Summary: Vader survived ROTJ and is co-operating with the Alliance, and they've taken Coruscant with the help he's given them. But some things about Vader will never change... or will they?
Setting: 1 yr post-ROTJ.
Disclaimer: No infringement upon the writes of Lucasfilm is intended by this story. No profit is made from this.
Notes: this is a one-shot drabble. THERE WILL BE NO SEQUEL.
... To Those Who Wait.
"Happy Birthday, kid."
No response. Well, maybe a flicker of recognition: a brief pause, but that was all. Han sighed and rolled his eyes, leaning his back against the wall of the Imperial Palace's gymnasium and crossing his arms over his chest. What made Skywalkers so damn stubborn, anyway? Some faulty gene, maybe. "Leia's waiting, you know," he said.
Luke glanced at him sharply, before turning away again and continuing his spooky gymnastics. Han allowed himself a quick smile at that. Not a lot could tear Luke away from the gym this time of the morning. Ever since Vader – or Anakin now, supposedly – had told Luke about the Jedi katas the kid had become obsessed with them. What'd Luke said? 'It makes me feel free''? Something like that, anyway. To Han, they just looked like real slow dancing. Though he had to admit, the kid was good at 'em.
He sighed – that'd been way off the mark: Luke was more than 'good' at them – he was mesmerising. And the one person who'd really appreciate that – well, he wasn't here. He was never here.
"He ain't coming, you know," Han said, softer than before.
And at that, Luke did pause. He went still, breathed out harshly. He relaxed his muscles, his arms falling back to his side, and turned to Han. "I told Leia I'd be late. She's okay with it," he said.
"Yeah, I know."
Running a hand through his sweaty hair, which left it standing up at weird angles, Luke glared at him. "She didn't send you?"
Han shook his head. "Nope."
Luke padded over to the wall and picked his towel up off the floor. "Right – so you just came along to... what? Laugh at me?"
Han snorted. "That what you think, really?"
Luke was rubbing the towel over his face, with more force than was probably necessary. The kid didn't answer for a second. Then... "No," he said. "But you're wrong, you know – he'll come."
"He will, I know it. I've just got to give him time. It's too... too much like the old days. He doesn't want to be reminded of being a Jedi. It's painful for him. He-"
"- just needs time, that's all." Luke stopped, and glared, daring Han to challenge him.
With an exasperated sigh Han pushed off from the wall and paced towards his friend. "Do you know where he is now, Luke?" Luke pursed his lips, and said nothing. Han smiled, grimly. "He's up in the palace's command centre with Mothma and Rieekan, running the show, mopping up the troops." L
uke just blinked at him, disarmingly. But there was a flicker of something there – a pain, half-buried by a vain attempt to hide behind ignorance. And the kid was useless at playing dumb. "It's necessary. He-" "What? On his kids' birthday? He couldn't take the morning off from slaughtering Imperials and bossing Mothma around to-"
"Han, that's not fair," Luke snapped.
Han flattened his lips together and shook his head. "You ever gonna let me finish a sentence?"
"He's doing his best, Han – he's doing what he's good at! Without him, it might've taken us years to take Coruscant, and most of those Imperials he's helping us find would've gone into hiding."
"What did you expect him to do, Han? Just go off and concentrate on being a father?"
Again, that grim smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth. Hell, life could be cruel. "No... but you did, huh?" he said. Deathly silence. Luke turned away, hiss shoulders rising and falling sharply with the deep breaths he was sucking in and letting out again in a rush.
"That's not the Jedi way. That would've been a selfish thing to do. He's needed here too badly."
Han snorted again, sympathy clenching the muscles in his chest. "He's needed here, too. Why'd you bother, Luke? Every day you ask him to come here and practice with you. And he's never turned up. He likes power, your dad."
"He's trying to atone for everything he's done."
"Trying kinda hard, if you ask me." He paused. "Come on, Luke, let's find Leia and get outta this place for a while. Gives me the creeps, anyway – I keep expecting to find Palpatine lurking around every corner."
Luke was still facing away from him. For a while he said nothing. Han looked away and grimaced in sympathetic pain. When the kid had brought Vader back from the Death Star, supposedly redeemed, Han had been sceptical about the Sith Lord's trustworthiness. And he still was, though Anakin had proved himself loyal to the remodelling of the Empire in a hundred different ways.
The problem was... he was still Vader – still intense, demanding, unrelenting. And that was particularly true when it came to Luke and Leia – especially to Luke. The slightest threat, the merest hint of trouble in store, and Anakin became intensely, frighteningly protective.
That he cared was beyond question. But he never showed it, except when Luke or Leia was in jeopardy. There were no quiet moments in that man's life – no time to stop and just talk to his children – and Han was pretty sure that was at least fifty-percent deliberate. He had a feeling Anakin, like Vader, just didn't do things by halves.
Luke was twisting the towel in his hands. "You know... I wish I'd never seen the possibilities... wouldn't mind feeling so alone, now."
Han gripped the kid by the shoulder. "You ain't alone, Luke."
Luke nodded. "I know. I just... he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, you know. I said I wanted him to come practice with me one morning..." He dropped the towel to the floor. "He'll come one day, I know it. He just needs... time."
"Yeah. Maybe," Han said. Even to his own ears, he didn't sound very convinced. "Come on – let's get out of here. We-"
He stopped, because Luke's eyes had gone huge and he was staring at the door in wordless surprise.
Han whirled, his hand going for the blaster on his thigh. But he stopped, shocked into inaction. Darth Vader – no, Anakin Skywalker – stood at the entranceway, paused just inside the gym, hesitating... and Han was pretty sure he'd never seen the man hesitate before. "I don't believe it," he whispered, as Anakin took a step towards them.
"Told you," Luke whispered, a smile in his voice, and then he took off at a jog to meet his father halfway.
Han shook his head, speechless. Well, hell, he hated being wrong... but he'd cope with it, just this once.