Captain Firmus Piett approached the Lambda class shuttle even before it had completed its final landing sequence in the now pressurized docking bay of the Executor. He had learned long ago that it was quite hazardous to one's health to keep Lord Vader waiting . . . for any length of time. He settled himself at parade rest until the departure ramp of the shuttle had fully descended.
Hearing footsteps at the top of the ramp, Piett shifted his body into the position of attention. Arms straight at his sides, he waited for the true commander of the Executor to emerge. He was, therefore, quite surprised when the first person to descend the ramp was a young man, not much older than a boy. Dressed in the black tunic and pants that were standard Imperial medical issue, the young man stopped at the bottom of the ramp. He looked curiously around the cavernous docking bay, and then the disconcertingly intense blue eyes settled on Piett.
The young man looked back briefly at the still-empty ramp and sighed. As he limped closer, Piett noted that the boy appeared utterly exhausted. For the first time in his long military career, Piett was at a loss as to how to react. If the boy was Vader's prisoner, he certainly wasn't restrained in any way, although that was probably unnecessary given the obvious injuries of his leg and missing hand. If he wasnot a prisoner, Piett risked offending Vader by not treating the young man appropriately.
The boy stopped in front of Piett. "If you're waiting for Vader, he may be a while." The boy turned slightly away, looking around again at the ships lined up in the docking bay. "I think he's sulking."
Piett felt his mouth drop open, then closed it with a snap. "Who are you?" he asked. And why are you still alive after talking about Lord Vader like that?
The boy straightened his body as much as he could given his injuries. "Commander Luke Skywalker, Rebel Alliance."
Piett felt his eyes widen and almost unconsciously grabbed the young man by his arm to restrain him. This was the Rebel pilot responsible for the destruction of the Death Star? This child? The boy was obviously delusional, but even so, he had just admitted to being a member of the Rebellion. Piett motioned to the Stormtroopers standing nearby. Barring any additional orders, he would simply have the boy put in the detention block.
"That will not be necessary, Captain Piett."
Piett waved away the approaching Stormtroopers but didn't loosen his grip on the Rebel's arm. "Lord Vader," he said, bowing his head respectfully.
Vader said merely, "Release him, Captain."
Piett nodded once, relinquishing his hold, but he still couldn't bring himself to move away from the admitted Rebel, even if he did appear relatively harmless.
Vader stood with his hands on his belt, staring down at the young man who silently stared back. It was times like this when Piett wished he'd never decided to become an Imperial officer. There were undercurrents between these two that he knew he had no hope of understanding. And when it came to interacting with Vader, onealways had to know where the potential mines were positioned . . . or you risked flying into one blind.
With predictable results.
"Why did you not wait for me?" Vader asked.
"Didn't know I had to." The boy cocked his head slightly. "You don't actually expect me to attempt an escape here, do you?"
"It is your safety I am concerned about, young one."
"I thought this was your ship?"
Piett heard something suspiciously like a sigh coming from Vader's vocoder. "It is, child, but you are impetuous, and I would not wish an 'accident' to occur to the Emperor's prize."
"Your concern is heartwarming."
The boy swayed, and Piett instinctively grabbed him as he began to fall.
It took almost no effort to hold onto the now-unconscious youth. They were approximately the same height, but the Rebel seemed surprisingly light. Long-term illness as well as injury, Piett guessed. He looked up questioningly at Vader, but the Dark Lord was already reaching to take the young man into his arms. Stunned anew, Piett could only stare as the boy was removed from his grasp. He had never seen Vader even touch another being, unless it was to strangle some unfortunate with a gloved hand, of course. But to see the Dark Lord actually carrying someone. . . .
Well, if the Universe planned to continue throwing imponderables at him, he wished it would damn well warn him first.
Vader consolidated his grip on the young Rebel before he spoke. "Dismiss the guards, Piett, and come with me."
Piett gave his orders to the waiting Stormtroopers and then hurried to catch up to the much longer strides of his superior. Still puzzled, Piett followed a half-step behind.
