Author's Note: Here it is – the last chapter! Keep an eye out for the one-shot companion piece, The Request, though -- for those of you who wanted to know how Mon Mothma knew about Luke and Vader back in Chapter Four. Anyway, enjoy, review, and if you haven't voted on the poll, please do so! I'll post the result on . . . hmm, I've been saying March First, but I didn't expect to have this story done so soon. We'll see how soon I get The Request up, and I'll let you know then if I'm going to change the closing date. Thanks for reading!
Chapter Ten: Rescue
Vader growled under his breath in frustration as he surveyed his surroundings. He was in the main square of Coronet City, Luke at his side and a fan of stormtroopers behind them, as they waited for Jix to grace them with his presence.
If he doesn't make an appearance soon, I'm going to . . . I don't know what I'm going to do. Coming up with a suitable punishment requires more imaginative energy than I'm willing to expend at the moment.
With every second that passed, Vader's shoulders tensed more. He had an unshakable bad feeling that they had missed something; something very, very important.
"Way to be obvious, Uncle D," Jix grumbled as he swung up onto the swoop behind Vader. The Dark Lord resisted the urge to snap his neck, more a reflex than a true irritation. No matter how many times he ordered Jix not to sneak up on him, his agent still took a perverse sort of pleasure out of surprising him. "And way to blow my cover. Sitting in the middle of the city glowering as if you want to strangle the whole population."
"Jixton," Vader snarled. "We do not have time for this."
Jix tugged a helmet down around his ears. "Yeah, I was kinda wondering why you were all here instead of watching Her Sassiness. What'd she do, run away from home?"
When no one answered, he looked around in shock. "She did? What kind of lousy babysitters are you?"
"We do not have time for you to practice your insults, Jixton," Vader growled.
Jix peered up at the Dark Lord, his proximity to the Sith forcing him to tilt his head back at an uncomfortable angle. "Are you saying I can't toss a good insult?"
"Whatever," Jix muttered. "Let's go see if we can save Her Most Independent Royalness."
Vader gunned his swoop and took off without further ado, Luke and the squad of troopers right behind him.
Luke had to marvel at how well Vader and Jix worked together. He had fully expected Vader to throw Jix to the ground, if not cause him to develop an acute case of respiratory distress, when the agent had hopped onto the big black swoop, but Vader (and all the troops, Luke noted) had taken it in stride. Now, Luke understood why.
Through they were going at at least a good hundred twenty clicks, Jix was standing on the seat of the swoop behind Vader, one hand grasping Vader's shoulder to keep himself steady, the other holding a set of macrobinoculars to his eyes. For his part, Vader keep the swoop perfectly steady, making turns wide and avoiding obstacles well in advance in order to keep his spy on balance. Luke wished the situation weren't so dire; he'd be able to study the dynamic so much better if his thoughts weren't constantly straying to Leia.
Vader was slowing down; Luke pulled up beside him. Jix jumped lightly to the ground. "I'm not seeing anything – they must be holed up somewhere."
"They?" Luke queried, a sinking feeling in his gut.
Vader looked over at him. "I have sensed Gledn and your Princess. He is ecstatic, she is terrified. But I do not know either of them well enough to pinpoint their location beyond this general area. If I see them, I can do more, but over such a large distance . . ."
Luke bit his lip. He hated to ask this, sure Vader would take it the wrong way, but it had to be done. "How do you sense someone through the Force? I know Leia really well, maybe I could --" He broke off.
To his relief, Vader didn't mention anything about the offer on Bespin. "Concentrate on her. Imagine her in your mind; everything about her. When it is clear, you should find a – a chain, or a rope, that binds the image to her. Follow that, and you will find her. But be wary; to do so means letting down your shields, and without your shields you will not be able to sense any danger around you. I will watch you, if you trust me to do so, but --"
"We have to find her," Luke interrupted firmly. "I'll do whatever it takes."
"Very well." Vader nodded, and Luke closed his eyes.
First, he imagined Leia as she looked, then worked on refining the image. Her hair was a little thicker, a little richer in colour. Her eyes a little rounder, her nose narrower. Her cheeks were slimmer – she'd lost weight since Han had been gone – and her chin slightly more stubborn . . .
After that, he added in the sound of her voice; her laugh, the tight tone she used when she was angry, the high pitch she used only when she was angry with Han, the little hiccup that always crept into her tears. He remembered it all – but couldn't figure out how to attach it to the image.
And then another presence was there, showing him how to do so, guiding him as put the two together.
