A/N: Sadly, all, this is the end. If it's any consolation this chapter is one of the longer ones. It's been a fun ride! Thank you very much to all my readers, and especially to my reviewers; you make the writing and revising worth it. :) One more shoutout to my longsuffering beta Mathematica. :D
Thanks to the Empire and its embryonic doomsday weapon, and thanks to the fact that her nasty case of Dymian flu forced her to spend three hours of every morning hooked up to an anti-nausea IV in the medbay, Leia had spent all her free time this week in closed deliberations with the rest of the Alliance High Command, including the Council and the chief strategists. Despite having been promoted clear to General by Madine (who'd all but rubbed his hands with triumphant glee), Han didn't rate high enough on the food chain to warrant a seat in any of these ultra-classified meetings. As the Alliance in its wisdom had not yet assigned its newest general a command, he was left to speculate, tinker on the Falcon, and distract himself by tormenting Fred Antilles whenever possible.
With Luke gone to powwow with that mysterious Yoda character, he had to speculate by himself, but Chewie and Lando kept him company on the Falcon while several of the Rogue Squadron pilots joined him to conspire against Fred. Two fictitious letters for the Princess had arrived from her absent fiancé, both penned by Wedge with Luke's signature falsified by Hobbie. They had also arranged for Fred to intercept Leia's purported reply, composed by Tycho on the grounds that he was the only other Alderaanian available. Han had even invited the creep over to the Falcon and asked for his help writing Leia a love note, which had won him a regulation salute from the notoriously undisciplined Wes Janson.
That had been just this morning. Han added Fred's name to the signature line after he left and forwarded the message to Leia in the medbay; it ought to perk her up. But it left him with nothing else to do today but tune up the Falcon's aft shield projector. Han hated tuning up shield projectors. They never cooperated—
He looked up in surprise from his perch atop the Falcon's hull and saw Luke sprinting into the hangar, still wearing his orange flight suit and carrying his helmet under one arm. His sour attitude brightened. Luke had a great hand with shield projectors. "Hey, kid! Come on, I'm just about to start on this projector, I could use ya—"
"Later," Luke panted. "Where's Leia?"
Han set down his tool kit, frowning. "Just getting out of the medbay, I think. Why?"
"It's important," Luke said. Han took one look at his face and had to agree. He'd never seen Luke look so distracted. He yanked his com out of his belt and tossed it to the kid.
"See if she'll answer, I dunno—"
Luke thumbed the com on and punched in Leia's frequency, then tapped the yellow emergency button to add an urgent tag to his call. Han raised his eyebrows.
"Han?" Leia's anxious voice bubbled out of the speaker. "What is it?"
"It's Luke," Luke said. "Can you meet Han and me at the Falcon? It's important."
There was a taut pause. "Alright," Leia answered. "On my way."
Leia still looked gray when she arrived aboard the Falcon; the Dymian flu hadn't fully receded yet. Luke paced back and forth across the rec room until she got there. The poor kid looked so upset that Han didn't have the heart to do anything but suggest he zip himself out of that stifling flight suit. Leia started to give Luke a welcome-back hug, then stopped as she took in his expression. She turned around and locked the door, then sat down. Han didn't much like her expression either.
"What is it?" She sounded unusually gentle, as if she suspected Luke of being terminally ill.
Luke swallowed, paced several more steps, and finally sat down. From the look on his face you'd have thought the kid was going to his death, rather than talking to a couple of good friends. "I never told either of you what happened between me and Vader at Bespin," he rasped.
Han nodded with more understanding. Leia had given him a quick recap on Luke's tussle with Vader; it had to have been hell for the kid, seeing as the guy had murdered his dad. But what else had gone on that even Leia didn't know about?
Leia watched Luke intently, doubtless wondering the same thing. "Yes?"
"He told me something about my father," Luke said, "that I didn't know."
"And you believed that cretin?" Han couldn't stop his incredulous outburst. Leia glared at him. "Sorry."
"I asked Master Yoda about it," Luke went on, "and he told me it was true."
"What was true?" Leia was still using that sickbay-appropriate quiet voice.
Luke stared at the floor for a moment, then gave a huge sigh and whispered, "My father's not dead. He's…Vader."
Han stared. Blinked. Then attempted to clean the obvious wax buildup out of his ears, and said, "I'm sorry, did you just say Vader is your old man?"
Luke, pressing his temples wearily, managed a weak nod.
