Chapter 15: Luke's Choice


Vader was already waiting in the docking bay, when the Nexu came out of hyperspace. Initial scans of Felcius indicated the planet was in a phase of turbulent seismic activity. There were no lifeforms on the surface, and only one landing pad, embedded deep into the ground.

He took a squadron of troopers with him, in anticipation of resistance. If there was a mining colony down there, it was unregistered with the mining guild or the Empire, and therefore illegal. It could be a front for some other criminal activity. Part of him hoped it was nothing so sinister. If it was a narcotics factory, or worse, a Rebel base, his son would be in very grave danger. Especially if they knew of his importance.

There was no one to greet them when they stepped out of the shuttle. The atmosphere and ground were thick with volcanic ash.

"The scanner detects lifeforms in this direction!" The lead stormtrooper gestured down one of the tunnels.

Vader moved forward, and two stormtroopers ran ahead, brandishing their blasters. Vader also kept his own weapon handy. He didn't sense any immediate danger, but it was unlikely the residents of this place would welcome the Empire's presence.

The tunnel, which was hollowed out of a red igneous rock, was lit at periodic intervals by cheap bulbs set in natural alcoves. There was no sign of any advanced technology. A real mining operation would require some sort of stability gauge in a tunnel such as this.

A thick iron gate appeared around the next corner, blocking the tunnel completely. It was held shut only with a padlock. Vader stepped around the stormtroopers, and used his lightsaber to remove it. A stormtrooper gave it a push, and it swung open with a rusty squeak.

They moved onwards, silently. The lifeforms the trooper had spoken of were causing strong ripples in Vader's sense of the Force, but he couldn't pick out Luke among them. Perhaps this was the wrong way.

"Light ahead!" The stormtroopers approached the tunnel exit slowly, but Vader was impatient. He strode past the troopers, and stepped out onto a narrow balcony, overlooking a cavernous room. The stormtroopers rushed out to join him, and gazed around quickly.

"By the Emperor ..." one mumbled.

Vader shared the sentiment. Down below, there must have been a hundred ... no, a thousand people, chained to the walls and chained to each other. Guard droids rolled up and down, brandishing electro-shock poles. In the far left corner, raw materials were rolling out on a conveyor belt and traveling around the production line. At the other end, the goods were packed into shipping crates, and carried off by lifter droids.

"A weapons factory," the other trooper said.

"An illegal weapons factory," Vader corrected, "Operating on slave labor. Commander, call the ship - we will need reinforcements. Meanwhile, organize your men and free these slaves."

"Yes, sir."

There were no stairs or elevators, so the stormtroopers quickly began to abseil down to the factory floor using grappling hooks and cables. Vader jumped down, using the Force to control his descent. The troopers instantly began taking out the droids, and the slaves began to yell and cheer in surprise.

Vader ignited his saber and assisted in removing the guard droids as he walked down the production line. The slaves fell silent as he came into their vicinity, drawing back in fear. They were mostly human, and of all ages. Something about them seemed odd to Vader. They weren't typical slaves ... some of them looked like they'd just come back from a vacation at a beach resort. Eventually, he stopped beside a group who appeared semi-intelligent. It was time to get some answers.

"How did you come to be here?" he asked, already suspecting their answer.

"Our s-ship was hijacked, sir."

"And what was the name of that ship?" Vader asked.

"The Spectrum."

One mystery solved.

"The Alderaan cruiser," Vader said, "Your ship was thought to have been destroyed. Tell me - who runs this factory?"

They stared at each other for a moment, and then a lady spoke up.

"We've never seen him - or her. Only the droids ... and the septaki guards."

"What are the ... never mind. I am looking for a twelve year old human boy who arrived here a few hours ago." Vader hovered his hand in the air. "About this high. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Have you seen him?"

They stared around blankly, before shaking their heads.

"There were a couple of new ones who came in today!" someone from the back shouted. "I saw them!"

"Who?"

"A kid with horns. And a twi'lek girl."

"They're over there!"

Vader turned, and began to walk in the offered direction.

"Wait, sir!"

"Please!"

