The space battle dragged on for hours. Vader flew in aimless circles, blasting enemy ships purely on instinct. All of this was insignificant when compared to his son. He should be by his side. Instead, thanks to the unintelligent minds who governed Vanbane, he was spending his time engaged in this pointless exercise.
His feeling of guilt was made all the worse by the knowledge he was the one responsible for transferring this disease to Coruscant. He had only touched one person on Vanbane - the embezzling administrator he'd been sent to kill. It would have taken mere seconds to sterilize his hands afterwards.
The Vanbanese were finally defeated when two additional Star Destroyers arrived, flooding the area with squadron after squadron of TIE Fighters.
Vader didn't remain to help with the cleanup. With the battle all but won, there was another duty he must see to. He could, of course, have a medic call Captain Jarnet and brief him on the situation. But he knew that, were their situations reversed, he would rather hear this news from someone who would appreciate the emotional impact.
It took a call to his Coruscant personal assistants to locate the man's comlink frequency. He was not surprised to see the call connect through the Meluvu HoloNet receiver. It was already evident that Captain Jarnet was not on Coruscant. Otherwise, Ben would never have left.
Captain Jarnet answered on the third beep. His eyes grew wide at the sight of his caller. First with surprise and then with worry.
"Lord Vader! Are the boys all right?!"
There was a desperate note in his voice that was not disguised through the small comlink speaker.
"I found them on Vanbane a few hours ago," Vader said.
"Yes. They are now on their way back to Coruscant." Vader paused, considering how to phrase the next part. Perhaps the straightforward approach was best. "They have been infected with a rare virus. Ben is at a more advanced stage than Luke."
"Oh, oh, my stars ..."
"It is serious but treatable," Vader continued. "They left here to rendezvous with a medical ship carrying antiviral drugs. The medical ship will take them to a private medcenter in Imperial City where they will be treated by Luke's regular medic."
"If I leave now, I can be on Coruscant within four hours!"
"I would appreciate it," Vader said. "A war has broken out on Vanbane. I cannot leave until it is contained."
"I understand. I'll be with them as soon as possible."
Captain Jarnet disconnected the call, leaving Vader staring at a blank projector.
An unfamiliar wall came into focus. The room was in semi-darkness, but a dim light from somewhere behind cast odd shadows. The pillow and sheets filled Luke's nose with an antiseptic scent that made him think of a medcenter. Vague scenes and sounds began playing through his mind. Being thrown to the ground by an earthquake in a forest. Sliding around a co-pilot's seat in a chaotic space battle. Seeing Ben lying on a medcenter bed, completely covered in the blue hexagonal rash. None of it seemed real, yet it was all too specific for a dream.
Luke started to roll over, but he stopped when he heard familiar voices.
"I'd always planned to sit down and tell you everything when you were old enough. But it never happened."
"I never asked."
That was Ben. Ben and his father. Their conversation sounded too serious to interrupt.
"I told myself that you weren't interested. That's what I wanted to believe. But she's part of you, even if you never met her. I should have told you earlier."
"I was so stupid to think I was transforming into an alien," Ben said. "I watch too many episodes of Galaxy's Scariest True Stories."
"Actually, Ben ... you weren't completely wrong. Your mother wasn't human. Well, not entirely."
Luke concentrated on keeping his breathing steady, feeling more than ever this wasn't a conversation he wanted to disturb.
"She was from Wivvan. They were originally human, but after centuries of isolation and interbreeding with another local population, they developed one or two traits that set them apart from the standard human. You'd never know by looking at them, though."
"Why didn't you mention this?"
"Well ... I thought I either had to tell you everything or nothing. Then, when I was ready to tell all, you didn't seem interested ..."
"I'm interested now. When did you meet her?"
Ben's father took a deep breath. His voice sounded younger as he began to tell the story.
