one far more complicated that recursively encoded algorithms.
"You know that is not true," he said, firmly.
"It is true. You said you don't have t-time for me, and I'm one big p-problem."
Vader thought back, trying to recall exactly what he said. He had a feeling he was being selectively misquoted, but his actual words were long gone from his mind.
"I very much doubt that I said that. I am sorry if that is how you interpreted my words. My career may mean that I do not have enough time to give you all the attention you may require, but that does not mean I have no time for you. And your actions may occasionally cause me problems, like today, but that does not mean that you are a problem in and of yourself."
"You're always so logical," Luke said, disappearing down into the blanket. Only his eyes remained visible, peering out of a hollow.
"And you are too emotional, young one," Vader said. "You need to learn to consider your actions, instead of rushing around the galaxy acting purely on the whim of your feelings."
"But aren't you always talking about 'trusting your feelings'?"
"Yes, but not feelings which are telling you to do something stupid."
"Weren't you even a little pleased to see me?" Luke asked. "Even the teeniest, tiniest bit?"
"Is that what you expected?"
"Yes," Luke said. "I thought you'd be impressed that I managed to find my way here, all by myself."
"You have a loose grip on reality, Son," Vader said, turning away. He knew his son was right, though. Despite his anger at the risk to Luke's life, he was impressed with the boy's resourcefulness. But if he said that, it would simply encourage Luke to try something worse. Next time, he could end up dead. "You could have been hurt," he added. "You could have been kidnapped ... and worse, you could have been killed. Do you think that would impress me, Son?"
A sigh came from the depths of the blanket. "No," came a quiet voice.
Silence resumed, and Vader returned to studying the datatape. It wasn't long before Luke spoke up again, however.
"I'm sorry if I ruined your mission."
"It is salvageable," Vader replied. At least if the weather eventually began to cooperate.
"But I was missing you," Luke continued. "I just couldn't stand to think of us spending our first Christmas together separated. I've never been away from family on Christmas before. And we've already missed enough Christmas days without adding on another one. I don't mind if I have to stay in here and keep quiet - as long as we're together. Is it so wrong to want to be with my father for Christmas?"
Vader let out a weary breath. "Luke, why do you insist on pretending that I am, in any way, desirable company? You would have had far more fun with your friend's family, and you know it. I should have arranged for you to spend Christmas with someone else a month ago ... I will remember to do so next year."
"You just don't get it!" Luke sighed. "You're my father. Do you know how long I've dreamed of spending Christmas with you?"
"With me? Or with some perfect fantasy father?"
"I don't expect you to be perfect," Luke said. "And I'd take you over a fantasy father any day. At least you're real."
"That is all you can say for me," Vader said, quietly. Luke's natural attachment to him was so strong, so open ... what would the boy think if he knew why he was really here? Part of him wanted to tell his son, and stop this before it went any further. No doubt the boy would discover what terrible things his father was capable of eventually. Why not get it over and done with now?
On the other hand, Luke was so young and so innocent. This age would never come again for Luke, why not let him enjoy it?
"You should return to the passenger lounge and go to sleep," Vader said, becoming uncomfortable with Luke's gaze. "It is well past your bedtime."
"It's just after 21 hundred!" Luke protested.
"Here, perhaps. It is nearing midnight in Imperial City."
"Well, sure, if you want to get technical," Luke said. He let out a loud yawn, which pretty much sealed his fate.
"I'll sleep here," Luke said, curling up and resting his head on the arm of the chair. He had found a black pillow, somewhere, but it didn't look particularly comfortable. After some close scrutiny, Vader saw that his son's 'pillow' was in fact his cape, which Luke had obviously seen as fair game for bedding.
He frowned at the sight, but didn't have the heart to protest. Luke appeared surprisingly comfortable, considering he was curled up in such a small space. So comfortable, it was making him feel sleepy just to look at him.
"See you on Christmas morning," Luke mumbled, sleepily.