Vader turned back, and saw the slaves were holding up their chains. He was in two minds about going back ... the troopers would get around to freeing them all eventually, of course. He had more pressing matters.

But an old memory deep in his mind made him walk back, lightsaber at the ready. There was something very satisfying about cutting those chains. The people immediately ran to join the other recently freed, who were assembling at the top end of the cavern.

He resumed his journey to the other side, where his son's friends were supposed to be located. It didn't take him long to find them, as they were the only two of their respective species in the crowd.

They stared up in surprise as he came closer, and the boy tried to shift away.

"Where is Luke?" he asked, "I must find him."

They shared a shocked glance.

"You ... you know him?"

"He is my son."

"Your son?!" the boy gasped. "No way!"

"I assure you, it is true. Now where did they take him?"

"We don't know." Tears were running down the girl's face as she spoke, and her voice cracked. "They separated us when we arrived. He was taken away by a person in a dark robe. I didn't see his face"

Vader turned away, seeing it was useless to press either of them further. He would have to find Luke alone.

"Wait!"

Vader glanced back. The boy came forward as far as his chains would allow.

"There's a tunnel back there." He pointed to a dark gap between the conveyor belt entrance and the wall. "I was told that's where the septaki guards always enter. I think it leads to the main control center ... maybe Luke is there!"

It sounded as good a theory as any. Right now it was his only theory, so he might as well put it to the test.

He followed the boy's directions, and found a security door, set deep into the rock. This one wasn't locked with a mere iron padlock, but with a computer controlled security barrier. But his lightsaber made as short work of it as it had the padlock earlier.

He found himself in another of the rocky tunnels. This one was all but totally dark, and an odd smell hung in the air. As he came around a bend, he suddenly felt a very familiar presence.

Luke!

Now that he had the scent, tracking down the source became a whole lot easier. The tunnel branched in several places, but the Force provided a guide to keep him on the most direct route to his son.

Finally, the dark tunnel began to grow lighter, and a faded orange glow highlighted the tips of the jagged rocks. Luke was very close now. He could sense it. His fingers tightened around his lightsaber hilt, and he moved cautiously. It was doubtful that Luke would be unguarded. He must be prepared to fight.

The exit appeared around the next bend, and Vader could see the room beyond was bathed entirely in orange light. He stepped out onto a narrow ledge, and his gaze immediately fell on a platform, hanging on chains below a hole in the ceiling. Luke was curled up in a fetal position, seemingly asleep.

For all his worry, Vader hadn't been prepared for the sheer sense of relief he felt, at finally seeing his son again. The boy was alive and unharmed! Better yet, there were no guards to be seen. He was far from out of danger, though. Vader looked down, and saw what was causing the room to take on an orange glow. Hundreds of meters down below, glowing hot magma was bubbling in a molten sea. The sight of it awakened horrible memories.

But there was no time to dwell on that now. He had to get Luke off the swinging platform. The ledge extended in front of him, hovering out over the pit like an old-fashioned pirate's plank. It didn't come close to reaching the platform, though. Luke must have been lowered down through the hole in the ceiling.

Vader stepped out onto the ledge, being careful not to look down. He'd never been afraid of heights, but this would test even the most hardened nerves. He edged forward, getting as close to Luke as he could. The distance seemed even further from out here ... a good ten meters, at least. Luke wouldn't have a hope of jumping it, and nor would he let him risk it.

"Luke!" Vader called, mentally urging his son to hear him. The bubbling noise down below wasn't making it any easier.

Luke sat up immediately, though, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of him. He began to yell something about a trap.

"I can see you are trapped," Vader said, "Do not worry ... I will find a way to get you to safety."

"Behind you!!" Luke yelled, pointing wildly.

This time, Vader took his meaning. He whirled around, and his lightsaber clashed against a glowing green blade. He stared at his assailant, barely able to believe.

"I killed you," Vader said, pushing the sectoid back.

"So you thought. Arrogance always was the downfall of the Sith."

The Jedi attacked again, and Vader hurried to parry. He was painfully aware there was less than a meter of ground behind him, and after that, a molten pit. He had no room to maneuver, and the Jedi was closing in fast.

