Required Disclaimer: All characters, vehicles, and situations herein are the intellectual property of George Lucas and Co. Not mine. I'm borrowing without permission, and making no profit. Though I wouldn't mind taking that X-wing for a spin...pretty please?
A/N: I should probably be considered 95 percent hiatused, until at least June or July of 2008. I'm putting as much of myself as I can into getting my degree by the coming spring, so I'm sad to say all fic has taken a back seat to this priority. I'm not saying I won't work on anything, just that we'll be seeing more of the same lack of activity for a while longer. Sorry all! Happy holidays, and I'll be back soon.
by Becky Tailweaver
Luke Skywalker was sitting alone and miserable in an Imperial medbay--assumedly still on Tatooine, but he couldn't be sure. He wasn't even positive how long he'd been there; no chrono was immediately visible and he'd been unconscious for part of that time. The lack of a window only contributed to the glaring white timelessness of the room, making him feel almost as if he'd stepped out of reality.
Unreal. It was the only word he could think of to describe his current situation. His captor had been correct in that regard, at least; he was a valuable prisoner, so what reason was there that he shouldn't be, at this very moment, enjoying the hospitality of an Imperial interrogation cell? He had no illusions about what they did to captured Rebels--Leia still had nightmares, sometimes, from her ordeal...
He was Luke Skywalker--son of a Jedi, destroyer of the Death Star, ace Rebel pilot, close to the Alliance command structure; any Imperial worth his uniform would see him as a veritable fountain of information.
And yet...here he was. Alive, unmolested, and comfortable--physically, at least--with not a torture droid nor interrogator in range. Even his captor--Vader, his mind groaned still--had not returned to torment him at all since he'd first awakened. A medic had come by a few times--checking up on him, removing the IV, commenting on his improving condition--and a guard had escorted him silently to the refresher to relieve himself. Nothing terrible.
And after sitting there, glaring steel-jawed at the medbay door for quite some time, daring the Sith Lord to come back, he'd finally succumbed to sheer exhaustion; even his defiance had its limits, and the mind can only stay in stress mode for so long--and after hours upon hours of nothing happening, he'd eventually just nodded off.
He'd been asleep for an indeterminate period--and even then, nothing bad had happened. The worst complaint he could think up so far was being tied down to the bed. And the near heart attack from awakening to the terrifying sight of a Dark Lord of the Sith standing over his bed that first time around. The stuff of his worst nightmares, to be sure--childish though it was, the image of his father's murderer was akin to the Boogeyman to his subconscious.
And he was getting hungry. Since the Imperials had suddenly seen fit to become...well, nice wasn't the word--the tied-to-the-bed part sort of negated the nice--at least civil...maybe they'd decide to feed him as well. After all, they'd given him nearly everything else--shelter, a comfortable bed, medical treatment...
Unless, he thought, for what had to be the hundredth time, they're just softening me up for what comes later. Or they expect me to be grateful for a bacta patch and a soft pillow.
Having never quite been an Imperial prisoner before, he wasn't exactly certain what to expect. However, from Leia's experiences and a few tales among his peers, he was sure that quite a bit more discomfort should be involved.
But as much as his physical needs were met, discomfort was an understatement where his mind was concerned. He'd run himself in circles all day--night--whatever it was now, wondering what was going to happen. Nothing so far, apparently--but he had been captured personally by Darth Vader, and had then stupidly revealed himself to the Sith Lord...
They already knew he was a top Alliance pilot. Now they knew who he was, possibly what he'd done--and who his father was, and what he could be. And even a kid from backwater Tatooine knew that being Jedi was a death sentence in the Empire.
And I didn't even know I could be...until Ben...
He'd been over it in his head a thousand times, since he'd learned the truth so many months ago--since his world had been forcibly tilted and the only family he'd ever known brutally murdered. His years of resenting Uncle Owen's endless resistance--the barriers, the rules, the limits and the fights--seemed so petulant and ungrateful. He'd understood then, finally, what it all meant; why his guardians just couldn't seem to let him go--why they hadn't even told him the truth.
They'd been protecting him--all his life, keeping his father's Jedi legacy at bay, where it couldn't hurt him. Keeping him ignorant, because he was a naive, wide-eyed kid running wild through a town where Imperials marched daily and one wrong word could cost him everything. Keeping him home, far away from the Academy and the Imperial centers, where his name would be known and his life would be forfeit...
They'd been protecting him. Droids or no droids...the Imperials had not learned his name that day at the Lars farm. They'd died protecting him.
