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 'Family' and before Force Bond 3.
Vader has misplaced a member of the Skywalker family, and Luke isn't going to be happy when he finds out. Luke has plenty to distract him as he tries to be a loyal friend and avoid galactic politics.
Thanks: The talented Deja Vu betaed this for me. I am a better writer because of her secret knowledge of the ways of the grammar. Endless thanks.
Darth Vader could remember the first time See-Threepio had introduced himself to the galaxy. It was a cold desert night, and his young, former self was exhausted after a hard day's work in the junkshop. His mother was worried the droid was going to blow up in his face, hence why she wasn't invited to the ceremony. But at the moment when the droid's eyes glowed with artificial life, all the sand in the world couldn't have hurt his mood.
Vader gripped the pitch controls tighter as his ship accelerated towards Coruscant's atmosphere. That was Anakin's life he was remembering, a life he had no claim to. A fact that was never more obvious than now.
But there was no point dwelling on the fate of Threepio. His mission, a simple execution of an embezzling mine administrator, had been a success. The man's body was in the cargo hold. That was the only thing that mattered to his master. It should be the only thing that mattered to him, too.
As for Threepio, Luke would be a problem, but not an insurmountable one. He could find ways to prevent Luke from finding out, at least for the time being. The real concern was Artoo. He wouldn't be able to hide this from the astromech droid.
Vader forced himself to stop thinking about it as he flew down into the city. The computer's clock indicated the local time was just after twenty hundred hours. It was a relief to see the Imperial Palace seemed to be intact. One never knew what to expect after leaving his fifteen-year-old son alone, even if it was only for a day.
He looked out for Luke as his ship landed in the floodlit hangar. There was no sign of his son or Artoo. Only an assistant was waiting to greet him at the base of the boarding ramp. Vader took one look at the ruler-straight officer as he walked down the boarding ramp, and he felt his mood take another dive. The lieutenant was worried. Very worried. It must be a destroyed Imperial base, at the very least. Perhaps even a riot at the Senate.
"Welcome back, my lord," the lieutenant said. Even his voice was tense. These assistants were normally the well-trained picture of stoicism.
"What happened?" Vader demanded.
"The Health Sector Reform Bill continues to be debated in the Senate, sir. The vote has been delayed until late tomorrow. A skirmish occurred between pirates and patrol craft along the Tarco shipping route. IMH is sending reinforcements to the area."
That was hardly unusual news.
"Captain Jarnet has been in contact with me several times in the last two hours."
Captain Jarnet ... Vader wondered why that name was familiar.
"It seems Ben is missing, sir," the lieutenant finished.
Something connected in Vader's mind. Captain Jarnet was a royal guard, and the father of Ben, Luke's perpetually terrified friend.
"Where is Luke?"
"In his bedroom, sir. He claims he has no knowledge of Ben's location."
It was impossible to imagine Ben ever going missing on purpose. If Ben had genuinely disappeared, the outlook for his wellbeing was poor.
A loud whistle sounded behind Vader, causing him to glance in the direction of the noise. Artoo rolled forward and came to a halt beside him. He finished with a sad beep, summarizing his opinion on the situation.
"It seems unlikely that Luke would be sitting in his bedroom if his friend was missing," Vader said, looking back at the lieutenant.
"I agree, sir. I do not wish to accuse Luke of being dishonest, but Ben's father is highly distressed."
"I will deal with it." There was never a moment's rest for the father of Luke Skywalker. Vader started to walk onwards but then stopped, remembering the ship. It wouldn't pay to leave the corpse unattended. This entire operation had been classified, including the identity of the deceased. Artoo was hovering around the boarding ramp, clearly waiting for Threepio.
"Lieutenant, have that ship guarded," Vader said. "It must not be touched by anyone, including droids."
Artoo gave a short beep.
"Come with me, Artoo," Vader said, walking on.
Artoo immediately trundled after him. He held the elevator door until the droid was inside, and then Artoo began whistling. It translated as a statement of the very high odds that Luke did in fact know where Ben was.
"What is surprising to me is that he thought he would get away with this. Perhaps he forgot I was returning today."
Artoo beeped out that perhaps there was a good explanation.
Vader glanced down. "A good explanation? Luke doesn't know the meaning of a good explanation."
Artoo didn't reply. Vader could feel himself growing angrier when the elevator doors opened. Ben's father must be painfully worried. The man had put up with a lot as a result of Luke's antics over the years. This was one stunt too many.