There was a brutal rage behind every attack, and Vader couldn't muster the energy to counter it. He hadn't so much as sat down since yesterday, and the heat in this cavern was taxing his life support. He teetered on the edge as the Jedi swung harder, and he barely managed to block. Maybe this was finally it.

"No!" Luke yelled.

His shout echoed in Vader's ears, and to back it up, a rock came flying through the air from Luke's direction. It missed the Jedi by a long shot, and the sectoid began to laugh.

"Watch me kill him, Luke! Watch me rid the galaxy of the worst traitor who ever lived!"

But Luke's shout had stirred something in Vader. If he should die, who would save Luke? He had a reason to fight ... not anger, or hatred, but ... an emotion he didn't dare name. His son needed him. He was Darth Vader - he had won a thousand duels, and he could win this.

The Jedi raised his blade, swinging it back to deliver the final blow. Vader gathered the Force, and by the time the Jedi's blade sliced through the air, Vader was already gone. He landed on the ledge which ran around the wall. The Jedi made a noise of pure anger, and ran to continue the fight. Luke's attempt to assist had given Vader a new idea, however. He raised his hand, and gathered every loose rock he could sense into a swarming cloud. It raced towards the Jedi like a hundred missiles.

He was too distracted with rage to see them coming. The first few smashed into the sectoid, sending him flying into the wall. He managed to deflect the rest partially, but Vader was already on top of him, resuming the duel.

This time, it was he who had the upper hand. He forced the Jedi back, meeting and responding to every attack in kind. The Jedi began to lose ground. Vader was only just hitting his stride. Predictably, the Jedi soon made a critical mistake, and left his left flank wide open. He twisted out of the way, avoiding death but losing his left appendage.

Extending his hand, Vader gathered the Force and pushed the Jedi over the edge. This time, he made sure to watch his descent. Predictably, he only fell a few meters, before he managed to cling to the side. Losing one appendage wasn't much of a disadvantage, when you had six to start with.

A sudden shout from Luke attracted Vader's attention. He ran forward along the ledge which extended over the magma. Flying creatures were streaming out of the hole in the roof. One rushed towards Vader, and he ran forward with his blade raised in defense. It hastily halted its lunge, and hovered for a few seconds, allowing Vader to get a good look at it.

Its snakelike body was covered with black scales. The eyes glowed orange, much like the embers scattered around. The legs were wispy, and appeared unable to support the weight of the vast wings.

These must be the septaki the people had alerted him too. Clearly, they weren't friendly.

Beside him, the Jedi landed back on the ledge, and threw himself back into the duel. His attacks were wild and irrational now. The only thing saving him was Vader's distraction with the septaki. The vile creatures were swarming around Luke. He was willing to bet they weren't vegetarians.

Despite his youth, Luke appeared to be holding his own for the moment. Vader returned his focus to the duel. The Jedi was tiring now, having drained his energy on his wild attacks. He lunged at Vader, then fell to his knees as Vader stepped back to avoid the blade.

Vader quickly brought his blade around, but its deadly path was halted by the sound of a agonized cry from Luke. His son fell back, with blood seeping from his torn sleeve.

"Their fangs are poisonous, Vader," the Jedi said, leaping back to his feet. "Your son is dead now!"

"No!"

"Kill him!" the Jedi shouted to the septaki, "And feast!"

Vader raised his hand and used the Force to send the monsters flying away from Luke. Then he swiped at the sectoid, and this time, his blade found its mark. The Jedi fell back, and his lightsaber clattered at Vader's feet.

"Make sure you stay dead, this time," Vader said, raising his blade to finish the job.

An ominous rumble sounded above, and the Force alerted to Vader to sudden danger.

"I'm taking you with me, Vader."

The rocks missed Vader, however, and they missed the Jedi. Instead, they tumbled on the far end of the ledge, shattering on impact. There was another loud rumble, and Vader looked down to see the rock under him was disintegrating before his eyes.