And no matter what quarrels they'd ever had he could never fail to be grateful to them for that--for everything. In hindsight, all his rebellion, his backtalk, his tempers and indignation seemed...small, petty, childish. And maybe they'd both been wrong; maybe Uncle Owen hadn't managed it all correctly--maybe by now Luke could've handled the truth, and made their frictions less harsh. But he would never forget how they had spent nearly two decades sheltering a child that was not their own; a deathly risk, a weighty secret, a Jedi child, to be protected from Vader and the Empire--a tall order, especially for two simple farmers. And despite the restlessness of his teenage years, he had been happy. Gentle Aunt Beru and gruff Uncle Owen...they'd been a family, such as they were--even if he'd never realized that all their secrets and mercies had been for him.
And he'd gone and rendered a lifetime's worth of effort and sacrifice completely meaningless--in a heartbeat, in one angry outburst, with just a few words, everything his guardians had died for had gone up in smoke.
Now he was held captive by the very man they'd tried to save him from, awaiting an unknown future. A fate likely the same as his father's.
Unless... Hope still flickered--despite the hours of tedium and uncertainty. Unless he's still alive. Vader didn't find anyone--would he even be looking if he was sure he killed my father back then? If he's alive...there's still a chance...
Once again, his thoughts had cycled back from depression to optimism, and he gave the bed restraints yet another yank. They held, like they always had, but they gave him something tangible to fight. With no interrogators and no Vader to rage against, the fury and defiance that had supported him before had grown thin and wan, leaving him with a timeless, anticipatory dullness that freed his mind to far too much introspection.
Too much time to think--to worry, to wonder, to plan, to berate himself, to hope. And even after far too many hours, he still hadn't managed to come up with a reasonable method of escape that didn't involve watching his father swoop in heroically to strike down the Dark Lord, and end with them riding off into the sunset--or other such holodrama nonsense.
Grow up, he scolded himself, yanking on the restraints again--almost becoming a regular pattern, like breathing. Slow, steady--breathe, yank...breathe, yank--and a source of at least a little noise in the quiet hum of the medbay. But no one could blame him for his optimism, his hope--the stories he'd heard since joining the Alliance, like nothing his uncle had ever told him...stories of the Warrior, the Jedi Knight, the Hero...so much, so many; he'd listened wide-eyed and rapt and awed, begging for more...
He was helplessly swept up in boyish dreams of what could have been and what might be--and with the faintest possibility that his father was alive--
Absorbed in his expectant ruminations, he completely missed the sounds of approach from outside, until the med ward door slid open--loud in the oppressing stillness. Luke jumped, huge-eyed and wary as reality intruded once again and a stream of men poured in. Several were trooper guards, one was a medic, and another appeared to be an officer--a lieutenant, if his memory of Imperial insignia were correct.
"What do you want?" he snapped out defensively, startled, though he didn't really expect a reply. He wondered if this was the part where he became a real prisoner.
The medic approached him directly, without regard for his personal space. The man hemmed and hawed over the instruments reading him around the bed, then reached in and pulled down the shoulder of the white medbay robe he wore, poking at his bacta-bandaged wound. Luke flinched away, but put up little fight--it was rather futile anyway, and probably in his best interests to let the doctor work.
"His temperature has normalized," the medic announced, stepping back, "and the burn is healed. He can keep it under bacta for another day or so to help the skin stay supple and avoid scarring, but the worst is done with."
"Thank you, Doctor," said the lieutenant, taking the medic's place with a bundle under his arm. "That will be all."
With a nod, the nameless doctor vanished out the door again.
The officer set the tan bundle on the med-bed beside him, then gestured to one of the guards. The trooper stepped forward, expressionless, and began to unlock the bed restraints.
"The doctor has cleared you," the lieutenant announced in a no-nonsense tone--speaking to him, Luke realized off-centeredly, which felt odd because no one had spoken directly to him in hours. "You will dress yourself quickly, and you may use the 'fresher if you have need. A meal has been prepared for you."
Freed from the straps--and a little stiff for having been stuck there so long--Luke scooted off the side of the bed and hauled himself to his feet. "What's going on?" he asked, heart pounding once more as things were moving again and he didn't know what was going to happen now. "What do you want from me?"
"It's not what I want so much as what Lord Vader wants," the lieutenant replied--not kindly, but not derisively either; the man seemed almost as perplexed as Luke, though he didn't really show it. "He seems to be quite interested in dealing with you personally. Now--get dressed."
Swallowing hard, Luke prodded at the bundle the officer had brought, and discovered it to be a collection of clean clothes wrapped around a new pair of shoes. The soft, sturdy fabrics were pale beige and tan, and not too different in cut from his around-the-farm wear back home. Light cloth, less flowing tunic, slightly looser pants...
This was Tatooine garb, he realized--townie clothes, a slightly higher grade and cut than his old whites, one of the types commonly worn by folk who lived within the cities. A cleaner, more expensive version of the clothes he'd arrived here in.