Strangely, they were not moving in the direction of the detention block, nor the medical bay. In fact, it appeared they were headed toward Vader's quarters. Piett reined in his curiosity and decided to keep silent until Vader addressed him. It was usually wisest not to initiate a conversation with a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Vader entered his quarters, still without saying a word, and Piett followed him through a doorway he had never been permitted through before. Vader laid the boy down on a small sleeping platform and turned to face Piett.
Piett straightened his spine almost reflexively.
Vader was silent for a few moments, then said, "Until the boy's medical condition is stabilized, this information will stay between you and me, Captain Piett."
There was no implicitly voiced threat, but Piett was well aware of the consequences of failing to adhere to Vader's wishes. "Yes, My Lord," he said.
However, with Vader's continued, uncharacteristic silence, Piett's nervousness finally got the better of him. "The boy claimed to be Luke Skywalker, My Lord."
"And you find this statement difficult to believe?"
Piett heard the silken tone in Vader's voice that meant he should treadvery carefully. "No, My Lord, it's just that this . . . this boy is actually responsible for destroying the Death Star?"
"He is extremely strong in the Force, Captain Piett."
Well, that certainly explains part of it. Piett had been around Vader long enough to respect the old legends about the Force and Force users. "But I thought you. . . . I thought all the Force sensitives had been destroyed at the Emperor's command."
"He has been hidden from me, all these years." Vader turned, staring down at the unconscious youth.
Vader turned back to face him. "This boy is my son, Captain Piett."
Piett almost stepped back in shock, feeling his eyes widen. He hadn't known what to expect, but he certainly hadn't expected this. Vader had a son? Piett looked down at the slight form on the sleeping platform, then back at the looming presence of Vader. He almost felt sorry for the youth.
Vader said, "Alert the medical bay to prepare an artificial hand for the boy . . . and see that I am not disturbed for the next two hours."
"Yes, My Lord." Piett bowed his head and quickly left Vader's quarters, wondering how his life had managed to become so complicated in such an astonishingly short period of time.---------------------------
Vader waited until Piett had gone before awakening Luke. The boy's breathing was becoming increasingly labored, and Vader knew he had to remove the Force block before Luke became too weak to participate in the endeavor.
Still, it took him some minutes of simply staring at the boy before he could bring himself to make the attempt. It was foolish, insane, but he couldn't stop thinking that this injured, dying youth was capable of destroying all that Vader had become. Vader had gone through the painful process of tearing apart his soul once, only to have it molded into something else . . . by someone else. He refused to go through that process again, not while the Dark Side had made him so strong.
Not while he still had the Emperor to reckon with.
The boy would simply have to bend to his wishes, and Vader would have to avoid making further errors in judgement, as he had in the shuttle.
He reached down and grabbed the boy's shoulder. "Luke," he said, giving the shoulder a firm shake.
Luke's eyes opened, but they were unfocused, distant.
"Luke," Vader said again.
The boy gasped, his right hand reaching automatically for the nonexistent lightsaber at his side before his eyes finally focused on Vader. "What?" Luke looked around hurriedly, then turned back to Vader. "What happened? Don't tell me I passed out?"
Vader merely nodded.
Luke groaned, placing his good arm over his eyes. "Great. In front of half the ship. Way to make a first impression, Luke."
Vader remained silent, resisting the impulse to assist as his son struggled to sit up.
Luke swung his legs over the edge of the sleeping platform and grasped the edge with his hand as if to keep from falling. He looked up at Vader. "So, what now?"
"I remove the Force block."
Grimacing, Luke said, "And you expect to have better success this time?"
"If I do not, you will die."
Luke looked down at the mattress, avoiding Vader's eyes. "And that matters to you?" he said.
Vader crossed his arms across his chest. "Of course it matters, child. The Emperor . . . "
"No, that's not what I meant," Luke said, staring up at him with suddenly intense eyes. "Does it matter to you?"
Vader was silent, not knowing what to say. What could he say that would not give the boy the absurd idea that he actually cared for him? Luke was a tool, a possession, a means to an end. That was all the boy was. All he could ever be.
"I thought so." Luke's eyes blurred, as if all his accumulated pain over the last months was at last finding an outlet. "Is that why you've never called me 'son'?"