Vader stretched out with the Force to switch off the ship's interior lights. It was time he withdrew into a meditative trance, and rejuvenated his mind. Many things were dividing his attention, but no doubt the weight of the task he had yet to complete, the problem of his son's innocence, and the storm itself would seem far more manageable by the morning.
Vader opened his eyes, and looked around in confusion. Uncle who?
"Aunt Beru! No! Get away from them!"
Vader's vision came into focus on his son. Waves of distress were rocking the texture of the Force around him, causing Vader to wince with the mental turmoil assaulting his senses.
"Luke," he called.
Vader stood up, realizing he would have to wake Luke physically. He was too involved in his nightmare to wake of his own accord, even though he was bent into a cramped, awkward shape.
"Wake up, Son," he said, firmly. "You are having a nightmare."
He reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder, and Luke instantly jerked away.
"Don't kill them!" he moaned. "I won't let you kill them!"
Vader stepped back in shock. He knew. Somehow, Luke had discovered his intentions. A few seconds of painful silence passed, until Vader became aware that Luke was blinking at him.
"Father?" he said, shakily.
Vader forced himself to relax. Luke didn't know what he was saying ... he was having a nightmare. It was more likely he had imagined he was speaking to some shadowy figure from his past. Perhaps one responsible for his aunt and uncle's death. His own intentions here were safe from his son.
"You were having a nightmare, Luke," Vader explained.
"I'm ... I'm so cold," Luke said. "What t-time is it? Where are w-we?
"On Hadros Second," Vader said, reaching down to retrieve Luke's bedding. "At the scientific research base. And -" he glanced over at the ship's chronometer. "- it is just past 03 hundred."
He passed the blanket to Luke, who wrapped himself up in it eagerly. His breath was fogging, indicating the temperature outside had dropped another notch. Vader studied the thermostat, wondering if he could risk turning it up further. The gauge told him the answer was no - draining the ship's fuel reserves before making a long trip back to Coruscant was most decidedly unwise. He did have another idea, however. The Force could be easily used to create a personal temperature controlled bubble ... maintaining it was the trick. Luke would have to be sitting very close to him, though. Unfortunately, the chairs were locked into the floor.
"Come here a moment," Vader said, beckoning Luke over.
"Too cold to m-move," Luke protested.
"If you come here, I can use the Force to help you keep warm."
Luke reluctantly shuffled over, and Vader, much to Luke's chagrin, lifted him onto his lap.
"I am way too old for this!" Luke protested.
"This is only to keep warm," Vader insisted. "Nothing else."
Luke grumbled, but soon stopped when he felt the air around him rise several degrees in a matter of seconds.
"How do you do that?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.
"A Force bubble. It extends about a meter out."
Luke tested it, before shuffling back into its borders.
"Ok, I'll stay," he said. "But never tell anyone about this."
"Who would I tell?"
"Never heard of him."
"My friend!" Luke protested.
"The one who hides to avoid talking to me?"
"That's the one."
"When would I get an opportunity to tell him?"
"Good point," Luke said.
They sat in silence for a moment, with the only sound being the regular inhalations of Vader's respirator. Vader concentrated on maintaining the heat bubble, and leaned back against the chair, closing his eyes. Luke was certainly heavy for someone so thin and short, but he wasn't uncomfortable. If only he'd stop shuffling and fidgeting ...
"I just realized something," Luke said, quietly.
Vader didn't reply.
"Merry Christmas," Luke said.
How did I know that was coming next, Vader thought. His son sounded anything but merry, though. He stretched out a small Force thread to connect with his son, wondering what was troubling the boy. Residual feelings from his nightmare, no doubt.
"What were you dreaming about?" Vader asked.
"Oh, nothing," Luke said.
"It sounded like you were dreaming about your aunt and uncle."
Luke nodded. "I don't know why."
"You have been thinking about them recently. It is only natural."
"Yeah," Luke said. He didn't sound like he agreed, though. "You felt strange," he suddenly blurted. "When I first arrived."
"What do you mean?"
"Kinda cold. Dark."
Vader let out a weary breath. Luke had sensed his intentions. His son was a little more perceptive than he gave him credit for.