"I was a Senate Guard at the time. She was the new P.A. for the Lolra senator. I used to enjoy watching her. The grace she carried herself with was mesmerizing. I started leaving flowers in places where I knew she'd find them. It didn't take her long to figure out they were from me - she'd caught me looking at her more than once. This carried on for weeks ... a relationship that was nothing but flowers and looks."
Ben made a groaning noise.
"All right, it took me ages to ask her out on a proper date. I wasn't shy, but I didn't think she would go out with a Senate Guard. She was so intelligent. Always reading something. I think you've already realized that you inherited your academic strength from her."
"Politics isn't my favorite subject, though."
"Well, there's still time to change your mind. Anyway, the Senate adjourned for the summer, and we spent every moment together. I was crazy with love. It was fantastic. We found out just how fantastic three months later, when she realized she was pregnant."
There was a brief silence.
"Wivvan women can only fall pregnant once in their lives. A single pregnancy normally yields at least three children, however, so she was surprised when a scan revealed just one. While we were dating, she'd talked a lot about how backward and isolated her culture was. I listened, but I never really listened. Until now. She'd only been allowed to travel offworld for her internship on the condition that she married the man her father had chosen when she returned. If her family ever learned of this pregnancy to an outsider, she would be an outcast.
"She had to leave her job and go into hiding at my apartment, lest someone notice her pregnancy and report back to her family. I told her it was all going to be fine. We could be married and live happily ever after. Inside, I felt terrified. I was completely unprepared for being a father, but I did my best to hide this for her sake. She had her depressed moments, especially during the first three months, but towards the end of the pregnancy, she was the happiest I'd ever seen her.
"Then, after you arrived, things started to go downhill. No, don't look like that, it wasn't your fault. You were a helpless baby. Your mother found herself staring at the same four walls every day without support from anyone. She was always paranoid of going out in public with you. She seemed to think her family would kill me if they ever found out.
"We started arguing because she thought I wasn't doing my fair share of taking care of you. On Wivvan, men are equipped to help with the breastfeeding, so of course I couldn't possibly live up to that expectation. I began spending evenings out with my friends just to escape the atmosphere at home. I told myself this would all go away when you were a little older. I was too insensitive to know anything about post-natal depression and too arrogant to ask anyone for help.
"Then came the final crack. The Empire was born. You'd think two people who worked for the government would have discussed politics before then, but we just had other things on our minds. Now it was unavoidable. The Lolra senator, the one she used to assist, was executed as a traitor. I can't describe your mother's anger over the situation. She said she wasn't living under a dictatorship and was going back to Wivvan, where it was safe. Suddenly, that family she'd said would treat her like an outcast were going to welcome her with open arms.
"I tried to explain why the Empire was the best thing that ever happened to the galaxy. Besides, it was crazy to talk about moving to Wivvan. My work was here. They didn't even allow outsiders to set foot on the tribal lands. It was quickly becoming clear that you looked like me. I was afraid her family would hurt you.
"Then I said the worst thing I ever could have said: she was a terrible mother who would put her politics above the safety of her son. If I'd known that was exactly what she really believed - that she was a terrible mother - I wouldn't have said it. But as I said, I never really listened.
"Things became heated. I ended up sleeping on the couch. When I woke up the next morning, she was gone. I was sure she'd be back. I couldn't imagine her leaving you. But days went by ... I thought she was just teaching me a lesson about how much work it took to look after you. But then a week had gone by. I wanted to report a missing person to the authorities, but how would it look when I said the mother of my child had been missing for a week, and I'd only just mentioned it?
"When I'd grown desperate enough to actually do it, I received a brief note telling me that she was on Wivvan. She also said she was a bad mother and she'd only end up hurting you if she stayed.
"It took me years to recover. I buried myself in my work. But it's true what they say. If things don't kill you, they make you stronger."
"So you never heard from her again?"
"Not one word. Of course, I haven't exactly been in regular contact. I assume she's made a good life for herself on Wivvan."
"How would you feel if she showed up again?
