"Leave this to the politicians, Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "You know you hate this."
Darth Vader flinched at the name. All he could think of was his apprentice, but he knew Obi-Wan had great difficulty addressing him as Vader. He looked up from the stacks of flimsiplast spread over his end of the elegant blackwood dining table. He'd taken to working in this sunlit room in the mornings, even if all he could do was watch Luke and Obi-Wan eat. With its expansive view of the Imperial Center skyline, it was far more soothing than the colorless war rooms that used to be his habit. Or maybe it was just the company.
His eyes refocused on the document in front of him. Assuredly it was in Basic, though the lawyers had done their best to render it incomprehensible. Obi-Wan was right: he did hate this. But there were certain things he had to ensure were in place. "I cannot trust the politicians with my plans. Besides, what else would I do?"
"Come with me to Dagobah," Obi-Wan said. "And beyond. There's bound to be more survivors who lived like I did."
He glanced at Luke, who was quietly watching the exchange from over his morning meal. This wasn't the first time Obi-Wan had mentioned searching for exiled Jedi. Luke had readily agreed with the idea, having plunged himself into his studies with intensity since Anakin's death. In fact, he suspected Luke had flown at least once to the old Temple, with Obi-Wan as his guide. "Yes, I'm exactly the face a Jedi wants to see."
Obi-Wan opened his mouth to counter, but the chime of Vader's comm interrupted him. Vader frowned as he removed it from his belt. "What is it?"
"Yes, m'lord," came the reply, "Senator Organa is waiting for you in the foyer."
"Senator Organa?" Obi-Wan asked quizzically.
"Tell the Senator I will be with him shortly," he said into the comm. He clicked it off, and waved his hand in the air. "He has some matter to discuss that couldn't wait for the next Senate session."
"I'll go," Luke said from across the table. "Should I bring him here?"
Vader gazed at his son. Though Luke didn't enjoy politics the way his apprentice had, there had been several times he had stepped in for duties that once would have been Anakin's. "That would be fine."
Once Luke had left, Vader turned to Obi-Wan. "You shouldn't get his hopes up like that."
"Well, if you weren't so stubborn, you'd actually consider my idea," Obi-Wan said.
He grunted. "My place is here. The restoration of rights to the non-human worlds is of great importance."
"Granted," Obi-Wan said, "but there are others who would champion that task besides you."
He shook his head and sighed. But even as he argued against it, he could feel the Force pulling him towards Obi-Wan's proposal. He shoved back the voice that urged him to acquiesce, and was thankful when footsteps sounded outside in the corridor. Luke and Organa were there, he sensed, but also another person. When the door slid open, for a moment there was a twitter of beeps, and then Luke stepped through the threshhold, arm extended in invitation.
"After you, Senator," Luke said.
Organa nodded to Luke as he entered the room. "Thank you," he said, before turning to Vader. "That's a fine boy you have there."
"Yes, he is," Vader said, momentarily puzzled, until he realized Luke must have disclosed their relationship as he escorted the Senator. "What is it that you wanted to discuss?"
Organa's gaze went to Obi-Wan then back to Vader. "Your decisiveness in moving against Tarkin saved billions of lives. The systems of the Empire, all of the systems, are extremely grateful."
He caught the reference to the re-integration of the former worlds of the Rebellion. But that was old news. "And your honesty in coming to me with the facts is commendable. But we discussed all that publicly in the last Senate session."
"Yes, you're right. There is something else," Organa said. The senator took in a deep breath. "Many years ago I was entrusted with the care of two friends of yours. I've decided that it's time to return them to you."
"Friends of mine?" he asked suspiciously.
"Yes," Organa said, moving back to the door. He activated the control and spoke into the hallway. "Leia, you can bring them in now."
The senator held the door from sliding shut while his daughter entered the room, a squat astromech droid and a golden protocol droid at her heels. Vader stared at the droids, disbelieving. "Artoo? And Threepio?"
The protocol droid's head whipped to attention. "Have we met? I don't recall being introduced."
The astromech droid twittered rapidly and Organa leaned in over the table. "It was necessary to perform a memory wipe. You know his propensity for talking."
"Of course I talk," Threepio said indignantly. "It is my function. I am fluent in..."
"...over six million forms of communication," Vader said. "Yes, I know. I built you Threepio."
"You're the Maker?" Threepio said, sounding confused. He looked down to the astromech droid. "Is that true, Artoo?"
Artoo warbled, then rolled around the table to Obi-Wan's side. He cast his photoreceptor into Obi-Wan's face and gave a low whistle.
"Yes, my little friend, it's me," Obi-Wan said. He inclined his head towards Vader. "And don't let the mask fool you."
Artoo's photoreceptor swiveled towards Vader, surveying him up and down. The droid uttered an inquiring note.
