Summary: Luke finds himself moving in with a moody, secluded Sith Lord who is also his newly found father. Vader has his own set of challenges to overcome, as he struggles to come to terms with his fatherhood.
Description: This is an AU, the second of a four part series with Vader and Luke as the two central characters. It is a direct sequel to Force Bond 1, but it can be read as a story unto itself.
Modified: 30 October 2007.
Chapter 1: "Congratulations"
Lieutenant Lev Dorany couldn't help but wonder how he had ended up here, in quite possibly the least sought-after job in the entire galaxy. It was something he wondered on most mornings, but today it seemed especially depressing.
When he'd first signed up for the Imperial Navy, as a bright-eyed young cadet seven years ago, he had dreamed of spending his days seeing all the wonders and experiencing all the opportunities the galaxy had to offer. Just like the recruitment posters had promised.
They didn't tell him there was a chance he might end up having to deal with a temperamental Sith Lord, day in, day out. They also didn't mention that proximity to a Sith Lord rendered your life insurance policy null and void. A few months ago, he had discovered he no longer qualified for the navy retirement plan. Apparently, according to the polite letter he had received from the internal affairs department, it would be wasted on someone in his position.
Always good to know.
Still, he had to look on the bright side. After he'd become unpopular with his superiors and reassigned to this post, they had taken delight in telling him that he wouldn't last two months. Now, here he was, a year later and still alive.
Only three other personal assistants had actually been choked to death since he'd been here - not one per week, like the rumors suggested. And Lord Vader could actually be quite civil occasionally. One of these days, he might even get around to learning his name.
Lev came to a halt outside a conference room and straightened his already immaculate uniform. He had a message to deliver. No one else had been brave enough to risk it, and he had foolishly volunteered. The last P.A. to attempt to speak to Lord Vader had been told in no uncertain terms that he was to be left alone. But the consequences for not passing on an important message immediately may be worse than those for disturbing the Sith Lord when he wished to be left alone.
The doors slid open with a loud, sudden hiss and Vader came sweeping out.
"My lord?" Lev tried.
Vader turned to face him. That was a good sign, at least. He hadn't walked on without acknowledging him, or worse, attempted to choke him.
"What is it?"
Lev cleared his throat. "One of Senator Lerrod's aides stopped by this morning. He left these." Lev held up a model T-16 speeder and a frayed sack stuffed with clothes.
To Lev's surprise, Vader immediately reached out to take the toy model. He began to turn it over and over in his gloved hands, inspecting it.
"I don't know if this will mean anything to you, sir," Lev continued, "but he said they were the possessions of a boy by the name of Luke. He also said the senator tried to take them to the hospital, but the guards you had left there refused to allow him access."
Vader continued to inspect the toy, not reacting. Lev wondered about this. The Dark Lord had been in a strange mood ever since he'd come back from Senator Lerrod's party, two days ago now. He'd canceled all his appointments and holed himself up in his private rooms, not communicating with anyone for hours. Lev suspected he was the first person to speak to Vader since that night. Whatever had happened, it must have affected the Dark Lord profoundly.
Vader looked up, appearing to notice Lev was there, once again. "Very well. Send a message to Senator Lerrod." Vader paused before continuing. "Tell him that if he goes anywhere near the boy again, I will slice him into pieces and hang the remains from his campaign billboard outside the senate."
Lev swallowed. "Yes, my lord."
Lev turned to leave, before remembering one last thing.
"Oh, and we've been fielding endless calls from the administrator of an Imperial Family Services branch. She wants to meet with you immediately. We've told her repeatedly that you are not seeing anyone at the moment, but she is very persistent, sir."
"What does she want?"
"She said it was a private matter, sir," Lev said carefully. He suspected it might have something to do with this talk of a boy, but that was Vader's business and not his place to speculate.
"If there is some free time in my schedule next week, arrange a meeting then."
"Yes, my lord," Lev said. "What should I do with this sack of -?"
Vader simply held out a hand, and Lev gratefully relinquished them. Whoever this boy was, he really needed some new clothes.
Vader tossed Luke's possessions into a corner as he entered his meditation chamber. His work was piling up, but it was useless to try and do anything while the words kept reverberating in his mind. He is your son ... he is your son ... he is -
So many questions. How was it possible? When had the birth taken place? Where had the boy been for the last twelve years, and where did Obi-Wan fit into this puzzle? He is your son ...
He had never felt as dense in his life as he did the moment Obi-Wan had said those words. The boy had been under his nose for weeks now, and he hadn't even bothered to ask his name. That's all it would have taken, one simple question, and he would have known. Even simpler - he could have taken the time to look at the boy properly. He did bear an uncanny resemblance to him. But he'd been too proud, too wrapped up in his own concerns to bother.