"I don't know. It's been too long for there to still be anger. If anything, I'm angry with myself for being too immature to make our relationship work. Never, for one moment, have I ever regretted meeting your mother. Being a father changed me, Ben. I like the person it changed me into. Your mother missed out on so much by not being present in your life. I pity her for that. Do you want to meet her?"
There was no reply from Ben for a while. When he spoke, there was no hesitation in his voice. "No. I thought I was ready, but I'm not. Maybe when I'm older, but not now."
Luke wondered if he'd take the same view in Ben's position. It would be hard to resist his natural curiosity. Uncle Owen used to say he had more curiosity than sense.
"Well, you know your boring old Dad is always going to be there for you," Ben's father said. "No matter what, buddy."
The shadows on the wall merged into an embrace. Luke turned his face into the pillow, smiling to himself. For once, he didn't feel jealous of Ben's relationship with his father. His friend had found what he was looking for.
"How is he?"
The question came out sounding like an interrogation rather than parental concern. The tone didn't affect Doctor Leeson's calm demeanor. He was probably used to this.
"He's still asleep, sir. No change from thirty minutes ago."
Had it really only been thirty minutes since he'd last called? It felt like an hour.
"Does he still have a fever?"
"Yes. It's very mild, though, nothing to worry about. Ben responded well to treatment, and I expect Luke to do the same."
"He is under constant monitoring?"
"Yes, sir. If you'd like, I can hook up the biofeed to the HoloNet so you can monitor his status from there."
That sounded like something only an obsessed neurotic would do.
"Very well," Vader said, saying the words before his mind had fully agreed to do so. He was on the verge of suggesting the doctor setup a video feed as well, when the doorcom chimed in the background. Only Admiral Wern would dare interrupt him in the comms chamber.
"I will contact you later for a further update," Vader said.
Probably not what the doctor wanted to hear, but he nodded anyway.
"Call me as often as you feel the need, sir."
If he did that, he'd have to call every three seconds. Vader disconnected the call and moved to the door. As expected, it was Admiral Wern. It was now the middle of the night, shipboard time, and the admiral's face showed signs of fatigue.
"Lord Vader, the Emperor has requested you make contact."
His master was no doubt seeking a status report. His distraction over Luke had left him not entirely clear on their situation himself.
"Has our scout team completed their mission?"
"Yes, sir. The government buildings have been abandoned."
How typical. In the face of their inevitable defeat, the various Vanbane ruling factions had fled. Vader was tempted to order the entire surface carpet bombed, just to ensure they were destroyed.
"The earthquakes continue to escalate in magnitude," the admiral continued, "and the civilian population is in panic."
"The Rebel's destruction of the mine must have destabilized the planet's surface." It was ironic the Rebels had now achieved precisely what young Uleti was convinced the Empire was going to do.
"Very likely, sir. We are awaiting the arrival of a science ship to conduct a full investigation." The admiral swallowed. "Senators are beginning to ask questions. Media ships are dropping out of hyperspace."
"I will speak to the Emperor," Vader said. "Deploy the fleet to ensure no unauthorized ship leaves or lands on this planet."
Vader turned back into the comms room, struggling to keep all the facts of their situation clear in his mind. The Emperor must not see his distraction. He had a minor setback when he began entering Doctor Leeson's comlink frequency instead of the Emperor's, but he soon corrected the mistake.
"My master," Vader said, bowing in greeting to the holographic image. "The battle has been won. Our troops are dealing with the remainder of the droid armies, supported by an air assault."
"Good. And the leaders of the ruling factions?"
"They have fled. The population itself is in a state of widespread panic."
"The earthquakes continue?"
"Yes," Vader said. "In increasing magnitude. They are centered around the remains of the mine."
"News of these earthquakes has now reached the senate," the Emperor said, leaning his fingers together. "Some senators are convinced you have used excessive force in your dealings with Vanbane."
"News organizations are arriving in the system," Vader advised. "What do you plan to do, master?"
The Emperor smiled, showing his teeth.