He smiled, and set a gloved hand atop Artoo's dome. Indeed a friend, the most loyal of friends. "Good to see you, Artoo," he said, and the droid burbled excitedly in response. "No, I don't know how I got along without you, either."
Luke moved forward from the back of the room, where he'd been silently watching the conversation. He looked appraisingly at Threepio, and then to Vader. "You really built him?"
"Yes, " he said, memories of his childhood, of his youth, of his marriage, of his life flashing through his mind. Prissy, serious Threepio had been there for all of it, so perhaps it was fitting that Bail should return him now that it was beginning again. "He was first a gift to my mother, and later to yours. And Artoo was a gift from your mother to me."
Vader noticed the Senator's daughter was listening as intently as Luke. She must have grown up with the droids, and doubtless their history was interesting to her. But there seemed to be something more in her gaze, which fixed on him as often as the droids. Finally she moved in front of Bail, who rested a protective hand on her shoulder.
"I was very sorry to hear about Anakin," she said, her dark eyes solemn. "He had so much life, I can't believe he's gone."
He clenched his jaw inside the helmet. It was hard to believe. There were still times when he'd go to his comm, needing Anakin's expertise on some technical issue, then remember he wasn't there to answer anymore. And if he and Obi-Wan were talking somewhere, it felt as though Anakin was simply in some other part of the Palace. But then Luke would join them and Anakin's absence became painfully obvious. Their grief bound them together, the ache of loss a shared experience, though for him there was a pain even more sharp. It was a stab of guilt, born of wondering why Anakin had to die. Even though they'd faced different dangers in disarming the Death Star, he couldn't shake the feeling that somehow it was he who should have been killed, not his apprentice. Despite been raised as a Sith, Anakin had been essentially innocent, and yet he seemed to have been the one who paid for Vader's crimes. The weight of that debt was never far from his mind.
While Vader was unable to formulate a reply, Luke was more composed. He walked up to Leia and smiled sadly. "He really thought a lot of you."
Leia blushed and lowered her head, but then recovered. "So you're Luke," she said, her eyes returning to his face. "Funny, we don't look anything alike."
Luke laughed awkwardly. "Why, should we?"
The utter silence that filled the room jarred Vader more than Leia's words. It was an odd statement to be sure, but not as odd as the tight lipped expressions Bail and Obi-Wan wore. Luke looked around the room, as if searching for someone to explain.
"Twins often do," Obi-Wan said softly, "but not always."
"I don't have a twin," Luke said, turning to Vader. "Do I?"
"Unfortunately, I am not the one to ask," he said, a tightness building in his chest. A second child? A daughter, the girl he had expected? In light of that revelation, Leia's resemblance to Padme' was obvious. And the current of Force sensitivity that he'd somehow ignored before, that would be entirely from him. She was his daughter. He swelled with emotion, grateful that Bail had told Leia the truth.
Obi-Wan rose from the table and approached Luke and Leia. "You were separated when you were born to keep you protected from Palpatine. From the Sith."
It was a measure of Obi-Wan's friendship that he hadn't said from your father. Vader recognized that both Obi-Wan and Bail were giving him a second chance. A chance he would not squander. He turned to his daughter. "You look different because while Luke favors me, you look very much like your mother."
Leia blinked, nodding. "I was hoping you could tell me about her."
"Of course I would," he said, noticing Bail's hand tightening on Leia's shoulder. Artoo chirped at his side.
"Artoo says he has some holograms which might help," Threepio said. "His memory is more complete than mine. A fact of which he constantly reminds me."
Vader gazed down at the little astromech droid who had once been his nearly constant companion. Almost anything might be stored in Artoo's memory banks. He hoped he could stand seeing it.
"I'd like to get to know you, Luke," Leia said, brushing a hand over her brother's arm. She turned to Vader. "And you. Maybe you can tell me if I have the gift."
"You do," he said plainly, his perception of their bond in the Force strengthening.
"We're going to search for lost Jedi," Luke said, his eyes warm. "You should come with us."
Bail looked to Vader and Obi-Wan. "Is that true? Are you going to restore the Order?"
He opened his mouth to discount the idea, then felt the storm of opposition in the Force. Did he always have to wrestle with its will? He thought of Anakin flying his crippled ship back to save Luke, accepting his destiny without hesitation. Perhaps that was a lesson he was supposed to learn as well. "Apparently it is, Senator," he said, a strange sense of relief coming to him with the decision. Suddenly his path became clear. "Have you ever thought of running for Chancellor?"
Bail looked at him as though he were mad. "The Empire doesn't have a Chancellor. Only an...emperor."
He hesitated a moment with his reply, because it would change everything. But what was there to hold him back? Nothing Palpatine had ever given him, no power or position, had ever brought him any happiness, let alone as much comfort as the beings in this room. His friends, his children, the droids. He wasn't giving up everything - he was gaining everything that mattered. It was time to let the Empire go. "That, Senator, is about to change."