Yet even if he had neglected those simple tasks, the boy's strong presence in the Force should have triggered some sort of warning in his head. Or perhaps it had, but he had been unwilling to even entertain the idea. It was understandable. The last time the prospect of fatherhood had been raised, he had been an entirely different person. That person had been overwhelmed with joy at the idea of being a father.
Unwanted memories came flooding into his mind. Padmé's face, smiling as he felt the baby kick ...
Padmé's face, twisted in pain as she choked under the tide of his anger ...
It didn't matter now. None of it mattered. Whatever the reason, the boy had lived. He was here now.
And he had no idea what to do about it. Two nights ago, he had taken the boy to the medcenter and arranged for him to be guarded, day and night. The only person who even had some idea of what was going on was the medic, with whom he had arranged to have a DNA test performed. He hadn't even told the Emperor yet. The Force only knew what his master would have to say about this.
His comlink began to beep, and Vader sighed in frustration. He was sure he had switched that off a moment ago. But closer inspection revealed it was his high-priority frequency.
He flicked it on and recognized the image of Doctor Leeson.
"You have the results of the test?" Vader enquired.
"Yes, I do indeed. Would you like to come down to my -"
"Very well." The doctor pressed a switch, and the screen beside the comlink lit up with a graphical display of two revolving DNA strands. Vader noticed some text was highlighted under the diagram. Match positive.
"Congratulations," the doctor said. "It's a boy."
It wasn't a surprise. He had already known Obi-Wan had spoken the truth - the Force was more accurate than the advancements of science could ever be. But somehow, seeing the data in front of him made the reality of it more shocking than ever. He was a father.
"How old is he?" Vader asked, finally.
The doctor consulted the datapad in his hand. "Luke recently turned twelve."
That sounded right. In fact, it sounded exactly right.
"Sir, I realize you are very busy," the doctor continued. "I understand this must be a difficult time for you, and I have no intention to intrude on your privacy. But as your son's medic, I must ask you what you intend for his future. Right now he is distressed, confused ... he keeps asking me if he's going back to the IFS holding center. I want to reassure him, but I don't want to fill his head with false hope."
"Are you implying I would abandon my own offspring?" Vader asked, annoyed.
"My apologies, sir, but it wouldn't be the first time I've handled that situation."
Vader could well imagine many of the Empire's elite secretly hiding children away to avoid embarrassment. He was not one of those people.
"I will stop by and inspect him this afternoon," Vader said, "Is he ready to leave the medcenter?"
"I'd like to keep him under observation a bit longer, sir. He is making good progress, however."
"Good," Vader said. "Contact me if there is any trouble."
Vader cut the call, and leaned back in his chair. He sensed he could trust the doctor, which was one good thing. A lesser man would have run to the media by now, and the hospital would be besieged with tabloid journalists. The boy had to be shielded from that at all costs.
It was funny how he was already feeling protective. He barely knew the boy, after all. He had to go and talk to him this afternoon, and he had no idea what he was going to say. He didn't even know how he was supposed to address him. 'Luke' seemed far too familiar, yet 'Skywalker' was too formal.
A sudden beep from his computer indicated a new message had just arrived. Vader leaned over to open it, welcoming the distraction. Sitting here agonizing over this turn of events was pointless.
The message was in text form. It didn't take him long to infer it was a summons from the Emperor. It seemed he'd delayed this meeting one minute too late. It was a sign his master was displeased with him, that he'd have the request sent in such an impersonal way.
After this meeting, talking with a twelve-year-old boy should be no trouble at all.
The universe had a grudge against him. Luke was sure of it. Whenever he complained about a place being boring, he ended up in a place which made his last locale look like an amusement park. He'd described Tatooine as the 'boringest planet in the galaxy' on more than one occasion, much to Uncle Owen's annoyance. Then he'd ended up at IFS. He'd called that place a prison, shortly before moving in with Senator Lerrod and his monster-turned-human son, Chilee. Since leaving there, he'd been sleeping in the same medcenter ward, with guards outside the door, for two days straight.
To be fair, this was much better than the senator's home. But it was boring. He had no one to talk to, except the doctor who stopped by three times a day. The droids were all dull, with little personality. They claimed to be able to get him anything he wanted, but the doctor had programmed them to only supply foods from a specially approved diet. In other words, yucky healthy food.
Watching the HoloNet was fun, but it got boring after he'd been doing it for too long. But it was better than lying here staring at the ceiling. When he started doing that, he started thinking about his future. Worrying about his future was more like it.
