AN: My apologies to MJ Mink for posting this before she is finished reading! : ) I return to work soon and wanted to post this while I had the chance; before my life becomes more work related and stress filled!
Many thanks to everyone who is reading this, especially to those who are kind enough to leave a comment - even when that comment is critical - it helps the writer grow.
All Previous disclaimers apply.
The shuttle shuddered and bounced as it entered the atmosphere hitting the turbulence of a growing storm. Palpatine grinned, thin lips pulling across feral teeth, as he sensed the fear of the crew; fear of him, fear of the storm. It was as it should be – he was arriving in the dark of a storm, the Naboo sunlight hidden behind black clouds. The people waiting for him on the surface below would be huddled and bent low in driving rain and squalling winds.
As they should be.
He closed his eyes, savouring the feelings from his crew and personnel as he contemplated the next few days. He was visiting his home world, treading the dirt of the planet that he had once represented in the senate. He was here to greet Queen Kylantha, dine and drink fine wine, he was here to remind the people of Naboo of their place and oversee the executions of those who had dared oppose him, who had dared voice rebellion against him.
But there was another reason to visit.
He would visit her tomb, he would be the benevolent ruler, he would greet her family and acknowledge their loss once more. He would join the ceremony to celebrate her life and give a speech on her dedication to the peoples of Naboo.
He would stand before her holo effigy and look her in the eye while he spoke his lies.
He had never cared for her.
He had hated her.
Hated her interference, her outspoken passion for the decaying Republic.
Hated her influence on Anakin Skywalker, hated how she manipulated the boy, the control that she had exerted over him.
He closed his eyes bringing his memories of the past to the fore.
But... Oh... how much sweeter was his fall because of her. How much further and deeper he had sank because of her betrayal.
All vestiges of Anakin Skywalker had been purged and Vader now existed on his anger and grief and self-loathing.
How Palpatine wished that he could have been on Mustafar to watch her pretty face crumple in confusion and horror as Vader had turned on her and had squeezed the air from her body.
And looking into the eyes of her hologram on Naboo he was going to tell her what he was going to do to her son.
He would tell her how he was going to take possession of her child, twist him, corrupt him and train him in the ways of the Sith, turn him into hatred and rage and loose him upon the Galaxy to murder and burn at his master's command.
Palpatine smiled beneath his cowl. Someday he might even bring the boy to Naboo and stand him before his mother's tomb, with his mother's family, and tell him who he was.
The shuttle bounced and shuddered again as the landing gear deployed and the ship touched down.
Palpatine didn't move.
He remained seated with his eyes closed and his hands folded across lap. He could feel the apprehension mount in the cabin at his stillness, could feel the consternation of those waiting in the howling storm outside as the minutes dragged by.
Let them wait.
"Relax Luke, allow the Force to flow."
"I can't do it, Ben," Luke complained.
He was sitting crossed legged on his bunk in the dark of the locked closet, blankets tangled around his ankles. His eyes were closed and his breathing was slow and measured.
"Reach out with your feelings," Ben told him as though he was just reaching out with his hand to pick something up with his fingers. There was a chuckle, "It is that simple, Luke."
Luke sighed with frustration. "It's dark and my eyes are closed. How am I supposed to know if I have done it?"
"You will feel it," Ben told him with humour and patience.
This was harder than the imaginary lightsaber practices, this was harder than the physical exercises the droids had put him through, harder even than the exercises that Ben had added to his daily routine. He could feel his body growing stronger, could feel the muscle building and tighten –if only he could say the same for his grasp of the Force.
"One does not become a Jedi overnight, Luke. It takes years of training and commitment," Obi-Wan explained with a smile to his voice.
"Then how am I going to be able to escape Vader?" Luke asked, his voice hoarse with anxiety and hopelessness.
"It is not Vader than you need to escape, Luke. It is Fett and he is no Jedi."
Luke opened his eyes at that, and stared into the darkness of his prison. "Maybe not," he said to the enclosed space. "But he's Boba Fett!"
And that one name summed up his predicament.
"Try it again, Luke. Relax and reach out with your feelings!"
Another sigh, this time one of resignation. Luke closed his eyes and slowly drew in a cooling breath. He cleared his mind of the clutter as Ben had taught him. Gone were the fears about Vader; away went the hunger from his belly, banished were the thoughts of his jailor. His mind was free of thought, his mind was empty, sheer and open.