Then it retreated, simply watching as he continued with things she had told him about herself, and memories he had of her. And with each thing he added to the centerpiece, the brighter and more obvious it became.
Finally, he was done. Mentally he circled the centerpiece, looking for the line Vader said he should find. And he did find one – but it wasn't as Vader had described. Instead of starting with the image, it went through it, one end disappearing, the other seemingly attached to Luke himself, deep inside his mind. He looked for the other presence, the one he was quite sure was Vader, hoping to learn what exactly this meant, but the other person was gone.
Luke gave a mental shrug. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be hindering either of them. In fact, it felt familiar, as if he'd used it before . . . th night Leia was attacked, maybe? And at Bespin? Both times they'd heard each other even though they'd been out of hearing range . . .
He opened his eyes. "I've got it. But it's different then you said it'd be."
Vader's helmet tilted. "How so?"
Luke explained the connection.
Vader didn't speak for several moments. "It sounds like a family bond. You must be very close indeed for such a thing to have developed between you. It is rare for it to occur between two unrelated people. Even master and apprentice pairs have difficulty getting to such a level."
"Huh." Luke frowned, but didn't dwell on it. They'd spent enough time on it already. Mentally, he reached for the line and tugged. It tightened, and gave him both a direction plus a barrage of feelings. "Oh, Force," he muttered, them pointed and said aloud, "That way."
Jix lifted the macrobinoculars as he got back on Vader's swoop, once again standing on the seat. "There's an old factory or something out that way," he offered.
Vader swore for what seemed like the millionth time since he'd joined the hunt, and this time Luke knew it wasn't in Basic.
Leia was too busy trying to fight Gledn off to even try to call for Luke. The man before her had grown slimmer since his time with the Alliance, but he had gained hard, wiry muscle mass, and coupled with the surprise attack, it was all she could do to keep him from getting a decent grip on her.
After what seemed like hours, she managed to snatch up the small blaster she kept tucked in at the small of her back. Unfortunately, Gledn was too close for her to aim properly, so she settled for letting a shot off by his ear, which startled him enough to allow her to yank her wrist from his grasp and shoot the rusty lock on the door. She managed to get inside the factory, but then realized she'd just destroyed her only way of locking him out.
Using several Alderaanian curses she'd made certain her father didn't know she knew, she pressed her back to the old, hinged door, trying to keep him out while she looked desperately around for something, anything that would hold the door against him.
Nothing. Not anything that she could get to and pull back before Gledn got in, anyway. Gritting her teeth, she flung herself away from the door in a roll, and came up with her blaster pointed squarely at Gledn's chest.
He stopped. Then he grinned. "Poor, pretty little Princess," he crooned madly. "Thinks she knows what's best."
"Don't I?" she countered, trying to blow a stray lock of hair out of her face.
His grin grew. "A young woman like you never knows what's best for her. That's why you need me. But you never saw that, dearie. You turned them against me, had them throw me out of the place that was rightfully mine, as a leader in your Rebellion. And for that you have to die."
"Sorry, that's not on my agenda today," she snapped.
"Maybe not. But it's on mine." He lunged.
She shot, but he came in low and the bolt went over his head. He caught her around the waist and they both tumbled to the floor. She managed to scramble to her feet first, but he was closer to the pistol. Grabbing it, he hurled it into a nearby garbage chute, then struggled to his feet.
Leia was already halfway up the nearest flight of stairs when he started after her. She took the remaining steps so quickly she was afraid she'd fall, but she didn't dare slow down.
At the top, she found a hallway lined with doors. Offices, she realized, and sprinted past them. The last thing she wanted was to be caught in a small office with only one door and maybe a window too far from the ground to be of any safe use.
There was an elevator at the end of the hall. She skidded into it and hurriedly pressed a button, just in time to see Gledn top the stairs at the other end. He caught sight of her and headed down the hall, a mad grin on his face.
She glanced down at the elevator buttons in a panic, and realized that it must be out of order. Well, no wonder, nerfherder, she chided herself. This factory is only how old? And why would the company pay for power if it's not going to be in use?
I want to use it! the less rational side of her screamed.
There was another flight of stairs to her right that she hadn't seen. She dashed for them, making it to the first one as Gledn passed the halfway mark in the hallway.
The stairwell was narrow and twisting, and she would have cursed it if she hadn't been using all her breath trying to get away from Gledn. An inner voice screamed at her to get back down to the floor level or she'd never get away, but she wasn't about to retrace her steps. She'd just have ot find another way down.