Voices outside the ward caused him to jump out of bed, and sneak quietly up to the crack in the door. He recognized his doctor's voice ... arguing with someone. It sounded pretty heated.
Curiosity finally got the better of him, and he pressed the button to open the doors. Even if the guards closed them straight away, at least he'd get a look at who was arguing with the medic. He was glad he did.
"LJ!?" Luke yelled, his mouth falling open in surprise. He rushed across the room, dodging the guards as they dived to stop him. "LJ!" He barreled into the trooper and wrapped his arms around his armor, not caring what anyone else thought. "Do you remember me?"
LJ put his hands on Luke's shoulders, steadying him. "Hi, buddy. Of course I remember you."
Luke felt the guards try and pull him away, and he struggled against their grip. "No!"
"It's okay," the doctor said, motioning the guards to stand down, "No one is in any danger. You know this trooper, Luke?"
"He's my friend," Luke said, "From Family Services. LJ, did you get my letters?"
"I did, and I passed them on to your friends. They said to tell you they missed you. Things have been getting boring without you."
"But that means more time to practice your stand up routine, right?" Luke suggested, "You'll never guess all the things that happened to me - you know I went to the Imperial Palace and -"
Luke broke off, something suddenly occurring to him. LJ wouldn't have come here just to visit him. He couldn't do anything without an order. A sense of dread set in, and Luke frowned as he looked up.
"You haven't come to take me back, have you?" Luke asked.
"Those were my orders," LJ confirmed.
Luke looked at his doctor, worried. He'd asked the medic before if he was going back to IFS, and he had always refused to answer.
One of the guards spoke up. "We have our orders from Lord Vader, which state that boy is to remain here."
"That's correct," the doctor said, "And I think we'll all agree that his orders outweigh those of the IFS administrator."
"All right," LJ said, straightening up, "I will report back to my superior."
"Do you have to leave straight away?" Luke pleaded, "I've got no one to talk to here. Stars, I'll even listen to your jokes."
"He does seem to be having a positive effect on your health," the doctor said, hiding a smile.
LJ stared down at Luke, looking about as conflicted as a stormtrooper wearing a helmet could look.
"I'd love too, buddy," he said, finally, "But orders are orders."
Luke nodded, reluctantly. "Say hi to my friends for me."
He ruffled Luke's hair one last time, before marching off towards the exit. Luke stared after him, sadly.
"Come on, Luke," the doctor said, resting a hand on his shoulder, "You're supposed to be in bed." He started to guide him back to the ward, and Luke didn't resist. "Besides, Lord Vader is coming by to see you this afternoon. You wouldn't want him to catch you running around in the corridors."
Luke looked up in surprise. "Really? He's coming here?"
"I don't understand," Luke said, climbing back into the bed. "Why is he so interested that he'd bring me here and post guards outside? I'm ... I'm just Luke, and he's one of the most powerful people in the galaxy. Why does he even care?"
"Well," the doctor said, sitting on the edge of the opposite bed, "perhaps you can ask him when he comes to see you."
"I can't," Luke said. "He told me before that I'm not allowed to speak to him without his permission."
"I think you may find that he's changed his mind."
"Besides, he's scary. That breathing noise he makes ... and I hurt my neck trying to look high enough to see him properly."
The doctor laughed.
"It's not funny," Luke said. "I'm serious! And he's always in a bad mood."
"You know, Luke," the doctor said, seriously. "I used to be frightened of my next door neighbor, when I was a boy. He had fangs like a Nexu, and glowing red eyes. If anyone even breathed on his side of the fence, you were lucky if he didn't call local security. Then one day, I heard him moaning in pain. I jumped over the fence, and found he'd fallen off a ladder and broken his leg. We lived on a remote island on Novisia, so it was quite a while before an ambulance ship could get to us. In the meantime, I talked to him to help keep his mind off the pain. I wasn't afraid of him after that, because I knew that, despite his frightening personality, on the inside he was a vulnerable, fragile lifeform, just like the rest of us."
Luke blinked at the doctor. "Have you seen Lord Vader?"
"Yes, funnily enough."
"I don't think it's possible to not be afraid of him."
"You should rest," the doctor said, standing up. There was a look in his face as if he knew something Luke didn't, but Luke didn't push it. Adults had a habit of becoming annoyed when he asked endless questions.
"There was no hurry for you to report, Lord Vader," the Emperor said, calmly. "I was happy for you to take as long as you needed."
He sounded completely sincere, which was always a dangerous sign. Vader would have preferred him to be angry or sarcastic. At least then, you knew he was genuine.
"I have been ... reflecting on certain events, my master," Vader said.
The Emperor was silent, clearly expecting more.
"I was meditating on what occurred, so I could see the deeper ramifications."