Vader didn't bother to use the doorcom when he reached Luke's bedroom. He waved his gloved hand in front of the doors, and they hissed open obediently. Luke stood on the other side, his eyebrows raised in anticipation. He had clearly sensed his pending arrival.
"Hi," he said, using his best innocent farmboy voice. "How was your mission?"
"Where is Ben?!" Vader closed the distance between them, staring Luke down.
"Take it easy." Luke raised his hands, reversing into a shelf.
"No. Answer my question!"
Luke's lips moved a few times in an unsure way, like he was trying to decide what to say. Artoo appeared between them and made an encouraging beep, but it didn't have the desired effect.
Vader was about to demand an immediate answer from Luke, when he sensed something. They weren't entirely alone. He turned and followed that sense to the other end of the room.
"Wait!" Luke struggled to get in front of him. "I can explain!"
Vader pressed the release that triggered the refresher doors. Ben was standing in the middle of the tiled floor, his eyes wide open and his body visibly shaking. Vader had no intention of chasing him around the refresher. He simply raised his right hand, and Ben was pulled across the room into his waiting grip. He dragged the boy out into the main bedroom by the top of his skinny arm.
"No!" Luke tried to get between them. "Let him go!"
Vader did so; not because of Luke's demands, but because Ben appeared on the verge of vomiting all over him. As soon as he released the terrified boy, Ben lunged for the door. Unfortunately, he ended up tripping over Artoo, who had rolled forward to offer his own beeping commentary on the situation. What might have been a hard landing was broken by a pile of Luke's discarded clothes.
Vader extended a hand to ensure the bedroom door was locked before coming forward to address the situation. Luke gave Vader an angry glare and offered a hand to help Ben back up.
"You will call Ben's father immediately and apologize for this," Vader said, pointing at Luke. "As for you -" He shifted his focus to Ben, who was struggling to his feet. Vader had intended to finish that sentence with a threat about what he'd do to the boy if he ever caught him using Luke's bedroom as a hiding place again. But it was clear from Ben's expression he'd already frightened him beyond all reason, merely by being here at all. "I will summon an assistant to escort you back home," he said instead. "Don't even think about trying to escape, or I will hunt you down myself."
Ben just about collapsed on the floor again.
"Will you stop acting like a sleemo?" Luke said, stepping between him and Ben. "If you'd just listen for one moment instead of jumping to conclusions -"
"Let me guess." Vader folded his arms, looking past Luke towards Ben. "Your father asked you to clean up your bedroom?"
Luke rolled his eyes. "His father has a girlfriend." He paused dramatically, like he thought Vader would be somehow shocked at this news. "He invited her over for dinner and expected Ben to say all this stuff to impress her."
"So you thought you would spite him by running away," Vader said, still looking at Ben. "How immature and selfish. Is this how you show your respect to the man who has raised you?"
"Okay, okay." Luke backed away. "Calm down. I'll take Ben home right now."
Vader thought about it briefly. He should really insist that it be an officer who took Ben home, but this was an ideal opportunity to get Artoo and Luke out of the building so he could deal with the corpse in the cargo hold of his ship.
"Very well. You will apologize to his father in person. Understood?"
Vader pointed at the droid. "Artoo, go with them. Ensure there are no detours on the way."
Artoo gave a positive beep. Ben was already trying to escape out the door, so Vader obliged by releasing the lock.
"I am so sorry." Luke accelerated into the Coruscant sky, feeling grateful his friend was still in one piece. "I thought he wouldn't be back until tomorrow."
Ben didn't reply. Luke glanced over. His friend still looked pale.
"He wouldn't have hurt you. I wouldn't let him."
"I know," Ben said, staring out the passenger side window.
"I really am sorry."
The silence that followed felt awkward to Luke. Why did his father have to embarrass him so much? It was as if he'd made it his primary mission in life, to embarrass him in front of the entire galaxy.
"It was weird," Ben mumbled.
"Huh? What was weird?"
"He dragged me forward without even touching me."
"Oh. That. Don't get me started on that. He does it all the time. All those powers, and all he uses them for is pulling me around or making me stay still."
"That was the Force?"
"Yes. That's also how he knew you were in the refresher. He sensed your presence. I swear, Ben, you don't know how lucky you have it. I'd give anything to have a father who didn't have strange powers."
Artoo whistled from the back seat. Luke turned and gave his droid a quick glance before planting his eyes back on the traffic.
"You wouldn't really tell my father if we decided to take a detour, would you, Artoo?"
Artoo gave a playful beep.
"I wasn't serious. He's my father. I know when enough is enough."
"No, you don't. You're always winding him up. I can't believe you called him a sleemo."