He reached out with his mind and with his hand and felt...
...soft and pliable...
...it had weight...
... a smell...
... faintly of sweat, of the cleaning detergent in which it was washed...
... his pillow rise from the bed.
He couldn't help himself: he grinned happily. "I'm doing it!"
The pillow dropped to the bed with a soft thump.
"You are doing well, Luke," Obi-Wan praised. "But you need to maintain your concentration. Do it again."
Bolstered by his success Luke closed his eyes, cleared his mind and again reached out for his pillow with the Force.
Boba Fett stepped from the steaming fresher and grabbed the nearest towel. He dried himself off and dressed, strapping on his ever present weapon's belt. Stepping from the fresher cubicle he checked around the small apartment ensuring that he had left nothing lying around the previous evening that the boy could use to his advantage. Satisfied that there was nothing the bounty hunter briefly glanced out at his ship sitting on the landing platform below his rooms.
A sense of longing arose within in as he stared at his vessel. She had been sitting there too long, he had been on Kamino too long, had been babysitting sitting Vader's cargo for too many weeks. He wanted to be on his ship, he wanted to be on the chase, he wanted the danger, the blood rushing thrill of the hunt as he tracked his prey and not this mind numbing, skill killing, sense dulling chore of sitting around babysitting a boy who did nothing but the physiotherapy exercises given to him by the medics and watching the Emperor's Royal Tour on holonet while biting and picking at his finger nails.
Fett smiled; and stuffing his face. The kid could eat!
Could this puerile youth really be an agent of the Dark Lord of the Sith?
"You would be wise not to underestimate him."
Vader's warning returned to him and he recalled standing in the hold of Slave I looking down upon the battered body of the prisoner. He knew what had been done to the boy, knew the horrors he had endured and yet, he had emerged on the other side relatively intact. That took strength of character, that took guts.
Fett considered his thoughts, smiled and shook his head, turning to glance at the locked closet door where his guest currently slept. Perhaps the boy was not as intact as he seemed at first glance. Perhaps the facade of strength was not as deep as he would like for there were those times when Fett saw him gaze into nothing with glazed eyes, times when he would whisper under his breath, or when he was locked in the closet when he thought Fett could not hear him as he spoke to someone called "Ben" as though that person were in the room with him.
Perhaps, his torture had affected his mind after all.
"I saw this reaction in beings with a high midichlorian count, but that does not mean that this boy is Jedi."
Or perhaps there was another reason for the kid's strangeness.
Taun We had commented on the boy's natural ability to fight against anaesthetic and had stated that it was something she had witnessed during the Clone Wars with injured Jedi.
He grimaced, his mood souring. Damned Jedi.
However, if the boy had Force abilities he hid it well.
"You would be wise not to underestimate him."
Unless he was trained to hide it, unless Vader had warned him to play his part well.
"Remember my words, boy. Do not fail me."
The Dark Lord's warning to his prisoner, filled with rage and unspoken threat, had left no doubt for the boy whose body had seized in terror. There would be consequences if he failed his master.
Fett almost felt pity for him; had witnessed firsthand what happened to those who crossed the Dark Lord.
There was something that still didn't sit right, didn't feel right about the boy and Vader. It was the way Vader had changed from calling the boy "it" to "him" as soon as the troopers had left the cargo hold. The way that Vader had warned him to keep the boy safe.
"I will know if any harm comes to him, bounty hunter. I will not be forgiving."
Hardly something you said about an agent.
The boy had mumbled and slurred the words when Fett had asked him his name and he had maintained that mantra every time Fett had tried to find out his identity. It was always the same, "Classified."
And yet, in the cargo hold when he had pressed further, when the boy had been semi-conscious and suffering the effects of his injuries and dehydration he had said something more.
Again the bounty hunter considered the boy's words, they could have been a warning to look to Vader, to remember that Vader had cautioned him against asking questions.
However, they could also be a name.
He had dismissed the consideration immediately, but the thought had lingered.
Could his cargo be the Dark Lord's son?
Boba smirked, laughed again at the absurd thought. A child of Vader's would have been raised in riches, would have a polished accent not a rim world drawl, he would have been trained to use his Force abilities, he would have had the best education and the best...
A cool pool froze in the pit of Fett's belly.
A child of Vader's would have had all of that unless that child was had been unknown to his father, unless that child had been conceived away from the centre of the Galaxy.