"Of course. Your diligence is commendable. But I am already enlightened as to what our future holds, Lord Vader. I had foreseen you would kill Obi-Wan Kenobi months ago."
Vader considered mentioning that he hadn't actually killed his former master - the other Jedi had been the one to do that, but he decided against it. He would already have enough on his hands when the conversation came around to his son. There was no need to add wood to the fire.
The Emperor prompted him. "Every death of a Jedi is a cause for celebration, is it not?"
"Yes, my master."
"Yet you seem melancholy. Unfocused."
"I have been distracted with other events, Master."
"Other events? What recent event could possibly be more important than the deaths of two Jedi?"
He would have to know eventually. He couldn't expect to have the boy living in his home and not mention it to the Emperor.
"I discovered the Jedi were not working together. Obi-Wan was trying to protect the Force sensitive child from the other, who was seeking to kill him."
"Ah, the boy. Did he succeed?"
"No, Master. I have the boy under guard."
"Does he have the potential for great power with the Force?"
"Very well. As soon as you leave here, be sure to have him killed immediately. Afterwards, you should see about dealing with that puny uprising in the Jadis Cluster. General Kanzati is already readying his army to pacify the population, but I feel it would send a stronger message if you went personally with a starfleet. Unless, of course, you would rather stay on Coruscant and reflect for a while longer."
Vader was staring blankly in the general direction of the throne. It was one advantage of the mask, that the Emperor couldn't see his expression. He shook his head slightly, trying to get a hold on his emotions.
"You wish for me to kill the boy, Master?" he repeated.
"Try and keep up, Lord Vader. Is there a problem?"
It was a very dangerous tone. Understandably. Any suggestion of him training an apprentice could be perceived as a challenge.
"There is something else about him, Master."
"What else could there be? He is clearly a threat to us," the Emperor stated, with finality.
"He is just a boy."
"Boys have a tendency to grow up. Rather quickly."
"My master, I ..."
Vader hesitated for a moment. He rarely ever hesitated, but there was something about saying these words which drove home the reality even further.
"I am his father."
The Emperor didn't even blink. "Which makes him even more of a threat. He is dangerous. Surely, you must see this."
Vader was thinking quickly. The Emperor was losing his patience - he had to present a solution, or Luke's fate would be sealed.
"I will ensure he is not trained, my master."
"What, exactly, are you proposing?"
"That I be given the chance to raise him to be loyal to you."
Now his master did show surprise. "You wish to become the guardian of this child?"
"He is my son -"
"Your son? He is Skywalker's son," the Emperor interrupted. "Skywalker is dead. You are Darth Vader. A Dark Lord of the Sith has no use for a family."
Vader frowned in confusion. His master was right. By acknowledging the boy as his son, he was allowing his former life to make some claim on him. He hadn't considered this.
"Your proposal is irrational," he continued. "What possible benefit is there in allowing this boy to become a burden for you? What possible benefit is there for me?"
Vader was silent, unable to think of an answer. He hadn't considered any of this.
The Emperor leaned forward, and peered at him in a manner as if to see right through him. "If you haven't given any thought to the potential benefits, then what is your motivation in desiring to raise this boy?"
Vader knew he should have said something - anything, really, but he didn't.
His master spoke in a quiet, accusing tone. "Do you still have feelings for this child's mother? Even after you -"
"That life means nothing to me," Vader interrupted, hearing the anger in his tone and not caring. His master knew that was a taboo subject. "I am a Sith."
The Emperor began to chuckle.
"On that note, what makes you think this child would want to live with you in the first place? He will take one look at you, and agree that he's better off dead."
That did the trick. His confusion evaporated in a wave of feeling that was difficult to describe. Was it spite? Was it stubbornness? Obi-Wan might have called it arrogance. Whatever it was, he knew he would leave this room dead before he'd leave without permission to raise his son.
"I promise you I will see to it the boy does not develop his Force potential," Vader said. "I will raise him to be a loyal subject of the Empire. If you allow me the chance to guide the boy until he has come of age, I will show you he can be of use to you."
The Emperor met his gaze, clearly sensing his resolve. He appeared to think for a moment, and then waved his hand in dismissal. "You disappoint me, Lord Vader. I suspect you may still, even after all these years, be holding on to some weak aspect of your former self. But if you insist, you may take the boy"
"Thank you, Master," Vader said, bowing.
"However, I will be watching him very closely. If he shows any signs of developing his Force abilities, he will be terminated. Immediately."
It was good he had to stop off at his quarters to collect Luke's belongings, before making his way to the medcenter. He needed the time to calm down. Even so, the conversation with his master was still replaying itself in his head by the time he walked into the medcenter foyer.
