Summary: This is part of the Force Bond series, an AU where Vader raises Luke, but is a complete story unto itself. It is set after 'Licensed' and before Force Bond 3.
Vader decides to make a dramatic change in Luke's life, after both of them are forced to confront deeply held fears.
Thanks: To Deja Vu for the beta. Her handle is 'Deja Know I Been Lookin For Vu'.
Jira. The old woman who ran a food stall in Mos Espa. She was there. The horror in her eyes made him quickly shift his gaze to the next face. Kitster. The best friend he'd known in his boyhood had his hand clutched desperately over his mouth like he was going to be sick.
Qui-Gon stepped up to the balcony rail. He was shaking his head in sadness and disappointment, but he wouldn't look at him. His mother stood beside the Jedi, her hands covering her face. Cliegg Lars was beside her, trying to comfort her.
Vader gasped for breath, feeling like he was being smothered. His hands reached desperately for the respirator controls, but his fingers touched only fabric. He looked down and saw two flesh and blood hands.
He looked up at the balcony again and saw the crowd was growing. Owen and Beru were pushing their way to the front, screaming some anguished words he couldn't understand. Watto and Jar Jar were behind them, straining to get a look at him. Watto's expression was complete and utter scorn, while Jar Jar was both sad and horrified.
Mace Windu and Yoda joined the fray, both silently accusing. Dex was behind them, wringing his many hands in despair. Vader stumbled back as he recognized the two final people to appear. Obi-Wan and Padmé. His wife was sobbing inconsolably, while Obi-Wan struggled to hold her up.
"I'm sorry!" he shouted, but his voice made no sound. The cries of anguish from the balcony above were drowning him out. He couldn't stand to look at the sea of condemnation any more, and he stared at the ground in shame. It was littered with bodies. He sunk to his knees in a wave of guilt and self-loathing.
Behind him, a familiar voice began laughing.
A hologram of the planet Bal filled the space above the conference room table, illustrating the audio report playing through the computer system. Darth Vader had been sitting here for the better part of two hours, but he had yet to take any of it in. He had restarted the report a total of five times.
This time, he was going to listen, instead of letting his thoughts dwell on the ridiculous nightmare. He stood up and paced slowly around the table as the report continued, absorbing the description of a planet desperately in need of some Imperial guidance. The hologram of the planet was the only light source in the darkened room, so it cast a green and blue glow over the shiny table surface and the various monitors lining the walls.
The dream wasn't unfamiliar, of course. It was hard to say how many times he'd experienced it, but he knew it was more than once. He just didn't normally remember it in such detail once he'd woken up.
Vader stopped mid pace, realizing what he was doing. He forced his attention back to the report. Something about a network of rivers the Balin used as their primary transport links.
The clear tones of the voice reading the report were then interrupted by the hiss of the doors sliding open. Vader stared through the hologram at the shape of his son silhouetted in the doorway. His hair was neatly combed, for once, and he was dressed in his school uniform.
"Hi," Luke said, stepping into the room and looking around. The doors closed behind him, returning the room to darkness once again. "Are you busy?"
Vader waved a hand towards the computer, and the voice fell silent.
"I am always busy, Luke. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes," Luke said, walking around the table so they were no longer staring through the hologram at each other. "Well, not really. I just wanted to talk to you."
Luke met his gaze for a moment and then stared down at his boots. He was clasping and unclasping his fingers. Vader simply watched him in silence, deciding this display was providing some idle entertainment, if nothing else.
"I've been meaning to tell you this for a while," Luke said, in a rush. "But I've never had a chance. So I wanted to say it now. I think you're a great father." Luke was still staring at his boots. "I'm happy that we found each other. I'm only sorry that it took twelve years."
Vader tilted his head slightly, wondering how long his son had practiced that. "The answer is no," he said, firmly.
Luke looked up, quickly. "What answer?"
"The answer to whatever it is you want."
"You haven't even heard the question!"
"If you are expending this much effort attempting to manipulate me into saying yes, I presume it is something that I am likely to disapprove of."
"Ben has free tickets to an advanced preview of a new holomovie," Luke explained. "I just wanted to know if I could go."
"Why do I sense you have not told me everything?"
"It doesn't start until 20-hundred tonight," Luke said. "So it finishes after my curfew."
"Then clearly you cannot go," Vader said, calmly.