"I said he was acting like a sleemo. And he was! I have to tell him these things or no one will. Besides, I never irritate him on purpose."
Ben raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
"So what's she like?" Luke asked.
"Your father's girlfriend."
Ben had yet to provide any real details. The first Luke knew of Captain Jarnet having a girlfriend was Ben's appearance seeking asylum. Although, in hindsight, Luke knew he should have realized something was going on after Ben had been strangely silent on the subject of his recent long weekend vacation in the Salopi system.
Ben groaned in response to the question. "Do you really want to know?"
"Come on, she can't be that bad." Luke spied Ben's apartment building below. "How did they meet?"
Ben didn't start talking until they'd landed.
"She was staying at the same hotel as us. Turned out she lived in Imperial City too. Totally posh—her family own a lot of assets in the beauty industry. When I saw that she and my dad were spending a lot of time together, I said, 'Dad, why are you doing this? You know she's going to decide we're not fashionable enough.' He claimed she wasn't like that."
Ben leaned back in the passenger seat, massaging his temples. "I'm sure he thought my mother wasn't like that too."
Luke was taken aback at the words. In all the years he'd known Ben, his friend had only mentioned his mother a handful of times. She'd left them when Ben was just a baby, and they'd never heard from her since.
"But he never listens to me," Ben continued. "He thinks I'm a kid. Anyway, I thought it was just a vacation relationship, and he'd forget about her once we were home. But yesterday he suddenly announces she's coming over for dinner, and—listen to this—he starts getting out a tablecloth and candles. The final straw was when he told me I should tell her I'm attending Imperial City's best private school, and I come top in every subject." He sighed. "So I said, 'Dad, if you're going to do this, you're doing it on your own.' Then I left."
Luke didn't know what to say. After a minute, Ben looked up again and said, "You're so lucky. Your father would never do this to you."
"Did you just suggest you'd rather have my father than yours? Are you feeling all right?"
"Not really. I have a headache."
"Come on." Luke pushed open the speeder door. "We better go and face him."
"I bet he's even angrier than your father."
"I'll take that bet. You judge, Artoo. Winner has to shout a game of Kessel Runner tomorrow after school."
Artoo whistled in agreement.
When they arrived outside the door of Ben's apartment, they both hovered around, too nervous to push the doorcom. Finally, Artoo plugged into a wall socket and forcibly opened the door. Ben's father was pacing up and down on the other side. His expression turned from despair to pure joy the moment his gaze fell on Ben.
"Oh, thank the Force!"
Ben edged around behind the dining table, avoiding his father's attempt to embrace him. Luke stood to one side of the door with Artoo beside him.
"Why in the galaxy did you disappear like that?" Captain Jarnet said, folding his arms. He'd given up trying to reach Ben. "I thought you'd gone for good!"
This seemed like a complete overreaction to Luke. He'd left home plenty of times after having arguments with his own father. To his knowledge, his father had never worried that he'd never come home. In fact, when he did eventually return, his father usually denied knowing he'd left in the first place.
"I never said I wasn't coming back," Ben said. "I just didn't want to be here for dinner, that's all."
Luke glanced at the kitchen counter top, where a tablecloth and candles lay untouched. It appeared the dinner date had been canceled.
"Well, I'm sure I've seen the last of her now," Captain Jarnet said, his voice taking on a harsher tone.
"Don't blame me!"
This sounded like the part of the conversation that Luke didn't want to overhear. He cleared his throat. Ben's father looked up, seeming to only just notice that he was there.
"Um, my father said I should apologize," he mumbled quickly. "I'm sorry. Ben, I'll see you at school tomorrow."
"Your father? Oh, fantastic!" He looked at Ben. "So now you succeeded in involving Lord Vader, of all people. He must think we're completely dysfunctional."
"Not at all," Luke said. "He's on your side."
"Do you think it's unreasonable to expect Ben to have dinner with a lady I happen to like very much?" Captain Jarnet asked.
"Um." Luke started to edge towards the door.
"I just can't understand why you have a problem with this," Ben's father continued, looking back at Ben. "It can't be about your mother. You never even knew her!"
"It's not about my mother," Ben said firmly. "It's about the fact that you've known this woman for less than a week. You're moving way too fast."
"Oh, thank you, Mr Dating Expert." Captain Jarnet rolled his eyes. "And how many girlfriends have you had? None."
"None that you know of," Luke said, smirking.
Artoo made a chuckling noise. Ben gave him a look that clearly said it was time to say goodbye.