He was only now beginning to appreciate how close he'd come to losing his son, barely a day after finding him. But now he was going to be a father. Not just a father, but a parent of such superior skill, the Emperor would be forced to admit that he had made the right decision to allow Luke to live. It wouldn't matter if he was away for months at a time - the boy would be independent and disciplined enough to look after himself.
As he had previously requested, the medcenter had been cleared of visitors and short-term patients. He didn't want the rumors and gossip starting among the politicians before he'd even brought the boy to his home. The doctor met him shortly after he arrived.
"Doctor Leeson," Vader said, in greeting. "How is the boy?"
"Much better, in fact. He's very resilient."
Vader was pleased to hear it.
"Perhaps we should speak for a moment in my office," the doctor said, leading the way. Vader was impatient to get on with it - he didn't have all day after all, and the thought of having to speak with the boy was making him nervous. But the doctor seemed to have something on his mind, so he chose to oblige.
The doctor gestured at the objects Vader was carrying as they walked through the doors.
"I see you've brought his belongings. That should cheer him up a bit, after the incident this morning. We had some drama."
"What happened?" Vader asked, turning in surprise. "An attack?"
"No, no," the doctor said, raising a hand in reassurance. "A stormtrooper came looking for Luke. The administrator of IFS sent him."
"What was his purpose?" Vader asked, not bothering to sit. The doors slid closed behind him, giving them some privacy.
"He'd been ordered to bring Luke back. He left quietly when I explained the situation, though."
"How fortunate," Vader said, "for his sake."
"I have managed to retrieve some past medical records for Luke," the doctor continued. "I will send you copies for your files. He has no ongoing medical conditions, and his eyesight and hearing are both in good condition. His inoculations were all up to date."
"He is in perfect health, then."
"He is in good overall physical health," the doctor said, carefully. "However, he is showing signs of past psychological trauma. His unsettled lifestyle as of late may have exacerbated it. What he needs right now is a stable environment where he can begin to come to terms with his self-identity. He needs encouragement and attention. I've got a book here I thought you might like to read -" the doctor picked up a datapad on his desk. "I've survived three of my children's teenage years thus far, and I've found the advice in this book practical and -"
Vader raised a hand, seeking to end this before it went any further. "I can assure you, Doctor, I have no need of any assistance as far as the boy is concerned. I have entire armies under my command. I think I can handle one child."
"I didn't mean any disrespect," the doctor said, placing the datapad back on his desk. "I'm not questioning your ability to care for your own son. But Luke is a special case. If this goes unchecked, he may have serious behavioral problems -"
"Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?" Vader asked, with a dangerous edge. He wasn't interested in having his intelligence insulted with flaky academic theories about child psychology. Discipline and strict routines were all the boy would need. That was how he was raised during his teenage years, and he had turned out just fine.
"One more thing," the doctor said, displaying more bravery than Vader had seen from some high-ranking officers.
"Make it quick," Vader said, reluctantly.
"Luke is doing well," the doctor explained, "but he is still recovering. When you break the news to him, you may want to do it slowly."
"What news?" Vader asked, curious.
"That you're his father."
"He doesn't know?!" Vader almost dropped the model T-16 in surprise. He hadn't come prepared for this. "Why did you not tell him?"
"I thought you'd rather do that yourself," the doctor said, resting on the edge of his desk. "He'll have a lot of questions about why you haven't been in his life until now, which only you can answer."
Vader felt his breathing regulator skip up a step in response to his stress. Questions about his past ... as if the Emperor's mention of the boy's mother wasn't bad enough. This day was getting worse by the minute.
"Very well," Vader said, turning to leave. He couldn't let the doctor get any hint of his fears. He had a certain reputation to maintain.
"I'll be right here if there are any problems," the doctor called after him.
Vader didn't bother to reply. What kind of 'problems' the doctor anticipated he could only imagine. Perhaps he thought the boy might faint when he heard the truth. Vader wouldn't mind if he did - it would save him from having to answer questions.
The guards outside the ward door snapped to attention as he approached. He hesitated before entering, suddenly unsure. What if the Emperor was right? What if Luke rejected the whole idea entirely? He had given him no reason to trust him. If the boy didn't want to live with him, what would he do then?
The doors suddenly slid open, triggered by his delay. He couldn't run away now, at any rate. It was time to gather his morale and face this. He was a Dark Lord of the Sith. He'd battled deadly enemies and ravenous monsters. He'd seen the galaxy through a cataclysmic revolution. His own offspring was nothing.
He stepped through the doors, and paused on the other side while they slid closed behind him. Luke was in the bed against the far wall. He turned his head and stared, eyes wide and unblinking.