"I'm just asking for a one-time exception!"
"I do not want you staying out late on a school night. You will end up sleeping in your classes tomorrow."
"No, I won't. It's just one time. I'll never ask again. I stick to my curfew every other day of the year. I think I deserve a break now and then."
"Unless my memory is mistaken, Luke, I believe I have already said no."
Luke ignored the warning tone. "Ben's father said yes!"
"How is that relevant?" Vader asked.
"You're being completely unfair!"
"I will take that as a compliment."
Luke made a noise of frustration. "You're oppressing me with your endless rules and restrictions! Most people wouldn't even bother to ask, they'd just sneak out, but I take the time to come here and ask you, and you won't even consider what I'm saying!" He banged his hand against the back of a chair. "You aren't even willing to compromise!"
A few years ago, Vader might have felt angry at such an outburst. He had long since learned effective ways to deal with it. Luke was often cranky first thing in the morning, especially if he'd stayed up too late. Hence why he wasn't going to be moved on the issue of his curfew.
"Take your childish tantrum outside," Vader said. "I am trying to work."
"Why must you be such a tyrant?! No wonder there's a rebellion against the Empire!"
Vader almost smiled, imagining what the Rebellion would think about being compared to a teenager who wasn't allowed to stay out late on a school night. He really should reprimand Luke for disobeying him, but he wouldn't be able to keep the amusement out of his voice.
"I'm not a child anymore," Luke insisted, taking advantage of the silence to continue his rant. "When are you going to notice that?"
"Perhaps when you start showing some maturity."
"How can I when you won't trust me to stay out after my curfew?"
"You know that is nothing to do with trust. Now, I have neither the time nor the inclination to argue with you."
"I'm not arguing! I'm just pointing out the truth, and you don't want to hear it! I don't have any freedom!"
"You have plenty of freedom, Luke," Vader said, calmly. "Perhaps I should take some of it away to teach you to appreciate what you have."
"I don't believe this," Luke said, addressing the ceiling. "You're going to ground me now?"
"I have to assume you want me to, based on this disrespectful display."
"Fine," Luke said. "Go ahead! Why don't you just take away my flying privileges too?"
"If you insist."
"How about my food and water?! My right to breathe the air?"
"Perhaps I should revoke your talking privileges," Vader suggested. "For both our sakes."
Luke made a face like he was fighting back a string of swear words. Once he managed to get that urge under control, his eyes settled on his father with a stony cold glare.
"I wish I was an orphan," he said quietly, and then he turned and left the room.
Vader released a weary breath and raised a hand to restart the report on Bal. This day was not off to a good start.
"Okay, let's go over this one more time," Ben said, staring at Luke in disbelief. "You went in there to ask if you could go to the movie tonight. Then you came out grounded and with your flying privileges revoked. How in the galaxy did you manage that?"
Luke responded with a heavy sigh. They were waiting for their history class to begin, but Luke didn't know why he was bothering to be here. He hadn't heard one word of the morning's classes so far. The argument with his father wouldn't stop replaying in his mind. There were so many smart things he could have said. Should have said. If only he could do it over, he'd really give his father a piece of his mind.
"It wasn't my fault," Luke said. "It was him."
"You need to control your temper," Ben said. "It's easy to get parents to agree to things, if you know how. It's just a matter of understanding how parents think."
"You'd need a PhD to understand how my father thinks," Luke said. "Look, I tried. I told him I thought he was a great father, to try and get him in a good mood."
"Okay, mistake number one," Ben said. "Too obvious. That probably just made him suspicious."
"Then he said no straight away without even listening to my question."
"That's when you have to stay calm," Ben said. "If you start shouting and accusing him of things, then it's all over."
"I didn't start shouting," Luke said. "That was later on. I explained what I wanted. He didn't even consider it, he just said no again. He just says no because he likes the power of having control over my life."
"That's when you can say something like 'I wish you'd reconsider. This is really important to me.' And start laying on the reassurance. Tell him you'll fly safely and be home as soon as possible and go to bed as soon as you're home. Whatever he wants to hear."
"Next time, you can talk to him on my behalf," Luke suggested.
"No, thanks," Ben said, quickly. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, because I can't go myself now."
"Why not?" Luke asked, surprised. Ben had left their last class early to return a holocom call from his father, but Luke had been too preoccupied to ask what it was about.