He was still for a moment, looking down at his ship, slick and wet from the rain, glinting in the first rays of sunshine that streamed through the breaking rain clouds.
Then he shook his head, laughed aloud at the ludicrous direction his thoughts had taken once more; the Dark Lord of the Sith hiding his love child, hiding an illicit love affair from the Galaxy. Under all that armour, that posturing and threatening, the Dark Lord of the Sith could be a man with the same needs as any other.
"Yeah, right," he dismissed with a snort to the empty room. He cross the floor and unlocked the boy's door and flicked on the light. "Come on, Luke," he quipped, "'out the sack."
A pillow dropped to the mattress.
The boy, sitting on the cot in just his shorts, ankles entangled in blankets, visibly paled. The blue eyes widened in stunned horror. "What?" he gasped.
"What?" Fett echoed, not believing the boy's reaction, not believing that he had been right about his name, not quite believing that he has seen a pillow drop from mid air.
The boy tried to move, tried to get up, but Fett was quicker. He grabbed his captive by the arm and dragged him, blankets and all, into the living area and pushed him onto the couch. He drew his blaster and pointed it at the boy's head.
"Hey!" The kid's hands were up, a futile defence against a blaster bolt, and his eyes were alternating between the barrel of the gun and Fett's face.
"Who the hell are you," he paused before saying the name again, making sure. "Luke?"
"I... don't know what you mean?"
"Sure you do, Luke." Fett's voice was low, cold.
The boy glanced to the side, head cocked once more.
Fett reached down, back handing him across the face, bringing his attention back to him. "I don't know what you're doing when you do that, but stop it or so help me," he pointed the gun barrel down and his legs. "I'll knee cap you right now."
Fear played over the boy's features, fear and something else; shock and anger. But then it disappeared, was locked down. He licked his lips, placed his hand against his throbbing cheek and looked up at Fett. "Vader won't be pleased if you harm me."
"You let me worry about Vader," Boba told him without a care. "It won't be the first time he and I have had differences. Now answer the friggin' question. Who are you?"
"I..." the boy looked uncertain, looked as though he was searching for an answer he didn't have himself. "I don't know."
Fett's pulled the trigger, blowing a hole in the cushions next to the boy.
The boy jumped back and away from the blackened hole. "Please!" He pleaded.
"The next shot is for you," the bounty hunter warned.
"I can't tell you!" The boy shouted, panicked.
"Your name's Luke?"
"Yes!" There was no hesitation.
Hesitation, a flicker of an eye to the side and Fett drew off another deliberate shot. The boy yelped, his hands going to the grazing burn on his thigh.
"I can't!" he screamed, eyes tearing with pain, with terror, with memories of torture and fear of more.
Another shot, another cry of pain as the laser bolt glanced off his other thigh, taking a slice of skin.
"Lars! It's Lars... please... don't..."
"You're a Force user." It was a statement.
A quick shake of his head. "No, I..."
The blaster moved again, again hands were thrown up.
"Yes! I mean... I can feel the Force at times, but I can't really use it."
"It looked like you were using it just fine," Fett told him, his voice a warning and his finger tightening on the trigger.
Gasping in pain and panic Luke stared down the barrel of the gun. The agonizing burns on his thighs bringing tears to his eyes, spinning him back to the hours of torture he had suffered only a few short weeks ago. He hated this, hated feeling helpless and afraid, hated being at the mercy of another and he couldn't help but fear that Fett was just as capable of inflicting as much pain and terror on him as his Imperial tormentor on the Death Star.
"Be calm, Luke," Ben cautioned, gravely. "Beware of your feelings; hatred, anger and fear lead only to darkness. Use what Vader told you, use what he told Fett."
Luke resisted moving his head in response to Ben's words, resisted moving his eyes away from the blaster pointing at him, the finger squeezing the trigger. He had provoked Fett enough. But how was he to use Vader's words, how was he to get the bounty hunter to back off without being injured further.
"You are my... agent, an undercover operative."
All this time, with Ben's help, he had been pretending. Perhaps he could pretend some more. Licking his lips he forced saliva into his dry mouth, forced himself to portray a calmness he did not feel, forced a confidence that was foreign to him and answered Fett.
"If he knew what I'd been doing he would kill me."
Fett's eyes narrowed. "Vader?"
Luke nodded, keeping his eyes on Fett rather than on the blaster still pointing his way. His heart was hammering, blood rushing. He swallowed, not knowing if what he was doing was the right thing, if it would result in Fett backing off, or in Fett pulling the trigger again.