The confusion must have shown on his face, since it actually drew a coolly amused smile from the lieutenant. "Lord Vader ordered these," he said, while Luke stared. "I believe he thought it would be more agreeable to you to wear this, rather than a spare Imperial uniform."
Luke barely managed a nod, unable to wrap his mind around whatever was going on here. No matter what he thought of Imperials and their procedures, this was just...backwards, he was sure. He was being treated more along the lines of a guest, rather than a prisoner.
But his captors were growing impatient, so he swallowed down his embarrassment and stripped out of the medbay robe, down to his undershorts, and hurriedly pulled on the new ensemble. After months of flight suits and fatigues, the Tatooine clothes felt...comfortable and familiar, and far more settling than he would've thought. Like pulling a lens into place, they helped make things clear.
Tatooine. He was still here--he was home. No matter what had happened, no matter how he'd wanted out--this was his world, his place; he knew it well, its seasons and rhythms, its patterns and paths. If he could not realistically depend on his father for rescue--no matter how much he wanted to--then here, on this world, was his best chance of getting himself out.
As they marched him out of the medbay, guarded on all sides, he took a deep, centering breath. Now was not the time to act, here in the middle of whatever Imperial installation this was. Ben had told him to be patient, so he would--he would try anyway, though patience was not in his nature. He would wait, and watch, and be ready.
Less than a hall away, his captors turned him into a small, gray room with nothing inside but a table and a small door--which was either a closet or a small refresher unit. On the table was a large glass of water and a plate of food; a thick slab of bantha, probably, along with mashed sand-tubers and gravy and a serving of local-grown green vegetables--a quite common, everyday Tatooine meal. Not at all what he imagined as prison food, or even Imperial rations.
Well, beggars can't be choosers.
And he wasn't about to complain--not when he was feeling rather hungry indeed and this was likely his last meal for a while. He ate neatly and rapidly, keeping an ear on the door as he did; he didn't know how much time he was allotted, and he didn't want another scare.
He was already scared enough.
Trapped in a weird upside-down Imperial base where they did things backwards and all he had to look forward to at this point was apparently an interrogation by Darth Vader. Whatever that meant. Given how he'd been treated so far...but then, maybe they were just softening him up...the Sith Lord had seen to Leia personally too, and she had received neither new clothes nor meal nor mercy...
Even after his food was gone, he was left alone in the small room for a long while, wondering what was going on outside. The small "closet" did turn out to be a 'fresher, which he made use of, washing up and making an effort to straighten his hair, then sat at the table and waited. Foot-tapping, worried, impatient despite his attempts to be calm--the sheer weirdness of his experience here kept him from being certain what was to happen to him, and that uncertainty was more unsettling in its own way than a thousand promises of death and torture.
It was the not knowing that frightened him.
Eventually, they came for him. It was a different officer, this time--a harder-faced man, higher ranked, with more guards. This time, they were a little rougher, and they fitted his wrists with binders before briskly moving him out the door. Luke resisted a little, pulling back and fighting the new restraint, but even then the troopers did not strike him--they only shoved him along, refusing to be drawn into a confrontation. Their silence and purpose keyed up his heartbeat, tightened his chest--there was a sense of purpose now, and he knew something was about to happen.
He realized what it was when they drew up to a set of large sliding doors, many halls later--that electric-stormcloud prickle that he realized was coming through the Force, not his own adrenaline, somewhere close ahead. It had calmed since its devastating explosion on the farm and was settled from the roiling, twisting maelstrom it had been standing beside his bed, but he knew what it was.
Darth Vader was waiting for him.
Cold, dark, and impatient--he didn't know how exactly he knew, but somewhere in that black cloud ahead was a definite feeling of annoyance and haste. He knew, in a vague, uncertain sort of way, that he'd always been somewhat aware of the moods of people around him...but before Ben he'd never known it was coming from the Force and before Vader he'd never felt anyone so...loudly. Except maybe Leia, but even she wasn't so thunderous.
Then the large doors ground open to reveal a wide, walled-in landing field, spread with ships here and there and busy with pilots and troopers and transports. Loudspeakers blared orders and men marched to and fro, and suddenly things seemed much more normal for an Imperial base--as opposed to the oppressive quiet of the long gray halls. The suns overhead were high and hot, showing it to be mid-afternoon and turning the duracrete surface to a frying-pan.
But even that overbearing heat couldn't stop the chill that spun through him as Luke caught sight of a familiar ship sitting in the middle of the pad, sleek lines far more elegant than any boxy shuttle, its smooth, dark gray surface almost as black as the armor of the man who flew it--the man who paced near its entrance ramp with a squad of stormtroopers in parade attendance to see him off.