He jumped back, just as a whole segment of it fell away. It was too late for the Jedi, however, and Vader leaned forward to watch as it tumbled down, crumbling into smaller pieces as it fell. The Jedi scrambled to try and get a hold on the wall, but to no success. He and the rocks hit the magma and dissolved in a cloud of steam.

Vader didn't have time to celebrate. Luke was in mortal danger. He retrieved the Jedi's lightsaber, and tossed it towards his son.

"Luke! They are frightened of the blades ... use it to defend yourself!"

It clattered onto the platform, and Luke crawled towards it. Above him, there were two septaki still circling. His display with the Force seemed to have scared a few of them off, but these two had yet to get the message.

"I thought you said ... no more lightsabers." Luke grinned, weakly.

"Consider this your one exception," Vader said, amazed his son could still find something to joke about.

Despite his wound, the boy picked up the blade with both hands, just as Vader had shown him. The green blade burned brightly across his face, and he jumped into the air, swinging wildly at the circling creatures. The blade managed to nick one in the tail, and it hissed in anger, and then disappeared back into the room above.

Vader had moved as close to the edge of the rock as he could manage. The second creature noticed him, and decided he was fair game. A foolish mistake. Vader threw his blade in a circular arc, and two pieces of the creature tumbled into the pit below.

"That's all of them," Vader said, looking back at his son. "Come on, I must get you to a medic immediately."

"Maybe you haven't noticed," Luke said, dropping the lightsaber. "But I'm not going anywhere." He crouched down, cradling his wounded arm. "That murderer lowered me down here, and I don't see those flying monsters offering to help."

His words were followed by a deep rumble from above, and the room began to shake. The platform swung wildly, and Luke held on for his life. Rocks tumbled from the ceiling until the shaking subsided. Vader realized the Jedi's foolish attempt to kill them both had disrupted the structural integrity of the cave.

"I will drag you over using the Force," Vader said, extending a hand. "Hurry, we have little time!"

Luke instantly wrapped his arm around one of the chains holding his prison aloft.

"No way! Not a chance! What if you drop me halfway over?"

"Give me a little credit," Vader said, annoyed. "Now let go and come closer to me. We have no time for arguments!"

Luke didn't budge.

"I do not believe this," Vader said, angry. "This entire cavern is about to collapse, your arm has been bitten by poisonous fangs, and you are being rebellious and stubborn!"

"I wasn't bitten," Luke said. "I was only cut by the tail spines."

"The tail spines could still be poisonous."

"I don't care!"

Vader made a noise of frustration, wondering how in the galaxy he had managed to breed such a stubborn young man. Yelling at him wasn't going to get them anywhere, that was clear. He had to try another approach.

"Luke," he said, trying to sound calm. "I know you are frightened. But you have to trust me. I cannot do this if you are fighting me."

"Fighting you?" Luke said, incredulous. "You are the one who starts all the arguments!"

"What? I have never started a -"

"I don't even know why you're here," Luke said. "I destroyed your life, remember? You don't want to be my father!"

Vader sighed at the words. Why did his past always come back to haunt him?

"Perhaps I need some destruction in my life," Vader suggested. "Luke, I realize I have treated you badly. I promise you, I will do better. But we don't have time to discuss the specifics!"

"You mean you'll tell me about my mother?" Luke said.

"Anything, now let go and come here!"

"Then how did you meet?" Luke said. "What was she like?"

"This can wait until we are back on the ship."

"No, it can't," Luke said. "You'll change your mind!"

"This is blackmail!"

"No! This is your desperate son who wants to understand you!" Luke yelled. "And I can't unless you tell me why you hate her!"

"Hate?!" Vader said, angry. "I loved ... no, I worshipped her."

"Then why won't you talk about her?" Luke said. "I so much as mention her and you act like I've insulted you!"

"You do not understand ... you are too young to understand. The mere memory of her is a wound like no other."

"I understand that you miss her," Luke said. "I miss my aunt and uncle. But I cherish my memories of them! They're all I have! But I have no memories of my mother ... please, you'll only have to tell me once."

Vader met his son's pleading gaze, knowing it was the right thing to do. The Emperor would disapprove, but ... but this was something that had to be done. If they should die here, at least he would die with this off his chest.