"Were you planning to hurt someone?" Luke asked.
Vader was silent, trying to decide how he was going to explain this, without glossing it over. It wasn't possible to justify this in a way Luke would understand.
"It is not your concern," Vader said, finally.
Luke was silent.
"I am sorry," Vader added.
"For what you sensed from me. I did not realize you were so attuned to my feelings."
"I don't like it when you feel like that," Luke admitted. "It scares me."
His small, subdued voice tugged at a heart Vader didn't know he had. How could he have let this happen? All the boy had wanted was to be with his father for Christmas, and instead he had arrived to almost witness a murder. No wonder the poor boy had been plagued with nightmares. It was all his fault.
He couldn't kill these scientists now ... he couldn't expose his son to this, despite the Emperor's orders. He would find another solution.
"No one is going to be hurt," he said, firmly. "I promise you. Sleep in peace, my son."
"I guess I was wrong then," Luke said, sleepily.
"Yes, you were," Vader said, adjusting his arm as Luke rested his head against it.
"You think the sandman ... will be able to find ... this place? Luke mumbled.
Vader almost smiled. The Sandman was an old Tatooine legend ... a dusty apparition that delivered presents to children on Christmas night. The legend took many different forms around the galaxy. His son was embarrassed to be on his lap, convinced he was old enough to fly around the galaxy alone ... and yet still half wondering if maybe the Sandman was real. He couldn't help but wonder if he had ever been so innocent.
"Perhaps he already did," Vader said.
Luke didn't reply.
"Son, there is something I should tell you," Vader said, suddenly getting a strange feeling from the Force that he should voice his thoughts while they lasted. "You asked me a while ago what the best present I ever received was. And I told you I didn't remember. But I do remember. It was the day your mother told me I was going to be a father."
He was silent for a moment, thinking back.
"I was so happy," he said. "But also nervous. I couldn't imagine myself as a father. I had made so many mistakes ... how could I ever be a role model for a son or daughter? Those fears were justified, it seems, because I realize I have not been the best father to you. I should never have left you alone, and I should not have yelled at you. But I do care for you - I want you to know that."
He glanced down at Luke, and found his son was fast asleep and snoring.
Luke woke up, and blinked at the ceiling. Where in space was he? He shuffled into a sitting position, and glanced around the small, square room. The passenger lounge on the shuttle ... he was sleeping in a makeshift bed on the couch, with the thermal blanket draped over him, and one of the couch cushions as a headrest.
Beside him, on the floor, was a tray of breakfast, with a small Christmas wreath in one corner.
It took him all of three minutes to consume the food, and then he went in search of his father. He hesitated before leaving the passenger lounge, wondering if his father's instructions to stay here still held. But then, he had specified that the contract was only valid between midday and midnight of a single day, and it was well past midnight.
He didn't move very far, before finding signs of life. The deputy administrator, Kel, was in the hangar bay, loading up a medium sized utility craft with crates of supplies.
"Are you leaving?" Luke asked, surprised.
Kel glanced up. "I am indeed. The others have already gone - I'm the last one here."
"What about your research project?" Luke asked.
"What research project?"
"Uh ... never mind," Luke said, deciding Kel must be a little like the eccentric science teacher at his high school - overly forgetful. "Have you seen my father?"
"He's in the supply room, I believe," Kel said. "Whatever is there is yours for the taking. I've got all I want."
"Thank you," Luke said. "I better go find him. It was nice meeting you."
"You too, Luke," Kel said, smiling. "I'm glad your surprise worked out."
Luke nodded. "Merry Christmas."
"And to you."
It took longer than Vader expected to evacuate the facility, and set the charges. Partly because Luke had insisted on loading up their shuttle with various boxes of junk he had found, while quoting some ridiculous phrase often said by his Uncle Owen - 'waste not, want not'. Then there was a minor drama when Artoo could not be found, with his son becoming distressed and suggesting he might have been accidentally taken by one of the scientists.