Vader stiffened. But he had, hadn't he? Many, many times, although not aloud, of course. My son. Mine. Vader cared for no one. He dare not. It was not the way of the Dark Side. But why had he not lied to the boy in the shuttle? Why had he not told him that Solo had betrayed him? Did he care for this child enough that he would risk the Emperor's wrath? Or lose his own sense of self?
"No," Vader said aloud, answering his own questions . . . and perhaps the boy's, as well.
Luke wearily hung his head, but Vader steeled himself against the pain he felt radiating from the boy, even without the Force. Vader was becoming dangerously attuned to this child, and he would eventually have to find a method of disrupting that affinity. But he had to remove the Force block first, or all his plans would come to naught. Vader roughly grabbed Luke's chin, tilting his head upward. "Let me in," Vader demanded, not waiting for a reply before he roughly threw his mind into Luke's.
At first, the boy tried to pull back, both physically and mentally, but he evidently realized the futility of such actions since he relented almost immediately. Vader found the withered path that he knew led to the Force block and ruthlessly burrowed deeper into his son's mind. He did not have to hide anything from the child now. Vader was in control, and he would remain so. The boy's absurd notions of right and wrong would have no effect. The boy did not resist him, nor did Vader sense any attempt by Luke to interact with him other than by dropping his mental barriers. More the better. It would make Vader's task easier.
Vader came at last to a glowing stone wall in the boy's mind, which he knew to be his own mental interpretation of how the Force block would look. It appeared neither benevolent or malevolent, the block just was, and it now seemed almost absurdly easy to dismantle without the distractions of the boy's conscious or unconscious thoughts. As Vader removed the first stone, the wall seemed to collapse of its own accord, and Vader was instantly flooded with the warm, blue aura of his son's Force presence.
Even though Vader had briefly touched the boy's aura before, it was singularly disconcerting at such close proximity. And even more disturbing was the flood of memories and feelings that coincided with the release of the block. He knew Luke was not directing them at him specifically -- Vader could still feel the boy's wary presence as he kept his distance from Vader, his mental anguish still palpable. But the memories were there nonetheless, fleeting images, but exceedingly intense.
A young child of perhaps five Standard years, sandy-haired, dressed in the white garb of a Tatooine farmer that appeared much too large on his slight frame. The boy practically glowed with Force potential in the near darkness, and he stared up at the stars with a feeling of longing so intense that Vader had to step back from the vision as if burned.
The same child, slightly older now, listening to his friends complain about their fathers with a wistfulness that was almost physical pain. The child could not reciprocate, as he had no stories of his own to share, and the orphan's loneliness resonated eerily in Vader's mind.
A young man, sitting in a desert hut with Vader's old master, listening to Kenobi's fabricated tale of his father's fate.
Vader felt Luke's anger -- just as the boy had felt it -- when he was told about the monster who had killed the father Luke had never known. But he felt the boy's sorrow also, as he finally received verification that the father he had dreamed about since he was a child was indeed dead. Strangely, that emotion was far more intense than the boy's previous anger.
Disconcerted, Vader broke the mental and physical connections with the boy and stepped back, attempting to process all that he had experienced. Luke's emotions were raw, untamed, and Vader was singularly ill-equipped to assimilate them.
"Can you still claim not to care what happens to me . . . Father?"
Vader flinched, for the first time since he had become Sith. That last word seemed to burn into him, and he wondered why his respirator was laboring so hard to provide him oxygen. The boy's psyche pulled at him through so many vectors -- past experiences, memories, Force potential and blood -- that Vader found it difficult to separate himself from the boy, even though they were no longer in direct mental contact.
Time. He only required time . . . and some distance from this maddening, incomprehensible child.
Vader said, "I will have Captain Piett escort you to the medical bay."
And although he would never admit it to himself, Vader fled from the room.
---------------------------------Han Solo followed the misty outline of Laesai Lon into the perpetual twilight of the cloud rainforest. It was approaching evening, and the half-seen trunks of the huge forest giants were already fading like ghosts into the ever-gathering gloom. A gentle rain was again making its way through the dense canopy overhead, contributing a melancholy counterpoint to their squelching footfalls on the saturated moss.
Han thought that the whole dreary environment suited his mood exactly. He only wished he'd been able to speak to Luke alone for just a few minutes. He hated the thought of what the kid's last impression of him must be.