"Exactly what these senators want. You will withdraw all troops from the surface, and the fleet will depart. Media and aid agencies will then be allowed unrestrained access. As the galaxy sees the damage caused by the Rebellion in intimate detail, Vanbane will become a living testament to the folly of defying the Empire."
Vader had only heard one word. Depart.
"It will be done, my master."
"Join me on Coruscant when you are ready. The further you are from the situation there, the happier the senate will be."
Making the senate happy was usually against Vader's principles, but at this moment, he knew he would give every senator a million credits in exchange for the ability to teleport to Coruscant.
"I will be there as soon as possible, master."
Luke sat up so fast his head objected with a stab of pain. It was immediately obvious what had woken him. A medical droid leaned over the bed, adjusting a monitor.
"What time is it?" Luke asked, rubbing his head just above his ear.
"1436," the droid said. "How are you feeling?"
Luke glanced at the other bed in the room. Ben and his father were gone.
"Like I need to use the refresher," Luke said, pushing back the bedclothes. The droid pointed with an appendage towards an adjacent door.
"You will find the necessary facilities in there, Master Skywalker."
"Just call me Luke," Luke said, stumbling across the room towards the door.
When he returned, he found the droid had left. A flashing light on the bedside table attracted Luke's attention, and he walked over and picked up the datapad. It was a message from Ben.
Hi, Luke. I was hoping you'd wake up, but you're still snoring like a Wookiee and showing no signs of stopping. I woke up last night when my father arrived at the medcenter. Guess what? Your father called him personally to tell him what was going on. My Dad's girlfriend was with him when he took the call. I don't think they're going out anymore. I might start to like your father one of these days.
I told my father the truth. Well, almost everything. I called Kavig when I had a chance. Turned out he left Vanbane with Zev, and they managed to get into hyperspace. Zev dropped him at a remote spaceport some distance away. Kavig's boss had to come and pick him up. Unfortunately, there was no chance of retrieving his work ship, but the money they received from the Rebellion just covers the cost of replacing it.
My Dad also told me the real story about my mother. It was what I expected. But I do know I'm not ready to meet her. I don't know if I ever will be.
Sorry for giving you this foul virus. Apparently it's gone from my body now, so I'm sure you'll wake up healthy as well. Let me know if you're picking me up for school tomorrow.
"School?!" His friend must have caught another disease. No one in their right mind would go straight back to school after what they'd been through.
Luke put the datapad back on the table and picked up the HoloNet remote. After taking the time to get comfortable on his bed, he leaned back on the pillows and entered the code for the Hutt soap opera channel. The new episode where Meka reunites with her long-lost twin sister should be available by now.
But instead of 'Hutt Loves and Lives', the wall-sized projector lit up with a commercial, urging parents to talk to their children before the Rebellion did.
Luke poked the off button and threw the remote hard across the room. It slammed into the wall right beside the door just as a familiar human doctor came through it. He stopped and stared at the fallen remote in surprise.
Luke looked aside, embarrassed at his outburst, yet still angry over the cause of it. Doctor Leeson picked up the remote and walked over to place it on the bedside table.
"It's good to see you're regaining your strength," his medic said, studying one of the monitors. "Mind if I double check your biodata?"
Luke silently sat up and allowed the doctor to examine him.
Doctor Leeson concentrated on his medical tools for a while. Then, seeming to sense that Luke's poor mood was the more pressing issue, he stopped what he was doing and spoke gently.
"Lieutenant Dorany came by to see you this morning. He was impressed with your snoring."
"Lev! He's okay?"
"Yes. They caught the virus early in his case. He was smart enough to go and see a medic as soon as he saw the rash."
"Hey, I didn't even know I had this thing until my father found me on Vanbane! It was Ben who wouldn't see a medic."
"Speaking of your father," Doctor Leeson said, resuming his work. "He's been calling me constantly for updates on your condition. I think he's going to be ripe for some exploitation when he returns."