Vader was the one who finally located him, in a control room downloading the computer core. What a droid could possibly want with the computer core from a research lab, Vader could only wonder. He decided there was no harm in it, though - it wasn't as if there was any likelihood of the droid ending up in Rebel hands.
After Artoo was safely on board, and Luke had decided that he couldn't possibly take everything the scientists left behind, Vader revved the engine, and they headed for the stars. Luke watched the buildings explode from the port side window in the passenger lounge, then jokingly suggested to Vader that they'd left the datatapes behind. Neither of them were sorry to leave this place, though ... as crowded and busy as Coruscant was, at least it had decent climate controls.
An hour into hyperspace, Luke emerged from the passenger lounge, carrying a box in his arms.
"Feel like a game?" he asked, slipping into the co-pilot's seat.
"I never feel like games."
"Come on, it'll be fun." Luke pulled out a board from the base of the cockpit, creating a table between them. "The scientists left this one behind on the base."
Luke temporarily rested the box lid on the controls. Vader glanced at it, almost dreading what he would see. It could have been worse, though - it appeared to be some kind of trivia game. At least Luke might learn something by playing this.
"You can be the black knight marker," Luke said, fishing it out and placing it beside the first square. "It suits you. I'll be the airspeeder."
"Who said I was playing?"
"It's Christmas," Luke said, looking at him with a slight smirk. "You can't say no to me on Christmas."
Vader momentarily debated with himself whether to think up some acerbic reply, but he eventually swiveled his chair around with a sigh.
Luke smiled, and rolled the dice. After three turns, Vader's black marker landed on a coloured square.
"Ok, you landed on a green square," Luke noted. "So you have to answer a question in the military category. Hey, no fair! Too easy for you!"
"Ask away," Vader said.
Luke choose a green-backed card at random, and read out the question. "What is a klick?"
"Wow, you're right," Luke said, flicking the card upside down. "I'd have said 'the sound a button makes'."
"Do I get another turn now?" Vader enquired.
"No. You get 10 points. If you'd answered it wrong you'd have lost ten points. But if you get a question which you know you can't answer, you can always reverse it back to me by asking me a question in the same category. If I can't answer it, you gain twice what the card is worth and I lose nothing, but if I can answer it, I gain twice what the card is worth, and you lose that much."
"So how does one win the game?"
"Whoever has the most points when we reach the end."
This should be easy, Vader thought. It wasn't long before he changed his mind, though - Luke was easily holding his own, despite his claims that he was just guessing the answers. When Vader reached the final square, there was ten points between them, and Luke was close behind. He had one last final opportunity to make it a draw, though, when he landed on the last question square before the end.
"History," Luke groaned. "I'm terrible at this."
"You have claimed to be terrible at every category thus far, Son," Vader said, fishing out an orange-backed card.
"I told you, I'm lucky," Luke said.
"There is no such thing -"
"- as luck," Luke finished. "Let's hear it, then I'll decide whether I agree with you."
Vader studied the text, almost smiling when he realized what the answer was. "Who led the Imperial Troops to victory at the battle of Langanoon?"
Luke groaned. "What is with all these Imperial questions? I grew up on Tatooine!"
"It was probably a requirement for the game to pass the censor," Vader said. "Besides, the battle of Langanoon was a major turning point for the Empire ... it opened the door for a hundred outer rim systems to become Imperial territories."
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," Luke said, holding up a hand. "Langanoon ... Langanoon ..."
Vader leaned back, tapping his fingers on the armrest.
"Darn it," Luke sighed.
"You could always opt out and ask me a question," Vader suggested.
"No way!" Luke said. "I'm not letting you win by twice what that card it worth!"
"It's worth twenty points," Vader provided, helpfully.
"Twenty! Okay, I'm going to get this no matter what ... who led the battle ... who led the battle ... is it someone we know? Someone who's been over to our home and you've introduced me to?"
"It is most definitely someone you know," Vader said.
"It's that general guy, isn't it?" Luke said. "That one ... with the medals ... kinda intense ..."
"I have no idea who you are referring to, but you are on the wrong track."