"Trust your instincts."
He couldn't help but smile at Ben's whispered words: his instincts were telling him to move, to get up and run away. Seeing Fett frown at the smirk he covered it up with a wider smile and a shrug, a nonchalance he did not feel.
"He'll probably kill me anyway," he said casually, as though his death was inevitable and meant nothing, "Now that you know what I am."
"Be careful, Luke."
"What you are?" Fett echoed, his voice piqued with curiosity.
"I'm whatever he wants me to be," Luke told him desolately, feeling some truth behind his words, even although he didn't quite understand where that truth came from. "Whatever he needs me to be."
The blaster lowered a few millimetres, the finger relaxed on the trigger and Luke could hardly believe his ruse was working. He lowered his own hands, feeling that the danger was passing.
"And your last mission," Fett said, still checking, still wanting to know more. "Where you got into that restricted area and let something out that you shouldn't have, what were you then?"
"Consider your words, Luke, do not give him reason to doubt you."
Flinching at the throbbing of his wounds he answered Fett through gritted teeth. "If I tell you that, he'll definitely kill me."
Fett flashed him a smile. "If you don't tell me, I'll kill you."
Luke took heart at the humour in Fett's voice and knew that, despite the bounty hunter's words there was no intent behind them – after all he would forfeit his payment as well as his life if he were to kill his cargo and Fett was ever the business man.
Wincing, he shifted his weight on the couch, trying to ease the pain of his burns as his mind raced to fit a story into the events of the last few weeks. "I was a lure."
Luke smiled, playing on Fett's prejudices. "A Jedi."
The bounty hunter stiffened at the word, the blaster rose. "You said your mission failed."
Alarmed, Luke shook his head, "No, I said I failed to escape, not that my mission failed," his voice turned cold, hoarse. "The Jedi died."
"Anyone I knew?" Fett sounded amused, pleased.
Luke had no idea if Fett had known Ben. "Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"Kenobi!" Fett laughed, incredulously, disbelief underscoring every word. "You killed Kenobi?"
"No... Vader did," Anger forced the words out. Luke wanted to close his eyes, wanted to shut out the memory of Vader's saber slicing into Ben, wanted to shut away the horror of that hangar bay on the Death Star, sorry that he was using Ben's death in this way.
"You are doing well, Luke."
Fett silently stared at him for a few seconds, he then abruptly dropped his blaster into its holster. Turning away he disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a medi-pac. He tossed it at Luke as he sat on the couch opposite. "Tell me more."
Opening the medi-pac Luke rummaged through it for the bacta dressings, giving himself some time to think, knowing that he had to say something despite Vader's warnings. Tearing open the bacta packaging with his teeth, he placed a soaking pad against each thigh burn and sighed in relief as the cool healing bacta gel soothed his scorched skin.
"Kenobi was traced to Tatooine," Luke explained, making things up as he bandaged his legs. "Since it was my home planet Vader placed me there to make contact with him in the hope of infiltrating the Rebellion and drawing him out. While I was there the Imperials had traced rebel owned droids to the planet. They contained information that the Princess Organa was trying to get to the Alliance. I intercepted them."
He glanced up to see if Fett was listening and the bounty hunter motioned at him to continue.
"One of them managed to override his restraining bolt and I went looking for him. I was attacked by Sand People and Kenobi rescued me," he continued, telling the truth. "To cut a long story short we agreed to take the droids to the Rebellion, we booked passage and headed to Alderaan."
"It's gone," Fett told him, coldly.
Luke nodded. "So we found out, but the space station that destroyed it was still there. We were pulled in, discovered that the Princess was being held there and decided to rescue her. I thought it would be good for my cover. Be..."
"Be careful, Luke!"
"...before we could make our escape Obi-Wan was killed and I was shot by Vader's men. Vader wasn't happy, wasn't happy that I had been unable to follow through and infiltrated the rebellion... he... had me questioned as a rebel as punishment before stepping in and getting me out."
Luke trailed off, glanced at Fett as he sealed the last dressing on his legs, hopeful that Fett hadn't noticed his slip. He had almost called Obi-Wan 'Ben,' a name that had already been picked up by the bounty hunter due to his unconscious ramblings.
Fett rubbed at his chin, contemplating his young guest's words. "Just one thing... you called them "Imperials" and "Vader's men," which suggests that you're something different."