Sighing, Han said, "Ya know, if you were plannin' on killing me, you could've done it without leavin' the settlement. At least it was dry there."
Laesai stopped abruptly and turned to face him, the exotic blue coloring of her skin intensified by the softly glowing readout of the small scanner she held in her hand. "You would actually think me capable of such an act, Han Solo?"
He swiped a strand of wet hair off his forehead before the incessant water lurking there could find its way into his eyes. "I think you're capable of doin' just about anything His Exaltedness tells you to do." He moved closer to her. "Look, I know you don't have a lot of options -- you've got the safety of an entire community to look after."
Laesai smiled enigmatically. "Exactly. Which is the very reason we dare not kill you, Captain Solo." Without another word, she glanced down at the scanner in her hand, moved it in a small arc, then headed in a slightly different direction.
Muttering imprecations about crazy females and the miseries of being planetside for long periods, Han followed her through the thickening undergrowth.
She stopped again when the scanner made a series of soft beeping sounds.
"Oh, please tell me that means you've found someplace dry," Han said wearily.
Removing a long-handled knife from her pack, Laesai starting cutting through a particularly dense growth of vines and foliage. What she finally uncovered with her efforts made Han's breath catch in his throat.
It looked like an old Delta-7 Aethersprite, but if so, it was the most extensively modified version he'd ever seen. Someone had spent an awful lot of time and energy altering this ship, and as a professional design tinkerer himself, Han was impressed with the weaponry and maneuverability upgrades that had been grafted onto the hull. With its modified airfoils, twin laser cannons and even a proton torpedo launcher, the ship was both sleek and deadly. Han whistled appreciatively.
As Laesai finished clearing the camouflaging greenery from the battered craft, Han was even more surprised to note a pair of outdated -- but hopefully still serviceable -- hyperdrive thrusters. The outline of the small ship was bathed in a faint blue light, and Han recognized the trademark glow of an old-fashioned stasis generator. It meant that the electronics of the craft would have been protected, even from the pervasively humid climate of this waterlogged planet.
Laesai joined him at the port side of the ship. "It is Lord Vader's ship," she said quietly as she pulled a small portable lantern out of her pack.
"Huh? Vader did this? Well, what d'ya know? Wouldn't have thought he had it in him."
Laesai merely nodded as she turned on the lantern, illuminating the ship with its small, but intense light.
Han gripped her arm before she could move away again. "Now hold on here. I thought you said there wasn't a hyperdrive-capable ship on this planet?"
"I did not know of this ship until Lord Vader told me just before he departed. It has evidently been hidden here for years." She held out the scanner. "He gave me this in order to locate the ship. With the stasis field and its remote location, no one would have ever found it otherwise."
"Don't get me wrong, Laesai, I'm sure Vader is chock full of altruistic motives, but why would he just hand over a surefire way to get me off this mudball? -- I thought the idea was to keep me here."
Laesai did not answer him immediately, busily punching a code into the scanner device. The blue glow of the stasis field vanished. "Tell me, Han Solo. What will your friends in the Alliance do when you and Luke do not return?"
"Well, they'll come looking for us, of course. At least, Chewie. . . ." Han's eyes widened. "Gotcha. You don't want this planet to become the hot destination for half the Alliance."
She nodded. "Lord Vader said the ship will need repairs before it can be flown, which will take you some time. In the meantime. . . ."
"In the meantime, Vader gets his hands on Luke, a long headstart, and he still manages to keep his own personal planet a secret." Han chuckled. "Gotta hand it to His Exaltedness, he sure knows how to run a con. Had me goin', that's for sure." He reached out and took Laesai's hand. "But how does he know I won't spout off this planet's secret the minute I get back to the Alliance?"
Laesai smiled. In her deep, melodious voice, she said, "He said he would be forced to rely on your good judgement -- if such a thing existed."
Han laughed. "Damned if he didn't get the last word, after all."
Vader watched as Luke slowly regained consciousness. Vader had regained some of his mental equilibrium during the long process of Luke's treatment, but the technicians of the Executor's medical bay had long since learned to work carefully around their ever-present superior, giving Vader a wide berth as they tended to the boy.