She came to the top of the stairs and stopped short.
She was on a bridge of sorts, supported by durasteel pillars and apparently it was supposed to stretch from where she stood to the doorway she could see across from her. It would be a good place for owners to watch the progress of the workers, and handy for connecting people in the large building.
Except that the last three pillars had somehow been destroyed, and only about two thirds of the bridge remained.
She looked behind her; she could hear Gledn on the steps. She made her way out to the end of the bridge – it seemed solid enough, until it abruptly dropped away.
She backed away from the end of the bridge as Gledn appeared at the top of the stairs. She froze.
His smile was downright gleeful as he took in their surroundings, and he stalked toward her with all the grace and arrogance of a nexu who had just cornered a stray nerf. "Princess," he hissed as he reached for her throat.
She just blinked at him, wondering how he could say that and hum at the same time.
Then she realized that he wasn't the one humming.
Well, if it wasn't him, and it wasn't her . . .
Gledn froze in mid-stride, eyes going wide. Then he turned around.
"Gledn." Vader's voice was as smooth as the machinery he wore could make it, but Gledn let out an insane shriek of defiance and pulled a small knife out of a sheath hidden in his boot. As Vader advanced, the convict held his ground, then lunged for Vader much as he had for Leia earlier.
Unlike Leia, Vader was too solid for Gledn to knock over, but he had surprised the Sith Lord sufficiently enough to get past his defence stance and bury the knife in his abdomen. Vader hissed in shock and anger, pulled back and swung his ignited, humming blade at Gledn.
At first, Leia thought he;d missed. Then, Gledn crumpled to the floor, and his head rolled away from his body.
Leia's knees went weak, but suddenly Luke was there. His arms went around her, and she collapsed against his chest, hardly about to believe it was finally over.
"Not the body part I would have removed," Leia muttered shakily in an attempt to be brave as Luke held her supportively.
Another shape approached. "Does it hurt?" Jix asked his superior, ignoring Leia and frowning at Vader's abdomen.
"Not really," Vader said dismissively.
Jix looked up at him, frown still in place. "So it hurts enough that your knees buckle and you almost pass out. I'm calling Polor. Do not argue with me."
A gusty sigh escaped Vader's mask, but he didn't say anything as Jix pulled out his comlink and stomped off a few steps.
At that moment, a trooper moved to meet Vader and saluted smartly. "What about the Rebels, my lord?"
What indeed? He should take them into custody, but . . . the Princess reminded him so much of her, and Luke was not ready to face Sidious yet, that was obvious . . .
"What Rebels?" he replied finally, meeting the startled gazes of Luke and Leia.
Why? Luke asked.
I can see that you are not yet ready to face the Emperor as an equal. When you are, I will come for you. And when that time comes, I will not let you go, Vader answered silently.
Luke bowed his head. Vader turned to leave.
"Wait!" Leia called suddenly. Vader turned to look at her.
She moved away from Luke and toward the Dark Lord, closer and closer until her nose met his chestplate. Then, hesitantly, she put her arms around him and gave him a hug.
After a moment, Leia stepped back. "This doesn't change anything between us," she informed him, her chin held proudly high. "We're still enemies. But . . . well . . . thank you." She turned her back on him and walked back to Luke's side and took his hand.
"You heard Uncle D!" Jix called out into the silence at the 501st, having returned from his call. "These are civilians! Nice meeting you," he added over his shoulder at Luke and Leia as he accompanied the retreating troopers to their transports. "And Uncle D --" he hissed at Vader in a stage whisper, "-- you're supposed to say You're welcome."
"Thank you for your hospitality," Leia said to Rebba as she and Luke prepared to take their leave.
The other woman smiled wanly.
"Ah, don't be such a spoilsport," Jix said, coming up behind her and flinging an arm around her neck.
She glared good-natured at him. "You call that a sport? I always knew you were weird, but . . ."
Luke and Leia glanced at each other, amused. Rebba was relaxed with Jix in a way she never was with them, but they supposed not everyone could be sympathetic to the Alliance, especially when her best friend was an Imperial.
They left the house and prepared the speeder they'd rented with Jix the day they'd landed on Corellia. It seemed so long ago . . .
Leia felt someone watching her and turned. Vader was standing with his troopers across the lawn, but his mask was turned in their direction.
Be brave, and don't look back, a strong, masculine voice whispered into her mind. She smiled.
Don't look back.