"Very well."

Luke's grinned. "I'm listening."

"We first met on Tatooine. I was a child ... younger than you."

Vader paused. He had tried so hard to bury these memories. It wasn't easy to find them again.

"She was a young queen, hiding from the Trade Federation who wanted her to make their occupation of her planet legal. I did not know of this, of course. To me, she was a beautiful stranger who came from the stars. She was the kindest, bravest person I had ever met.

"After her world, Naboo, was freed, I was taken to Coruscant where I began my Jedi training. I did not see her for ten years, but I thought of her every single day. We met again during the separatist crisis. She was a senator at this stage, and had become the target of an assassin. I was assigned to protect her.

"Shortly after the Clone Wars broke out, I proposed, and she accepted. We were married on Naboo. Three years later, she was pregnant with you."

Luke was silent for a moment, taking it in.

"What happened then?" he prompted, finally.

"Luke, I ... I do not wish to burden you with my moral failures."

"You mean you really did kill her?" Luke said, gaping.

"I don't know! My supposed friend Obi-Wan had turned against me ... he was seeking to kill me. I was on Mustafar when he found me. He arrived with your mother. I lost my temper! I thought she had betrayed me. I was so angry, I could not stop myself! I ... I choked her."

His son merely stared at him.

"Luke, I am sorry," Vader said, desperately. "Not a day hasn't gone by that I have not felt regret ... it haunts me! I would give anything to undo it ... I would give my life if only it were possible."

"You choked her to death?!"

"She fainted. I could still sense she was alive. I fought Obi-Wan, and lost. While I lay dying, he stole her away. When the operation was finished -" Vader gestured towards his life support systems, "- the Emperor told me I had killed her. I believed it was true. I thought I had killed the person I loved enough to sacrifice everything I knew for ... and you along with her! I cannot describe the pain I have lived with ... yet I deserve more." He hesitated, seeing an unwelcome softening in Luke's expression. "And I do not deserve your understanding."

"But you didn't kill us," Luke said. "I'm here. And she lived long enough to name me."

"So it now seems. But she would be alive now had I been beside her ... I was supposed to protect her. But because of my weakness, your mother is only a memory."

"Am I like her at all?" Luke asked, eventually.

"She was stubborn like you," Vader said. "I gave up even trying to argue once she'd made up her mind."

"Thanks," Luke said, frowning. He paused, looking wistful. "I wish I'd known her."

"So do I. She would have been a far better parent to you than I could ever be."

"You're not so bad," Luke said. "You cared enough to come here and get me back. Even after I said I hated you."

"Of course I came to get you back." The shaking had suddenly stopped, leaving a convenient silence.

"Luke ... I understand that the things I have done are unforgivable. I am not asking you to give me a second chance - it is too late for me. But I am asking you to trust me - one last time. Once we are safe, we will work together to find you a home where you will be happy."

"I want to stay with you. I can forgive you. It wouldn't be right not to ... see, we have something in common." Tears were beginning to run down Luke's cheeks. "I caused the deaths of people I loved too."

"What do you mean?"

"Seeing as we're confessing ... you might as well know what happened. The night ... the night he came to the farm -" Luke gestured down towards the bubbling magma. "- I was hiding. I could have stopped him from killing Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, but instead I ran away, saving myself and leaving them to ..."

"What?! Luke -"

"Oh, just go away!" Luke said, turning his face away. "I'm useless! I wouldn't even be here if I wasn't so stupid as to fall for an obvious trap. You've told me what I wanted to know, so go on and leave."

"No! I am not going anywhere. I will stand here until I die from old age if I have to, but I am not leaving you here. Now, listen to me, young one. If you could have done anything to save your guardians, you would have. The only useless thing in this cavern is the idea of holding yourself responsible for their deaths."

"You weren't even there," Luke mumbled, sounding subdued.

"That is irrelevant. We may have only known each other for a short while, but I do know you. Owen and Beru would not want you to blame yourself for their deaths."

"I ... I guess not," Luke admitted. He paused for a moment, and then said. "Would my mother want you to blame yourself for hers?"