He's afraid of me, Vader realized. Your own son is afraid of you.
It shouldn't be a surprise. He was a Sith Lord, as he had taken delight in reminding himself a moment ago. People were supposed to be afraid of him. And standing here staring at the boy from a distance wasn't doing anything to help the situation.
Vader approached the bed slowly, and came to rest at the foot. Now that he was closer, he could see the progress of Luke's recovery. The cuts and bruises were almost all gone, no doubt due to bacta treatment. A faint scar still remained above his eye, but other than that, his appearance was a vast improvement from the night Vader had brought him here. The medics had done an excellent job.
Luke didn't say anything, but he continued to stare in wide-eyed awe. Finally, he looked away, obviously a little uncomfortable. Vader knew how he felt.
"I believe this is yours," Vader said, tossing the T-16 model onto the bed cover. He left the bag of clothes to rest on the floor.
Luke's face lit up at the sight of his model, and he kicked until it jumped far enough up the bed so he could pick it up. He fingered it carefully.
Silence resumed. Vader was at the point of considering how to introduce the subject of biological relationships, when Luke suddenly spoke.
"I was saving for a real one. Me and my friend Biggs used to talk about flying them through the Stone Needle."
Vader was instantly curious. Flying? He hadn't considered that Luke might take after him in ways other than appearance.
"You are a pilot?" he asked.
"I can fly anything," Luke declared, sitting up slightly. He paused for a moment, then added, "At least, I would if my uncle had let me."
A very old memory was stirring in Vader's mind. The Stone Needle ...
"The Stone Needle," Vader said aloud. "In Beggar's Canyon?"
"Yes." Luke looked up, his mouth falling slightly open. "You have heard of Tatooine?! I've been here for months now, and I've never met anyone who's heard of Tatooine."
"I ... used to live there. A long time ago."
"I grew up there," Luke said, "with my Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen."
Vader inwardly winced at those names from his past. It was all beginning to make sense. Obi-Wan had taken the boy to live with his family ... to a planet his father would never visit. Thinking back, he remembered seeing images of Owen and Beru in the Jedi's mind. He had killed them, effectively orphaning Luke. That was how the boy had come to be a ward of the Empire. He must have been transferred to Coruscant, and now ... here he was. The Force was at work here; there was no other explanation for it.
"I see," he said, distantly.
"Am I talking too much?" Luke asked, sounding nervous, as if he'd just realized exactly who he was pouring out his past to. "I know you don't like it when I talk too much. Sorry."
Vader let out a slow breath, berating himself from being so harsh with the boy in the past. It would be a lot easier to break the news to him if this was the first time they had met. Now he had to deal with the first impressions his past conversations with the boy had put in his mind.
"You may talk as much as you wish," Vader said. "I am interested to hear everything about your past. You said you were raised by your aunt and uncle - what did they tell you about your parents?"
Luke spoke sadly. "They died. When I was just a baby."
"Did they tell you who your parents were? Their names, for example?"
"Oh sure," Luke said. "My mother's name was Padmé. Aunt Beru said she only knew her first name. She also said my mother was the one who gave me the name Luke."
Vader turned away at the words, and stared blankly at the wall. If that was true ... it was even less likely that his wife had died at his hand.
"My father's name was Anakin Skywalker," Luke continued. "Aunt Beru told me that one too - Uncle Owen never wanted to talk about my father. But I was always badgering him for information, so eventually he said he was a navigator on a spice freighter."
A navigator? Vader didn't know whether to be amused or angry about such a blatant lie. It seemed Owen didn't want his career choices having any influence on the boy.
Luke scratched his head, looking down at the bedspread. "Sir, I've been wondering about why there are guards outside. I don't understand what's happening. Am I still living with Senator Lerrod? 'Cause I don't think he'll want me back after I let that Wookiee loose at his party."
"No," Vader said, turning back. "You will never have to see him again."
"I'm going back to IFS then?"
"Of course not. There is something I need to explain to you," Vader said, deciding to get on to the point. "You and I have a connection. I am your -"
He broke off at the muffled sound of people arguing. Vader turned to the door in annoyance. Of all the times ...
"Stay in bed," he ordered, striding towards the doors. "I will be back in a moment." Whoever was causing trouble out there was about to be silenced. Permanently.
As soon as Vader left the room, Luke pulled back the blankets, and dropped quietly down to the floor. He was curious to find out who was out there. Perhaps the administrator had sent LJ back. She was pretty stubborn when it came to rules and regulations.
Luke crouched down, and pressed his ear to the door. The first thing he heard caused him to flinch with recognition.