"I better be going," Luke agreed. "Ben—I'll pick you up for school tomorrow. Goodnight, Captain Jarnet."
"Bye, Luke," Ben said. "Thanks."
"Goodnight, Luke," Ben's father said. "Tell your father I apologize for any inconvenience."
"There was none. Really."
He waved goodbye and then gratefully departed.
"If you ask me," Luke said to Artoo as they entered the elevator, "it is about Ben's mother. For both of them. Ben's father was so upset about Ben walking out because that's what Ben's mother did. And Ben is upset about his father getting into another relationship where the woman might leave because that's what his mother did. Why can't they just communicate?"
Artoo made a long series of whistles that Luke didn't understand.
"I guess it's back to the serenity of my home life," Luke said with a touch of sarcasm.
The requested guard was still standing by the ship when Vader returned later that evening. The body of the embezzler was now secured in the palace morgue, and Palpatine had been well-pleased with his work. His final task was to remove all evidence of this mission from his ship's computer. That was something he should have done the moment he landed, but, fatherhood being what it was, he simply hadn't had the opportunity.
The guard stood straighter as Vader walked past him. The hangar bay was largely silent at this time of night, and every bootstep echoed in the confined space as Vader entered the ship. When he reached the cockpit, Vader came to an abrupt halt. There was unexpected—and unwelcome—company.
A certain astromech droid was between the pilot seats and plugged into the ship's computer.
The droid rotated his dome to find the source of the shout, but he did not disengage. Vader rushed to the controls and punched in the computer lockout security code. He then turned on the errant droid, who had the audacity to beep in protest.
"What do you think you're doing?!"
Artoo disconnected from the now-dead computer and shot backwards, his wheels rattling against the uneven surface of the deck plates. His retreat was followed by a loud shout from the guard.
Vader moved quickly to investigate. Artoo had barreled into the man, who was now trying to retrieve his blaster. Vader saved him the bother. He summoned the Force and grabbed the man by the throat, holding him in the air. He gasped in terror.
"How did this droid get on board the ship?"
Artoo screeched in horror.
The guard was too busy struggling. A fatal mistake. Vader started to squeeze harder, but he paused momentarily, remembering that being a parent did have certain responsibilities. He checked on Luke's location. Once satisfied that his son was not in the vicinity, he focused again on the guard. "You failed in your duty."
He closed his fist. The guard died soon after, and the body fell to the floor.
Vader whirled around to face Artoo, who had now fallen into silence.
"What did you obtain from the ship's computer?!"
Instead of answering the question, the droid whistled out one of his own.
"Threepio's location is irrelevant. You sneaked on board that ship and stole information."
Artoo beeped and whistled frantically. His distress eased Vader's anger by a small fraction. The two droids had been together for a long time. A very long time.
"More than any droid, you should appreciate that nothing in life is ever constant." Vader gestured behind him at the guard's corpse. "All living things die. Even droids. Threepio is gone. There is nothing you or I can do about it. I suggest you delete his reference from your memory banks and move on."
Artoo's response indicated he had no intention of moving on until he knew exactly what had become of his friend. His tone was sheer defiance.
"You have made a grave mistake by accessing the ship's computer." Vader raised a hand to point at Artoo. "I will erase your memory myself."
Vader started to reach for the Force, intending to use it to trigger Artoo's manual override switch. Instead, the space between them was suddenly filled with a smokescreen. In the midst of the fog, he heard the sound of Artoo's booster jets.
"You are only delaying the inevitable." Vader moved away from the smoke, looking upwards, trying to see where the droid had gone. Those jets had limited propulsion, but it was possible Artoo could have reached the ceiling. There were many places for a droid to hide up there, among the cranes and floodlight housing. He took a step backwards and found himself bumping against the dead body of the guard.
Vader glanced down in time to catch movement in his mask's peripheral vision. He started walking purposely down the line of ships.
"You cannot escape from me," Vader said, carefully checking under each wing. Artoo could be hiding anywhere. "I know every circuit and wire of you, droid."
The smoke had long since cleared, and Vader had walked the length of the hangar bay five times before he was willing to admit he was wrong. What made it worse was the knowledge that Artoo was very likely watching him search from wherever he had hidden himself and enjoying it immensely. He could call in security to seal the hangar and bring in scanning equipment, but the idea of telling security officers that a droid had got the best of him was not desirable.
Perhaps Artoo didn't even have any information of note, anyway. The droid could have only just started downloading when he'd interrupted him. Even if Artoo did have classified information, he had no political motivations. The chances of him falling into the hands of the Rebellion were almost non-existent.