"My father got a message this morning to say his aunt had died. The funeral is on Barthamore Prime. He's taken the day off work, and we're catching a shuttle as soon as I get home. I won't be at school for the next few days."
"Oh," Luke said, feeling bad. "I'm sorry."
"I only met her a few times," Ben explained. "My Dad was close to her, though. She used to babysit him a lot when he was a kid."
"I guess he's really upset," Luke said, sadly.
Ben shrugged. "Not really. She was really old, and he said she'd been sick for a while. I think he's more relieved for her. He says it was her time."
Luke felt curious about this. The only experience he had of death was murder. The idea that the death of a loved one could have a positive aspect to it was strange.
"Do you need me to do anything?" Luke asked. "Look after your fish?"
"The neighbor's droid is stopping by to water the plants, so I'll leave a note for it about feeding Stripey," Ben said. "But it would be good if you could send me all your class notes, along with the homework assignments."
Luke refrained from suggesting his friend should just enjoy the time off. "Sure."
Their history teacher, Mrs Ludd, entered the room at this point and immediately switched on the main viewscreen. As the class grew quiet around them, Ben began to whisper.
"We'll go to the holomovie once I get back."
Luke glanced at the teacher to make sure it was safe to reply. She was occupied with explaining the main topic for today.
"My prison warden won't let me, remember," Luke whispered back. "I'm grounded."
"He probably will if you apologize," Ben suggested.
"And then he'll give me a hug and offer to take me to a holomovie himself," Luke said, sarcastically.
"Luke!" the teacher called, finally noticing their whispering. "Perhaps you'd like to read out the first paragraph."
"Um …" Luke quickly focused on his monitor, as other students turned around to stare. "What's the page number?"
The rest of the class snickered as the teacher wearily told him where to find their prescribed text. Once he was on track, he began to read out loud.
"The Jedi rebellion was over less than a day after it had begun, but it remains a defining moment in galactic history. It began with just four Jedi attempting to assassinate the Chancellor and finished with the Jedi threat being all but extinguished from the galaxy. There was no warning of the attempted coup." Luke paused for a moment, seeing his father's name mentioned in the next sentence. Even at school he couldn't get away from him. He continued reading in a flat tone. "Lord Vader planned the retaliation in the space of an hour, but it remains to this day one of the most successful military endeavors in Imperial history. This chapter will look at the lead up, execution, and aftermath of the battle at the Jedi Temple."
"Thank you, Luke. Now, everyone will work through the chapter module, and then we'll go over the answers to yesterday's homework."
Soon, everyone was quietly chatting as they worked through the activities designed to teach them about the Jedi Temple battle. Luke could barely concentrate.
"It's weird when your father crops up in history class," Ben said, after a while. "I can't imagine having to study my father at school."
"Your father isn't a historical relic, lucky for you," Luke said. "'Weird' isn't the word I would use."
"You're really annoyed with him, aren't you?"
"I get so sick of the way the history texts glorify everything he does," Luke said, sitting back. "All he did was go in there and kill everyone. How much planning would that take?"
"Well, he did save the galaxy," Ben said.
"I bet it was a slaughter," Luke said. "The Jedi were probably asleep."
"Why would they be sleeping if they'd just attempted to take over the galaxy?" Ben asked. "Besides, lots of the troopers died. If you'd actually read the work you'd see that."
"How about the young Jedi?"
"What young Jedi?"
"My father grew up in the temple. There had to have been children there. I bet they were killed too."
"Maybe they were taken somewhere else," Ben said. "Why don't you ask your father?"
"As if he'd give me a straight answer!"
Luke glanced up to find the Mrs Ludd standing over his desk. Her arms were folded, and her expression was a mix of annoyance and concern.
"Is everything all right with you this morning?"
"Um … yes," Luke insisted. "I was just discussing the work with Ben. I … I was wondering. Do you know if there were any Jedi children at the temple at the time of the battle?"
She stared at him silently for a moment and then said, "Young Jedi were trained and raised at the temple, so I'd assume so."
"Do you think they were killed too?"
"That's one of the most tragic things about war," the teacher said. "The innocent often get caught in the crossfire."
"Do you think we could have a class trip to see the Jedi temple?" Ben asked. "I've always wanted to see inside."
Some of the other students joined in at this point. "I heard it's haunted by Jedi ghosts."