"I can't make exceptions, sir, even for you. That child is the custody of my department, and under Imperial law, he must be kept at the holding center."
It was the administrator! She had come personally this time! That could only mean trouble. Luke looked over his shoulder, wondering if he could escape out a window. No such luck - there were no windows to be seen in this high security ward.
He pressed his head closer, hearing Vader's low-pitched voice.
"I have neither the time nor the patience for your bureaucratic obsessions. This boy is now under my jurisdiction."
"Well it's no surprise to me that's he's a criminal," she said.
Luke flinched. Was that it? Was he a prisoner here? Was he going to jail for letting his Wookiee friend go free?
"He was always causing problems," she continued. "If you'll send over the arrest warrant I'll close his file."
"He is nothing of the kind."
Luke was relieved at the words, but Vader sounded angry. Well, angrier than usual, at least.
"From now on, he will be living under my protection, and is no longer -"
Luke gasped loudly, and stumbled against the door. It immediately sprung open, sending him sprawling onto the floor of the corridor. He found himself staring up at the surprised gazes of the two guards.
He hastily scrambled to his feet, and turned to face the administrator, who was talking about something to do with filling in forms.
"I'm not going with you!" Luke yelled, deciding now that he was here, he might as well throw in his two credits. He glanced at Vader, and found he was glaring at him in obvious annoyance. Luke stepped back, subdued. Maybe he should just leave this to him. He certainly appeared to be more than a match for the administrator.
There was a moment of silence, and then Vader turned back to her. "You will direct any problems you have to my legal representatives," he said. "Leave now, or I will not be responsible for my actions."
The guards immediately stepped forward, clearly intending to enforce Vader's order. They didn't need to, though. The administrator took the hint and walked off in a huff.
"Wow," Luke mumbled, quietly. "I've never seen anyone win an argument with her before. At least without giving her thousands of credits." Vader turned and stared at him for a moment, and then raised one black-gloved hand and pointed back in the direction of the room. Luke hastily took the hint.
Vader followed behind. "I told you to stay here," he said, sounding frustrated as the doors slid closed behind him.
"Sorry." Luke stared at his knees as he sat back on the side of his bed. Now sounded like a good time to change the subject. He looked up, wishing his head would stop buzzing.
"Am I really going to stay with you?"
"Yes. As I was saying -"
Vader simply stared at him in silence, and Luke looked away, intimidated. Maybe he shouldn't have interrupted him like that. But he just had so many questions ... his imagination was stirring up all kinds of amazing places where someone like Vader might live. Maybe on a massive starship. Living in space would be awesome!
"Where do you live?" Luke asked, risking a glance back up.
"I am usually in transit, but I do have a base of operations at the Imperial Palace. You will be staying there."
"Oh." He would have preferred a starship, but at least it wasn't IFS. "What will I have to do?" Luke asked.
"In exchange. I had to help Senator Lerrod with his political something ... uh ... I had to appear with him when the media were around in exchange for staying there. What do you want me to do for you?"
Vader made a vague noise of frustration, which was strangely distorted through the mask. Luke wondered if he'd managed to annoy him again. He seemed to be very good at that. When Vader finally spoke again, he sounded like he was trying very hard to stay calm.
"You will be staying with me, not in servitude, but as my ward. Your uncle was mistaken about your father. He is not dead, and he was not a navigator."
Luke gasped in surprise. But that was nothing in comparison to the surprise he felt at Vader's next words, which he could never have anticipated in his wildest dreams.
"I am your father."
Luke stared, completely frozen. His what?
"Sorry," he said, finally, "did you just say ...?" He looked around, half expecting someone to jump out and reveal that this was all a practical joke.
His gaze settled back on Vader's mask, and he rubbed his head in disbelief. His father? His father ... as in, the man he had been dreaming his entire life of knowing?
"You are my father?" he repeated, finally.
"It came as a surprise to me, also."
Luke could feel his heart pounding. Was it true? Was his father alive and ... and one of the most powerful people in the entire galaxy? This was crazy!
"You can't be my father," Luke said, quickly.
"My father is dead!"
"A lie, propagated by a personal enemy of mine, who I believe was the one to take you to Tatooine in the first place. It would be typical of him to convince your aunt and uncle that I was dead."
Vader paused, and his rhythmic breathing was the only sound for a brief moment.
"When you were born, I was recovering from the injuries that left me unable to breathe without a life support system," he explained. "Upon consciousness, I learned of the death of your mother. I had assumed you had died with her. Clearly, I was wrong."
Luke had been staring blankly at the floor during this explanation. Now he sneaked another glance at Vader, and for the first time, saw him not as a terrifying Imperial commander, but as a person. He found himself wondering what the man looked like behind that mask. If he was his father ... did that mean he looked like him? The thought was too much for Luke to handle, and he resumed staring at the floor.