Vader gave one last glance around and then walked towards the elevators. It seemed he would have to be patient. Artoo could not hide forever. In the meantime, he needed to arrange to have the guard's body removed.
Luke had resorted to doing what he usually did when he couldn't get to sleep. He was watching a Hutt soap opera channel. For some reason, the romantic entanglements of fictional Hutts seemed to lull him into gentle slumber every time. The room lights were off, and he had the covers pulled right up so only his nose and eyes peeked out over the top. His bed covers were lit by the moving holograms on the projector, currently a bluish color as Julala agonized over her engagement to Barba.
If Ben ever found out he watched this, he'd never live it down.
It was partly his friend's fault that he couldn't get to sleep, anyway. The embarrassment of having his father manhandle and threaten Ben was still in his thoughts. There was something more, though. An uneasiness in his mind, but Luke didn't know where it was coming from.
His eyes were just starting to close when his bedroom door slid open, hissing loudly. Luke scrambled wildly for the remote.
"I'm switching it off!" Luke called as his father's tall black form appeared in his room. The HoloNet projector became dark, and Luke lay flat. His father didn't leave as expected, and Luke looked up to find him standing over his bed. It seemed he hadn't come just to tell him to go to sleep.
"What?" Luke asked.
"Did you apologize to Ben's father?"
Luke sat up and nodded. "He said to tell you that he's sorry for any inconvenience. Or something like that. I told him you were on his side, anyway."
"You didn't have to be so mean to Ben."
"You considered that mean?"
"You said he was selfish and immature!"
"So he was."
"You know how scared he is of you!"
"So he should be. How did you expect me to react to your treating our living space like a refugee camp?"
Luke groaned and dragged the blankets over his head. Why did he even bother trying? His father was just plain infuriating. "Goodnight."
This was followed by the sound of his father moving towards the door. Luke waited stubbornly for a few seconds and then sat up.
His father turned back.
"I can't sleep if we're angry," Luke admitted.
"I am not angry with you." But his father returned to the bedside.
"You were before."
"There is a difference between disapproving of your behavior and being angry with you. In any case, I now consider the matter closed. I cannot help it if you are still angry with me."
"I wouldn't be if you'd just admit you didn't have to be so mean to Ben. His father wouldn't treat me like that."
"Then I must tell Captain Jarnet that he has my permission to berate you if he ever feels you need it."
"Great. As if I don't get enough of that from you."
"It's called 'being yourfather', Luke."
Luke frowned, but after a few seconds he broke into a small grin. Despite his annoyance, there was always a feeling of security when he was reminded that he did in fact have a father. It was something so many people took for granted, but Luke knew he never would.
"I would have thought you were used to my temperament by now," his father added. "Perhaps it is something else that is making you angry."
"Why? What else have you done?"
His father was a very difficult person to read. But Luke was sure his question made his father uncomfortable. There was something about the way the fingers on his right hand started curling and uncurling.
"I did not say I had done anything. I was referring to my abrupt departure the other day."
His father had promised he'd help him replace the stabilizers on his favorite speeder. Luke had been all ready with the tools when his father called him on his comlink to say the Emperor had given him a new mission. It was true it had been disappointing, but not enough to make him angry.
"If I'm used to your moods, then I'm even more used to your unexpected missions," Luke said, shrugging it off. He paused and then added, "Where did you go, anyway?"
"That is an Imperial secret."
"You can tell me." Luke grinned.
"Only if I wanted it on the front page of the Coruscant Enquirer."
"As if the Enquirer would ever publish anything as boring as where you went on your last mission. Not when they have deep space monster sightings and celebrity gossip."
"You have a point. Regardless, I can only say that it was an urgent matter and I dealt with it successfully."
"Can we work on the stabilizers tomorrow?"
"Good," Luke sunk back on the pillows, yawning.
"I take it you are no longer angry?"
Luke thought about the answer before replying. "No. I guess I've forgiven you." He always did, sooner or later.
His father remained silent, making no noise apart from the respirator for a long while. Luke noticed his fingers were clenching and relaxing again. When he started to say something, Luke listened closely, getting a sense that this was something important.
"Luke, there is something—" He broke off as abruptly as he'd started.
"Yes?" Luke started to sit up. "Something what?"
His father met his gaze briefly and then said, "It is late. You should be asleep." He raised his right hand, palm up, and the HoloNet remote came flying into it. He left it on the shelf near the door as he strode out of the room, moving so fast that his cape was trailing behind him. Luke was too tired to be bothered wondering what his father had been trying to say.