A knotted ball of anxiety twisted in Luke's stomach as he realised his mistakes. "I am," he told his host covering up the holes in the story as best he could. "Why do think he hid me with you?" Impulsively, instinctively, he reached for the remote control for the holonet and turned it on. The screen filled with scenes of the Emperor stepping out of a shuttle onto rain and wind swept duracrete, where a crowd of dignitaries dressed in drenched finery and regalia waited to greet him.
Fett looked to the scenes and then to Luke as understanding slipped home. "You're Force sensitive... and the Emperor hasn't sanctioned you..." He was thinking aloud. "He doesn't know about you. You're Vader's... student?"
Luke nodded allowing Fett his train of thought, feeling sick to his stomach at the words, at the very idea of training under the man who had murdered his father: wondering if this was the real reason for Vader saving his life, wondering how he could possibly stand against the wishes of the Dark Lord when the time came.
Fett unclipped something from his belt and rose. "Hold out your hands."
Luke eyed the stun cuffs in Fett's grasp with dismay. "You don't need those," he reassured him with some trepidation.
"I've known Jedi and Sith, I'm not taking any chances," Boba took Luke's wrists and closed the cuffs around them activating the power cell. "Give me any trouble and these will drop you like an Eopie hit with a stun stick."
Luke watched Fett affix the control unit for the cuffs to his belt, briefly wondering if he had the skill to lift it and remove it with the Force. "I haven't given you any trouble..." he said, sourly.
Fett grinned. "Not yet," he agreed, "but I have a feeling that you are going to be nothing but trouble."
Vader lifted his head, looked up at the vaulted ceiling on the vast training arena as the last of the durasteel panelling was bolted into place. He smiled beneath his mask, pleased by the work that had been completed within his tight time scale. Beside him he felt Ozzel shift uneasily, the Admiral's feet scuffing through the debris of dust and metal shavings.
"My Lord," Ozzel tried, his tones clipped with impatience. "I am... unsure of the Emperor's reaction to this..." he searched for a word, "...project. This deck was..."
Vader tempered his response, fought to control his anger, his dislike for Palpatine's choice of Admiral. "The Executor is my ship, Admiral. A gift to me from the Emperor and I shall do with it as I please."
"With all due respect, Lord Vader, we all in the service of his Majesty, including the Executor."
A tight ball of fury flamed within Vader at the Admiral's audacity, at the man's unspoken suggestion. His fists tightened as he tried to reign in his anger. He turned on the man, his mask mere inches from Ozzel's face.
"You forget your place, Admiral," he told him tightly, hissing through his vocoder. "I need no reminding of whom I serve. I suggest that you..."
A blast of cold fear thrilled through the Force, stilling his words. He turned from the Admiral, wincing as muted pain tingled through the remnants of flesh on his thighs, as desperation rippled across the surface of his senses.
"My... my Lord...?"
Vader held his hand up, silencing Ozzel and reached out, searching through the Force for his hidden son.
Luke was hurt, scared and yet...
...there was a sense of relief, of deception, an undercurrent of quiet...
Something had happened to Luke, something that had caused panic and pain, something that had flared within the Force and something that his son had controlled.
He smiled, feeling pride. His son was growing stronger, his presence within the Force growing brighter, more vivid. Such a brilliant radiance, pulsing within darkness, its edges tinged with penumbra, a shadow, a shading of uncertainty.
His smile fell away. If he had felt it, then he was certain that Palpatine would have felt it, too.
"Admiral Ozzel, set an immediate course for Kamino."
Shock and surprise surged from Ozzel. "My Lord, we are not scheduled for..."
"Now, Admiral!" Vader barked, turning to stride away, heading for the bridge. He stepped across the doorway and into the hallway.
"My Lord!" Ozzel cried, scuttling quickly after the Dark Lord. "The Emperor..."
With a flick of his hand Vader brought the blast doors crashing down before Ozzel could step through and shorted out the controls.
He knew he was acting hastily, rashly and against all rational thought. He smiled, but were those not the times when everything had fallen into place? Were those not the times when victory had been assured? When orders had been ignored and discarded had he not always survived the overwhelming odds set against him and come out triumphant?
"Anakin, remember Geonosis, remember Mustafar."
As he stepped into a waiting turbolift, as the doors closed and the carriage lifted him toward the bridge, he chose to ignore his inner voice, chose to ignore the warning of his dead teacher.
His son was all that mattered.