"But ... but Aunt Beru said my father's name was -"
"I took on a new name and identity," Vader explained. "It is traditional for a Sith to do so."
"So your name is really -"
"Do not mention it," Vader said, firmly. "I have no wish to be reminded. That name carries memories with it that I no longer have any desire to possess."
Luke shuffled back, making a mental note to never mention that name again. It would be a little difficult, considering he shared half of it, but he wasn't going to argue the point.
"The same goes for questions about the life I led while I still possessed that name," Vader continued. "You will not speak of it. Nothing about that life is relevant to you."
He was silent for a moment, and Luke burned with curiosity. What secrets did he not want him to know?
As if sensing his dissatisfaction, Vader continued, "I lived with my mother on Tatooine until I was ten years old, and then I was taken off world and became a member of the Jedi Order. That is all you need to know."
"You were a Jedi Knight?" Luke wondered if the surprises would ever stop coming.
"Yes, until the time you were born, when I became a Sith. The Jedi Order had become hopelessly corrupt. The Emperor helped me to see it for what it was. Too late, it seems, because their one final act of corruption was to steal you away from me. The situation has now been rectified."
"I really am your son? You're sure?"
Luke looked aside, struggling with his conflicting emotions. There had been a father-shaped gap in his life ever since he could remember. Was Vader really the one to fill it? He was just about the opposite of everything he'd imagined his father to be. All he knew of the man so far was his moody personality and intimidating appearance. But yet ... Luke couldn't deny there was a connection there. He'd felt it from the first instant they'd met. He wanted to know him better.
"You are permitted to ask questions, if you feel the need," Vader prompted.
Luke felt so confused about the whole situation, he didn't know where to start.
"Um ... who was my -?"
"Except about your mother," Vader interrupted. "She is dead. There is no point in dwelling on the past."
Luke considered pointing out that he'd also been told his father was dead, but he didn't want to annoy Vader, yet again.
"Can I ask you about the night of the senator's party, then?" Luke asked.
"Well, I saw you fighting with that person in the black cloak. He was the one who murdered my aunt and uncle," Luke said, his eyes becoming misty at the memory. "I was wondering if you knew why. They never hurt anyone!"
Vader was silent for a few cycles of his mechanical breathing. "He was trying to kill you because he had discovered that you are my son," Vader explained. "He told me as much, before his death."
Luke felt hollow at the words, feeling more tears forming in his eyes. He was the real target. His aunt and uncle should never have died! He should have led the killer away from them ...
Vader continued, seemingly unaware of his distress. "The Jedi have always been enemies of the Sith. You will not need to worry about this again - you will be safe under my protection."
It was little comfort. What use was being safe when his aunt and uncle were dead because of him? A tear rolled down his cheek, and he reached up to brush it away, embarrassed to be seen crying. It didn't go past Vader, though.
"I realize this situation is difficult for you," he said. "Perhaps it would be best if I left you alone to come to terms with what we have discussed."
"It's not that," Luke said, reaching over to get a tissue. "It's just -" He broke off, suddenly unsure. Vader would think he was a coward if he told him about the night the murder took place. How would he feel about having a coward for a son? He'd be ashamed. Luke couldn't imagine Vader being scared of anything, ever.
Luke covered his pause by blowing his nose, and then tried to change the subject.
"What are those powers you have? I saw you move objects without touching them."
"You mean the Force."
His question was met with an angry silence. Luke didn't know how he knew Vader was angry - considering he wore a mask, but he definitely knew. Uh oh, Luke thought, shuffling back on the bed, I've annoyed him ... again.
"No one has ever told you about the Force?!"
"Uh ..." Luke fidgeted. "I don't ... I don't think so. Maybe they mentioned it at school and I was daydreaming. I do that a lot."
Vader stood up, shaking his head. "I will explain properly when I have the time to do the subject justice. That is ... if you accept the proposal I have presented. Are you satisfied with the idea of becoming my responsibility?"
Luke blinked in surprise. It had never occurred to him to say he didn't want to live with him ... if for no other reason, where else was he going to go?
"Yes ... I ... okay, I admit I'm ... I'm pretty confused right now. But if you're my father, then ... then that means we're family," Luke said, reaching a sudden understanding. "It means we belong together."
Vader was silent, but this time, he didn't seem annoyed.
"Doesn't it?" Luke prompted.
Vader came out of his trance, and looked aside. "I have many duties to attend - I must leave. I will return tomorrow. Meanwhile, do exactly as the doctor says."
He then strode out the doors, cape flagging behind him.