"Does he have any kids?" Luke asked. "Who go to my school?"
"He has a son who goes to your school."
Luke was jiggling in his seat. "I think I know the one! I know this guy whose father has been in command of some major battles ... his name is Tino ... Tino D- something."
"General Drake! That's the answer, right?"
"Wait! Give me one more chance!"
"That isn't in the rules."
"I know, but it's Christmas. One more chance?"
Luke leaned back, staring at the ceiling with an expression as if he was contemplating the nature of time and space. "Someone I know ... someone I know ... " he mumbled.
Vader waited, anticipating the answer to burst forth from Luke the second he finally caught on.
"I give up," his son stated, finally.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, you win," Luke said, reaching over to roll the dice. He shifted his marker to the final square, alongside the black knight. "Let's hear the answer."
Vader passed him the card, and Luke accepted it. Just before he read the answer, though, he suddenly sat up straighter. Vader could almost see the lightbulb appearing over his head.
"It was YOU wasn't it?!"
"How ever did you guess?" Vader said.
"Ha! I win!"
"No, son, I win. You had already surrendered."
"I did not surrender! I had merely temporarily rested my marker in the final square in case of - "
"You're not arguing, are you, son?" Vader suggested. "Arguing on Christmas?"
Luke sighed. "Yeah, and it's beginning to feel a lot like it did on Tatooine. Aunt Beru - she always won at Word Spinner, even when Uncle Owen and I teamed up against her. All right. You win. But we're playing this again next year, and there's a new rule - no questions where you are the answer."
The computer began beeping, and Vader swiveled his chair to study the readouts. "Half an hour until we drop out of hyperspace."
"Half an hour! Too soon!"
"You don't want to go back home?"
"Sure," Luke said. "But not yet. As soon as we land on Coruscant, I know what's going to happen - you're going to go off to talk to the Emperor. There's still several hours of Christmas left - let's go have some fun."
Artoo began whistling from the passenger lounge, and Luke looked back in surprise.
"He is reminding you that Threepio is still shut in your closet," Vader said.
"He'll be fine," Luke said. "I told him to shut down ... he won't even know how long he's been in there. Please?"
Vader glanced at his son, wondering how one was supposed to know if you were spoiling your child. Still, he wasn't looking forward to speaking to the Emperor ... hopefully the subject of what he did with the scientists wouldn't come up. There was quite a gap between erasing the scientists' memory of the research, and 'disposing' of them.
"What did you have in mind?" he sighed.
Luke grinned, and pulled out a datapad he must have programmed earlier. He passed it to Vader.
"The fifteen ringed gas giants of Glybol," Luke said. "One of the ten most amazing sights in the galaxy. Only one hour in hyperspace from our current position!"
"It will be crowded beyond belief in the holiday season," Vader warned.
Luke rolled his eyes. "That's exactly what Uncle Owen said whenever I suggested going anywhere on Christmas afternoon," Luke said. "Even if I suggested we go and hang out at the local sarlacc pit. Come on - they're gas giants. Even if they were crowded beyond belief, its not like you could possibly miss them."
"Very well, young one," Vader said, reaching over to plot a course. They momentarily dropped out of hyperspace, in order to make adjustments for the new destination.
"And I've still got some Christmas credits left," Luke said, excited. "Can't wait to hit the souvenir shop! Maybe I can get you another present ... I think you wasted the first one."
"You are incorrigible," Vader said, glancing over at his surprisingly energetic offspring.
"I know," Luke said. "But it'll all be over soon."
Thank the Force, Vader thought.
"Until next year," Luke added, grinning at his father. "Our second Christmas together! Can't wait!"
Vader could only sigh, as the stars turned into streams of light and they accelerated towards their new destination. This Christmas had been full of surprises, drama, conflicting emotions ... and Force help him, he had actually had fun playing a childish board game with his son. Twenty-four hours of feeling a strange need to give in to his son's every whim, not to mention the weeks of anticipation leading up to the big day ...
So why did a small part of him look forward to doing this again next year?