The moment he set foot on the duracrete, the Sith Lord whirled to face him across the expanse--as if someone had shouted--and deep within somehow he felt that restless black sea kick up again into swells that were a faint echo of the storm it had been at his bedside. He froze where he was, under the Dark Lord's scrutiny, and couldn't get his legs to move.
Luke took one crazy moment to wonder how Vader could stand the heat in all that black. But then he was being shoved forward, regardless of how he tried to dig in his heels, and he could no longer spare thoughts for frivolous meanderings. As much as everything had been too slow in the last who-knew-how-many hours, now it was all too fast--much too fast, and he really didn't want to face Vader again despite all his defiance and bravado--he'd really prefer to go back and sit in that empty medbay for weeks rather than go near his father's killer--
And then he was less than two meters away from the dark giant, and his attempts at calm and patience were for nothing, because he was shaking with fear and anger and any thoughts of escape seemed so futile now...
"He is unharmed?" rumbled the bass voice--not addressed to him, though it felt like the eyes behind the faceplate never left him.
"As per your orders, my Lord," the officer in charge of him replied, saluting smartly. "He's been cleared by the medic and fed."
"Good work, Colonel." Vader turned, just a little, to regard the base's executive officer. "See that the rest of my orders are carried out. I will take custody of the boy."
The colonel gave a brisk nod, saluting again. "As you wish, my Lord."
The troopers pushed Luke forward, within the Sith Lord's reach. He knew how useless it was to run--surrounded, Imperials behind and Vader in front. He felt very small.
"Get on board," Vader ordered, causing Luke to flinch at the direct tone. When he didn't move, Vader reached out, a broad hand taking hold of his good shoulder and pressing him toward the ship's ramp. The mismatched pair entered the shuttle, leaving the collection of Imperial troops behind.
Luke wanted to fight, wanted to throw himself back and revel in the defiance he'd feverishly enjoyed on the farm, but his own terror kept him stiff and trembling under the Sith's heavy hand. It was too confusing; he didn't know what was going on--where were the torture droids, the interrogation chambers, the pain and the questions? Where was the relentless agony and harsh mind-probe Leia had haltingly described? Where was the abuse, the starvation and the threats?
He was even more surprised when he was not shoved toward the back of the ship, to the little holding cell that had been his quarters; Vader's firm grip guided him toward the cockpit, where the Sith Lord unceremoniously dropped him into a chair behind and to the side of the pilot's seat.
"Do not touch anything," Vader said at last, making him jump again as the Sith settled into the pilot's chair. "Or I will return you to the cell in the rear."
Well, there was the threat part, he considered--a piece of his mind was so far over the edge of fear that it had turned to morbid humor to keep him steady. There was that lingering promise of removing a hand or two if he fiddled with the ship, too. He wondered if Vader would toss him in the cell if he talked--at least it would be further away from the Dark Lord.
The ship was already through with preflight, and lifted smoothly away from the ground. Luke, always fascinated by flying machines no matter how dire the situation, couldn't help but watch Vader's hands moving expertly over the controls. No jerks, no hesitations--this was a man who knew his machine intimately, like Luke knew his X-wing.
It was...strange. He'd heard the reports and the stories, but he'd never really contemplated Vader flying ships. Imperial high mucky-mucks usually got flown around by other people, like rich holo-actors in hover-limos. He'd never thought of Vader as a pilot before.
Someone who flew, like himself...
Luke swallowed again, sitting back in his chair. He was afraid--his hands still trembled--but he didn't know what to expect. He was angry--he still hated the enigmatic shadow before him, who had murdered his father--but he had no idea what to do about it right now. Vader was powerful and relentless; what could one unarmed farm-boy with few other skills than piloting do against a Sith Lord?
"What's going on?" he murmured, half-surprising himself, as he hadn't expected to say anything aloud.
"We are returning to the Lars farm," Vader replied--startling him further to have been heard. "We have a...project to finish, and a Jedi to find."
Luke's anger kicked up to fury at that, and for a moment he wanted to jump up and strike out at the Sith with his bare hands if he had to--but then the black helmet tilted in his direction and a cold burst of fear stilled him. "I won't help you," he grated, repeating his earlier promises. "I won't let you kill my father."
Vader actually turned to him, then, dark lenses staring into him for long, measured breaths. Luke imagined he could feel the stormy sea within the black figure begin to roil again, with things he couldn't begin to name. He found himself holding his breath, pressed back into his chair by the weight of that gaze, his heart fluttering like a child who'd said the wrong thing.
Then, finally, Vader turned back to the viewscreen, letting him breathe again. "We shall see, young one," the Sith rumbled, strangely soft. "So long as you cooperate, there will be no need for killing."
Luke's jaw dropped, and he could only sit staring dumbly in disbelief at the back of the Sith Lord's helmeted head as they flew on to their destination.
To be continued...