"I've heard their skeletons are still there!"
"They keep it locked up and guarded," Mrs Ludd explained. "It's not open to the public."
Luke was relieved at this. He wasn't scared at the thought of skeletons and ghosts, but the thought of walking through the corridors of a place where hundreds of people lost their lives didn't fill him with enthusiasm. Fortunately, the chances of his father ever giving him a personalized tour of the place were non-existent.
For the rest of the lesson, he worked through the module with robotic indifference. The sound of the lunch signal filled him with relief.
"I'm going to a dejarik club meet," Ben said, packing up his datapads.
"I think I'll go to the library," Luke said, relieved that he could be alone. He had a lot of think about.
In Vader's experience, there were two types of bad days. The first type was the kind of day where something happens that utterly and completely destroys your life. He could think of more than one example from his youth. In the second type, nothing life-shattering occurs, but instead you are assailed with a lot of little annoyances until you almost wish your life had been destroyed. Today fell into the second category.
First there had been the hellish nightmare, followed by Luke's little "good morning" tantrum. Then he was treated to a holocom call from a senator's assistant - who wanted to arrange a meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation on Bal. Then he was interrupted during his morning dueling practice by a senator who wanted to discuss the political situation on Bal. Finally, the Emperor had summoned him to a war council to discuss the military situation on Bal. Due to an unforeseeable situation with a malfunctioning dueling droid, he was now late for said war council. And the elevator was taking an unusually long amount of time to arrive.
Vader pressed the button again, and the controls beeped in a positive way. Ten minutes later, there was still no elevator. If this day were to continue how it had progressed so far, the elevator would probably arrive the moment he began to walk towards the stairs.
His temper finally got the better of him, and he thumped the button with enough force to shake the wall. Unfortunately, the only thing that snapped was something in his forearm. The pain was excruciating.
Vader gripped the wall, desperately reaching for the Force. After an agonizing minute, the pain reduced enough to allow him to assess the injury. He must have weakened something during his haste to disarm the droid. Now, his left arm hung limp. He attempted to move his fingers. They responded a few seconds later, along with another dose of pain.
Then, the elevator arrived, with a cheerful chime.
Vader stared at the elevator blankly, considering his options. He could attempt a patch up job himself in his chambers, which could at least see him through until the end of the day. But he was already late for this war council. Perhaps he should simply go to the medical center and be done with it. That way, if the Emperor needed him to leave Coruscant to deal with Bal, he would be ready.
Luke became aware that his face was crushing a databook. He sat up, and tried to rub the imprint of it off his cheek. The school siren was blaring in the background, signaling the end of lunch. It seemed he'd fallen asleep. Not an unusual occurrence at school. But what was unusual was the lack of people.
Normally the end of lunch would result in a flurry of activity in the library, as students packed up and returned databooks to their shelves. Apart from the distant siren, it seemed oddly quiet. He rubbed his eyes and then reached down to pick up his belongings. He had a class now … mathematics.
After visiting his locker to change his datapads, he was running late by the time he reached the classroom. He expected to be met with another frustrated teacher when he walked in, but instead he found a small group of students standing clustered around a monitor. The teacher was nowhere in sight. Neither was Ben, for that matter, which was a far stranger occurrence. Math was his favorite class. It would take a natural disaster for him to miss it.
Luke considered this for a moment and then hastily joined the students clustered around the monitor. They were watching the HoloNet news. He only caught glimpses between their shoulders, but the images were of rubble and fires.
Luke turned to the student beside him and recognized Faver, a girl who was also in his history class.
"What's going on?" Luke asked, concerned.
Faver glanced at him and then did a double take. "Luke? Shouldn't you be … are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he said, confused. "What's happening?"
"You haven't heard?!"
Luke shrugged. "I was in the library."
"There … there was an assassination attempt on the Emperor."
"Was it successful?" Luke asked, trying not to sound hopeful.
Faver was looking more than a little uncomfortable at this point.
"Well … the Emperor's alive."
Someone had just turned up the volume on the monitor, and Luke was blasted with the sound of a droid reading out the latest update.
"Rescue workers are still decontaminating the room, and they estimate we will have a better understanding of the situation within the hour. Lord Vader has been assumed dead, along with General Lavri and several royal guards."
Luke froze, feeling like his stomach had just dissolved.