"Not likely," Luke scoffed. "Once he realizes I'm not about to die, he's going to start yelling at me. Even though he was the one who lied to me. More than once."
"I'm sure you'll forgive each other. Your temperature is normal, by the way."
"That's part of the problem," Luke said, pointing at Doctor Leeson. "I always forgive him. He takes advantage of it."
"Well, Luke, I've seen many dying people in my life. None of them ever lamented a time they forgave their father."
Luke raised his right eyebrow. "This isn't my death bed. And most people don't have a Sith Lord father."
His doctor chuckled. "Point taken. Do you mind if I speak off the record for a moment?"
"Sure," Luke said. "I never keep a record."
"Before I met your father, I was convinced he was a droid. The media portrayed him as so cold and mechanical, I wasn't alone in my theory."
"I still wonder," Luke said, smirking.
"Now I'm almost positive he's a living, vulnerable human being, just like you and me. You know why?"
Luke was silent. The reason was obvious.
"You've changed him, Luke. I have no doubt that your ability to forgive him has played a large part in that. You not only drive him to do better, purely by your unwavering belief that he can do better, but you refuse to let yourself mire in anger and misery over the ways he has wronged you. That shows incredible strength of character. Luke, I admire you."
Luke blinked in response, trying to take this in. Strength of character? Admiration?
"It's not exactly like that," Luke said. "I still get angry, even after I've forgiven him."
"You wouldn't be human if you didn't. My point is that your ability to forgive doesn't make you a pushover, Luke. It makes you are better person than most."
"Thanks," Luke said quietly, feeling touched. Doctor Leeson was always so nice.
"The virus has gone. You need to rest and stay hydrated while your body recovers."
Luke eagerly pulled up his shirt, but the sight disappointed him. "The rash is still there!"
"It will gradually fade over the next three weeks. Now, lie back, relax, and try not to get too angry with the HoloNet. Those remotes are expensive, you know."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to almost hit you."
Doctor Leeson smiled. "I'm sure." He started to leave, but Luke spoke again.
"Hey, um, did my father say anything about when he was coming back?"
"No, he didn't. He hasn't called in a while, actually, which is odd. Although, I did hear something on the news about the Imperial fleet withdrawing from Vanbane." He gave Luke a knowing look. "You're not missing him, are you?"
Luke shrugged. "I was just wondering how much longer my peace and quiet would last."
"Fair enough." Doctor Leeson's comlink had begun to beep, so he gave Luke a wave and left him alone to think.
Vader had never been more grateful for the speed modifications he'd made to his Eta-2. The fleet wouldn't be leaving Vanbane for another three hours, by which time Vader hoped to be on Coruscant.
Artoo had not made a sound since they left the Vanquisher. Threepio was normally the more talkative of the pair, but Artoo never failed to speak his mind when he had something to say. Considering the events of the last day, it seemed impossible to Vader that Artoo had nothing processing in his droid mind.
Still, it wasn't as if he initiated any conversation. For a brief second, he considered telling Threepio he regretted the droid's capture by the Rebels, but Threepio appeared completely recovered from the incident. After having a brief argument with Artoo and expressing how pleased he was to be going home, he shut down, obviously seeing no reason to be active during the journey.
Artoo, visible through the cockpit window, rested in the astromech socket. He had his eye turned away from the ship, watching the blue swirl of hyperspace.
"Artoo, what is the fuel conversion efficiency?" Vader asked.
Artoo whistled a reply, and the words popped up on the monitor.
So, the droid was still talking to him. Perhaps it was worth trying a more personal conversation.
"Thank you for contacting me when Luke was in danger."
Artoo didn't reply immediately. Vader was beginning to think the droid really was capable of holding grudges when text appeared on the monitor.
Does this mean you're not going to wipe my memory?