"Your mother was too forgiving. Like someone else I know."

Luke smiled, and wiped away the tears in his eyes.

"Do you remember when I first told you about our relationship?" Vader asked.

Luke nodded. "At the medcenter."

"You were willing to give me a chance, despite what you knew of me. Yet I squandered that chance. I took your acceptance for granted, for that I am sorry."

"It wasn't all your fault," Luke said, his grip on the chain loosening. "I didn't make things easy for you. Playing with your dueling droids and getting into the trash compactor just seemed like good ideas at the time. I know that stealing things is wrong, but my friends needed the money to get off planet. I won't even try and explain how I ended up in this mess."

Vader waved a hand in dismissal. "You do not have to. You are my son - that explains everything."

"You mean -" Luke released the chain, and waved his hands around. "This is the result of some Skywalker gene?"

"Why else would I be here too? Any normal family would have sorted this out before it came down to life and death."

"I guess we do things the hard way," Luke agreed.

As if supporting his words, a stream of lava exploded below, and there was another mild earthquake. Luke met Vader's gaze, and became serious.

"You really think you can do this?"

Vader nodded. "I have no doubt. The only question is whether or not you are ready to come with me."

Luke appeared to think for a moment, and then finally crawled over to the edge. He hugged his knees and closed his eyes tight.

"Just make it quick," he said, nervously.

"Very well," Vader said, gathering the Force. "Relax. And don't look down."

Luke complied, and Vader stretched out to join himself to Luke's mind. He felt his fear, and also felt his joy about finally knowing about his mother. The bond between them began to strengthen and grow of its own accord. Through it, Vader helped Luke focus on his joy, while he channeled Luke's fear into the Force. It generated more than enough energy to help him levitate across.

In a few seconds, it was all over.


Epilogue


It was a quiet journey back to the star destroyer in orbit. A medical droid had patched Luke up in the shuttle, but his father had insisted on taking him to the medical center as soon as they'd docked in the Nexu.

Luke had wanted to see the bridge, but his father had said the medical center had many more attractions. That was far from the truth, but Luke had fallen asleep despite himself.

He woke up two hours later. Seeing as there were no guards, medics or overly worried fathers in sight, Luke jumped out of bed and headed for the exit. He had something more important to do than sit around and rest. Besides, he was on a star destroyer! No one in their right mind could sit around and sleep while on board the greatest ship in the galaxy.

After following directions from several friendly officers, Luke found his way to the hangar bays, where the Spectrum passengers were experiencing tearful reunions with friends and family. The Nexu must have arrived in the Alderaan system.

Luke looked around quickly, hoping the two people he'd come to say goodbye to hadn't left already. There were still plenty of passengers waiting, with stormtroopers wandering among them keeping things under control. Luke happened to glance at the right spot, and he smiled in recognition. Crix was stretched out asleep on a mattress, and Val sat beside him, reading an Imperial newsfax.

He hung back for a moment, a little unsure. Maybe they wouldn't want to talk to him, after what happened.

But Val soon looked up, and she immediately broke into a grin.

"Luke!"

He came forward, and bent down to hug her.

"Crix, wake up!" she said, hitting his leg.

"Huh?" He rubbed his eyes, and sat up. "What's happening? Is it time to leave yet?"

"No, Luke's here!"

"Luke?!"

"I just came to say goodbye," Luke said, "I'm going to miss you guys ... but it's back to Coruscant for me."

"Yeah, we heard about your father," Crix said, grinning. "Why didn't you tell us?"

Luke shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I didn't want you to see me differently."

"So you managed to work things out with him?" Val asked, looking concerned.

Luke nodded. "We have a lot of things we still need to talk about ... but I have a feeling we're going to make it work. What about you two? Are you going to Alderaan now?"

Crix nodded. "While we were in that slave factory, we were talking to a couple who were chained up next to us."

"They volunteer at a home for teenagers on Alderaan," Val said. "And they said we could stay there, at least until we figured out what we want to do next."

"They said it wasn't like IFS at all," Crix said. "There's no stormtroopers for one thing. And you can go to school, and go to the park, and whatever you want."