He would not allow a mere droid to care for Luke, and the technicians were well aware of the penalty of failing to care for the boy properly. Luke was the Empire's property and not to be damaged unnecessarily. Vader told himself that was the only reason he had haunted the medical bay these past few weeks.
Now all that remained was to find out if the marrow transplant had been successful in healing . . . his son. He allowed himself to use the word again. The fact of the boy's lineage was incontrovertible, but he would not permit it to mean anything more.
The Chief Medical Officer of the Executor -- Vader had never bothered to learn his name -- ran his scanner over Luke's body. Vader found himself wishing he could have brought the Healer Tharell with him. While Tharell had his faults, he was a Force-sensitive, and Vader distrusted those who relied too heavily on their technological toys, especially after the disaster that had been the Death Star.
"Well?" Vader asked sharply.
The doctor jumped slightly. "It appears the boy is fine, My Lord."
The doctor cleared his throat nervously. "The scanner shows his hemoglobin/carbon dioxide ratio to be within normal limits, My Lord. There seems to be normal maturation of his bone marrow constituents, and the marrow is again producing normal red blood cells. I assume he is back to his normal baseline status."
"You had best be correct in your 'assumption,' Doctor."
Vader looked down and met the bleary eyes of his son.
"I could feel it, you know -- when things started to go wrong with my body. I didn't know what was happening, but I could feel the wrongness." Luke shrugged weakly. "It feels right now."
Vader looked over at his medical officer. "Leave us, all of you."
With a nervous half-bow, the doctor removed himself and his staff from the room, leaving Vader alone with Luke.
"So, what now?" Luke asked him, eerily reminiscent of their first day aboard Executor.
Vader pushed the disconcerting memory away. "Now you shall begin your training in the Force."
"In the Dark Side, you mean."
"That is all I know, Luke."
"That's a load of bantha poodoo, and you know it. You were a Jedi Knight once."
Luke struggled to sit up, unconsciously holding out the artificial left hand that had been attached weeks earlier. Vader reluctantly held out his own mechanical hand to assist him.
"You didn't use the Dark Side when you set up that settlement, you didn't use it when you saved my life, and you sure didn't use it when you spared Han's life." His son glared up at him. "I refuse to believe that there is no good in you."
Impudent child! Vader turned angrily away from him. "You know nothing of the Dark Side, Luke. But you will learn, eventually. Or you will die." Vader strode toward the door.
"I didn't run from the truth, Father, even though you thought I would. Why are you?"
Vader paused, finding Luke's mode of address still mildly disturbing, but then continued through the door. He had already traveled several meters down the corridor when he heard his son's voice, this time in his mind.
The longing is there, Father. I can feel it. There is still good in you, and you can't run from it -- or me -- forever.
Vader spoke aloud, but he knew Luke would hear him. "We shall see, my son. We shall see."
Extended Author's Note: Yes, I am going to end this story here. This fic was intended to be a short story with the infamous "Luke and Vader go Camping" theme. Instead, it turned into a novel-length story, and I've accomplished all the goals that I'd set out to do -- namely, to find a cure for Luke, have him discover his parentage, and get everyone off the planet. Anything else will have to wait for a sequel, but I do not have any immediate plans for such. I have other projects in the works, which I've also been working on for years, and I need to finish those first before I even think about returning to the SW universe. (I figure George Lucas was allowed three years between installments, so I should have at least some of the same privileges, lol!)
Feedback is extremely important to an author, and I appreciate each and every review I've received during the long run of this story. If I haven't answered you personally, it's because I didn't have a return reply address, or I simply had a brain cramp. If I can come up with an interesting enough plot, I'll certainly come back to this storyline and continue it further. Luke may have resolved his flight or longing dilemma, but it seems Vader may have embarked on his own. . . .
Again, thanks to all who've been reading and reviewing. The next story I will most likely post to this site will be a Jurassic Park III story based heavily on Dr. Alan Grant and the raptors. Given my horrendous work schedule, it'll probably be at least several months before I get around to this particular story, so don't look for anything from me much sooner than that. If you think this might be something you'd be interested in (or you just want to check for any potential sequel to "Between Flight and Longing"), just add me to your "author alert" list, and it'll notify you of any other stories I eventually post. Thanks, everyone, for your understanding and patience!