Vader was reminded of Luke's last words before he left the Vanquisher. The accusation was clear in both cases. He had wronged them, but they responded with loyalty. He tightened his grip around the pitch controls. They didn't understand. He already had enough guilt and self-loathing to last a dozen lifetimes. Suggesting he should feel more guilt was pointless. No matter how much he hated the things he had done, he was no longer capable of being anyone other than Darth Vader.
"There is no point wiping your memory," Vader said. "The location of the mine on Vanbane will soon be public knowledge as the site of a traitorous Rebel attack."
Artoo said nothing. Vader assumed he was pleased at the news.
"There is one thing I do not understand," Vader said after thinking over the situation. "How did you get to Vanbane?"
That is classified information.
Vader almost smiled. For a second, and only a second, he allowed himself to remember the deep friendship Anakin Skywalker used to share with this droid.
"Artoo, if you had cells instead of circuits, the Force would be strong with you."
Artoo responded with a chuckling noise. No translation came up on the monitor.
Lying around in bed just made Luke feel sick, so he showered, dressed, and resorted to wandering around the medcenter. Unfortunately, Doctor Leeson had banished him back to his room, apparently worried he might decide to make a break for it. He resorted to sitting in a beanbag and browsing a collection of holocomics until he was interrupted by some strangely familiar voices.
"Are you quite certain we're allowed in here, Artoo?"
This was followed by a high-pitched whistle.
"Please don't get us into trouble! I've had more than enough trouble this week ..."
Luke wondered if he was hearing things. The room doors then slid open, clearing up any final doubts as to the identity of his visitors.
"Master Luke! Oh, I'm so glad we found you!" Threepio said, walking forward. "We went to the wrong room, and you weren't there. I thought you'd been abducted."
Artoo made a derisive beep.
"Threepio, don't ever change," Luke said, grinning affectionately at his droid. He attempted to rise out of the beanbag but soon gave up, deciding he might as well stay sitting. "Wow, you two look fantastic!"
Both droids were gleaming under the overhead lights.
"Yes, the engineers on the Star Destroyer did a very fine job," Threepio said. "I feel like a new droid."
Artoo rolled closer to Luke, allowing him to reach out and touch his dome. He beeped out a question.
"Artoo wishes to know how you are feeling, Master Luke."
"Fine," Luke said. "Just tired. Haven't got much of an appetite, but that will change. I'm just so glad to see you guys." He shook his head. "You know, there've been times this week when I thought I was never going to see either of you again."
His voice wavered towards the end as the emotional strain became too much to ignore. Artoo beeped softly.
"Well, Master Luke, I have no plans to board any starships ever again," Threepio said. "Especially those owned by your father."
"And Artoo says the next time he leaves Coruscant on a mission, he'll leave a note so you know where he is."
"Good idea," Luke said. "Or better yet, don't leave me behind!"
"I heard that, young one."
Luke glanced up, finding his father standing in the doorway. The sight of him filled Luke with both relief and sadness. They stared at each other for a moment, and then Luke looked back at the floor.
Artoo gave Threepio a nudge in the legs. "Artoo and I will wait in the corridor," Threepio said, moving quickly for the door.
His father walked into the room, letting the door close behind him. Luke hauled himself to his feet. His father made him feel short at the best of times without adding to the situation.
"You are looking better," his father said, coming to stand in front of him. "Your medic says you can go home."
Luke shrugged. "Let's go, then."
Neither of them moved. Luke stared at his boots and began adjusting his tunic. His father's breathing sounded very loud in the silence. Luke had just moved on to scratching the back of his head when his father finally spoke.
Luke's head lifted, and he raised an eyebrow in anticipation. If he hadn't known better, he'd have said there was a hint of an apology in his father's tone.
"After three and a half years of this parenting venture, I believe I understand you fairly well. I knew you would stop at nothing if you believed one of your friends needed your help. A fact well-illustrated by your journey to Vanbane with Ben." His father paused.
Luke didn't say anything. He was too busy wondering who this person was who appeared to have replaced his father.