"Sounds great," Luke said. "Maybe you should stay."

Crix shrugged. "We'll see."

"I'm sorry about what happened," Luke said, staring at the floor. "I should have listened to what you said about Harl."

"Maybe it was meant to happen this way," Val said. "Your father would never have found the Spectrum passengers if you hadn't been kidnapped. They say the Force works in mysterious ways."

"Maybe," Luke said, grinning. "I'll have to ask my father. He's the expert on the Force." He glanced up, and saw the man in question had just stepped onto the upper viewing area. The smile quickly faded from his face.

"And I think I better go," he said. "I'm supposed to be in the medical center."

"Goodbye, Luke," Crix said. "Maybe we'll meet again sometime."

"You can count on it," Luke said. He gazed at them one more time, and then ran off towards the elevators.


It was after midnight, Coruscant time, when the Nexu finally arrived in system. Vader had taken Luke back home immediately, knowing the boy was more than ready to sleep. Getting him to rest on the star destroyer had bordered on impossible.

Predictably, the Emperor wanted to see him as soon as he arrived, so he left Luke in his bedroom, and saw to Imperial business. When he handed his master the lightsaber of the fallen Jedi, all questions about Luke were thankfully avoided.

When he arrived back at his home, he couldn't resist checking on his son. He really should withdraw to his meditation chamber and recuperate, but knowing the boy was finally safe would give him peace of mind.

The doors slid open quietly. Inside, Luke was stretched out flat on his back, with one arm sticking out over the side. All his blankets were lying on the floor in a heap. The bedside light was still glowing brightly.

Vader let out a weary breath, and came forward to remedy the situation. As he gently pulled a blanket over his sleeping son, he noticed there was a hologram glowing beside the pillow. The same image of Padmé he'd tried to show him before.

For a moment, he found himself wondering what it might have been like, had Padmé lived and his duel with Obi-Wan had never occurred. They could have raised their son together on Naboo. Padmé would have adored Luke.

Luke stirred slightly, and Vader backed away, thinking his breathing might be disturbing the boy. He was too late, though, as Luke opened his eyes and sat up slightly.

"Obi-Wan?"

"What?" Vader said, surprised.

"Oh ... sorry. Thought I was dreaming."

"You dream about Obi-Wan?"

"Uh ..." Luke rubbed his eyes. "Is something wrong? You've never been in my room before ..."

"No," Vader said, adjusting Luke's blanket. "I apologize for waking you. Go on back to sleep."

Luke watched as he straightened the blankets, staring up at him with a slightly disbelieving expression.

"Are you tucking me in?" he asked, eventually.

"Your bedding was among the mess on the floor," Vader explained. "I had to rescue it before it was lost forever."

Luke grinned, and rolled his eyes.

"When I was your age, our quarters had to be neat and tidy," Vader added.

Now Luke brought his hand up to stifle a laugh.

"Is something amusing?" Vader asked.

"It's you. You're acting like ... like ..." Luke shook his head. "A parent. Is this something I should get used to?"

Vader sat down on the side of the bed. "If you are willing to."

"Of course," Luke said. "As long as you are. I don't think I'm going to stop getting into sticky situations anytime soon."

"I will still have to see to the needs of the Empire," Vader agreed, "That means I cannot be here for you as much as you need. But we will find a way to make this work. After all, as someone once told me ... we belong together."

Luke grinned. "Who was that?"

"Someone who should go to sleep." Vader raised a hand towards the light, and used the Force to switch it off.

"I wish I could do that," Luke mumbled, snuggling down. "I didn't turn it off because I was too tired to reach for it."

"Perhaps I will teach you one day."

"And you'll teach me to fly, right?"

"I will be right across the hall if you need anything," Vader said, deciding to make an exit before he made a promise he'd later regret.

"Goodnight, Father."

Vader was surprised into momentary silence. He'd never heard Luke address him like that before. It felt ... right, somehow.

He hesitated for moment, and then resumed his departure. As he passed through the doors, he looked back one last time.

"Goodnight, Son."


Continued in Force Bond 3: Son