"I knew how much Threepio meant to you," his father continued. "I also knew you would have gone after him if you felt he was in danger. I can see now that my decision to withhold his fate from you was a mistake, but it was made with your wellbeing in mind."
Luke was still too surprised to speak. Whether his father had been apologizing or not, the tone was gone by the time he spoke again. The more familiar father was back.
"In the interests of moving forward, I wish to propose a deal."
Luke folded his arms. He knew enough to be wary of his father's deals.
"You overlook my omission of a few specific details concerning your droids," his father continued, "and I will overlook your reckless behavior that nearly resulted in the deaths of you and your friend."
"The droids weren't the only thing you lied about. What about Uleti?" Luke said quietly.
"I did not lie about the girl."
"Okay, you misled me as to your intentions. You're just like a politician."
His father straightened at his words, as if he was in physical pain.
"You know what your problem is?" Luke said. "You spend too much time around the corpse. He's rubbing off on you."
His father raised a hand. "Enough, Luke. Do not insult me." He paused and then spoke in a tone with a note of incredulity. "And don't refer to the Emperor with such disrespect."
Luke rubbed his hand across his mouth, hiding a smile. Then he met his father's masked gaze and spoke in a serious tone.
"What if I say no to your deal? You'll punish me, but I don't get to punish you."
"You already have punished me, Luke. In a cruel and unusual manner."
Luke was momentarily silenced by his father's words. He knew what he meant. It was touching, to know his father really did worry when he was in danger.
"Why are you even making this deal?" Luke asked. His father couldn't blame him for being suspicious. Not after this week. "Why do you care if I'm angry with you?"
"Are you going to give me an answer?"
"Are you going to alter this deal tomorrow?" Luke countered.
"That depends on whether you have any further warzone excursions planned."
Luke shrugged. "Nothing on my calendar."
"Then this deal will hold."
"Can I also have a raise in my allowance?"
"No. I don't know why you need all the money I already give you."
That had been pushing it, anyway. Luke tried to remain stoic, but after ten seconds of silent anticipation from his father, Luke broke into a full smile and offered his father his hand. "All right. I'll accept your deal."
His father raised his hand to return the handshake, but Luke pulled his hand back at the last second. "Wait. You're not carrying any more viruses, are you?"
"That is a risk you will have to take."
"Probably the least risky part of accepting a deal with you," Luke mumbled, completing the handshake. He reached up to stifle a yawn as he did so. "I feel like I've been crushed in a trash compactor several times," he added, rubbing his eyes once he had both hands free. "I'm so tired, I'll need three weeks off school to recover." He held up his hand, palm up. "Where are the speeder keys? Can I fly us home?"
His father reached out, lowering Luke's hand and leaving his own to rest on the side of Luke's shoulder.
"You can rest for two days. I am sure you will be more than ready to return to school by then. If not, I have some added incentive."
"What incentive?" Luke asked. His mind was picturing two days worth of lectures about the Rebellion.
"I was expecting you to mention this as a condition of our deal, but you drive an easier bargain than I thought."
"Tell me already!" Patience was not Luke's strong point. Especially when it came to his father.
"I will no longer insist that you wear an Imperial Pride badge."
Luke felt a surprised grin form on his face. "What? Really?"
"Yes. It has not escaped my notice that it would have been a better day for the Rebellion if I had not arrived at Vanbane. I believe the Empire is in your debt."
The idea that he was somehow involved in the conflict disturbed Luke. He started to open his mouth to argue it had really been Artoo who called his father, and he wasn't entirely convinced destroying the mine was a bad idea. But he swallowed the words, deciding it was probably in his own interests to stay silent. This time, at least.
"So does this mean we can not talk about politics for a while?" Luke asked. "And just be regular father and son?"
"Regular father and son?"
His father breathed through a few cycles and then said, "I believe I am a week overdue on my promise to help you upgrade the stabilizers in your speeder. Perhaps, if you are not too busy resting, we can rectify that."
"Wouldn't miss it," Luke said, leading the way out of the room.