Han glanced at Leia to see if she agreed with his assessment that Luke ought to be rushed to the psych ward. The blankness in her stare had acquired an awful hint of belief.
"Well," Han said, since no one else seemed about to move on, "I didn't see that one coming."
"It gets worse," Luke muttered.
"Lemme guess," Han said, trying to inject a smidge of optimism, "the Emperor's your cousin."
Luke didn't crack a smile. At this point he was probably afraid it might be true. He picked his eyes up off the floor and set them down on Leia. "You see…I've got a twin sister."
Han raised his eyebrows, about to make a joking suggestion as to who said twin sister might be. Then he realized that Luke's eyes hadn't budged from Leia. He glanced rapidly back and forth as understanding dawned. His mouth opened automatically, but this time he could think of nothing to say.
"I know," Leia murmured. "Somehow…I've always known…"
"I'm sorry," Luke whispered into the subsequent silence.
Leia had been staring into the distance, but at that her attention snapped back. "Don't be stupid," she chided. "I get a brother out of the deal. And a fine one at that!" She leaned over and wrapped him in a tight hug for a long several minutes. Han dug his hands into his pockets and attempted not to watch.
Abruptly Leia leaned out and snapped, "And you've been keeping all that to yourself for six months?"
"Only the part about Vader," Luke mumbled, shamefaced. "I didn't know about you until a couple days ago."
Leia threw up her hands. "Why didn't you tell me? No wonder you've looked like hell ever since Bespin! Fierfek, you stubborn men sometimes…" She trailed off, kneading her eyebrow and shaking her head in despair.
"Well, Your Royalness," Han broke in, "if I ever discover I'm related to a homicidal psychopath, I'll let you know straightaway." He added a devilish smirk, hoping to alleviate the tension.
"The nine hells you will," Leia told him, and planted a lingering kiss on him. Han glanced at Luke as she drew back, but the kid looked nothing so much as relieved. Han reached over and clapped him on the back.
"Don't worry, kid," he announced. "Just cause your sadistic dad tortured us and froze me in carbonite is no reason for all of us to quit bein' friends. Right, Leia?"
"Right," she said firmly. She scowled at Luke. "And don't you ever let me hear you were worried we'd ditch you at the nearest Imperial outpost once we found out."
"Thanks," Luke whispered. Then, with bravado that was at least half false, he added, "I wasn't."
"Well," Leia sighed at length, settling down in between the two of them, "you boys do realize what this means."
"Yeah," Han moaned. "I'll have to ask Darth Vader for permission to date his daughter."
Leia smacked him on reflex. "We'll have to stop leading on Fred Antilles."
Luke nodded. "Too bad," he said, not sounding as though he thought it was anything of the sort. "The boys'll be disappointed," he added with more regret.
"Hold on," Han murmured. He leaned back for a moment, then looked up with a wicked grin. "I've got a better idea."
Dangerous thoughts had begun cropping up in Karlino Van Hermahutt's devious cranium. Luke Skywalker's weeklong absence from Home One had merely proved the truth of the ancient adage about distance making the heart grow fonder. After he'd read the latest medbay logs (in which the Princess' name had made an appearance every morning for the past three weeks), that was no surprise. Now that Skywalker had returned, Karlino could feel Lord Vader's invisible death-grip cinching slowly around his larynx. In his darkest moments, the word "defection" seemed to be circling him. Like a ravenous Nubian gooberfish.
Karlino glanced down at the ominous little note, handwritten on flimsy, which a golden protocol droid had delivered to him that morning. On the sheet a delicate hand had inscribed Mr Antilles, you are cordially invited to a small gathering of friends to celebrate the safe return of Cmdr. Skywalker, 1700 Galactic Standard Time, Quarters 1233-B. At the bottom was the Princess' signature. It was now 1655 GST, and Karlino was mechanically making his way to the Princess' quarters as if to his own hanging. Which was appropriate, really; strangulation no doubt featured prominently in his immediate future. Karlino tugged at his collar. Again.
He rapped on the Princess' hatch. It was opened by the lovely political dissident herself, beaming at him as she ushered him inside. Within had assembled all the usual associates of the bride-and-groom-to-be: Solo and Calrissian talking nonchalantly in a corner, Skywalker and the Wookiee bickering over a tray of snacks, and an assortment of Rogue pilots in the midst of a sabacc game. Tycho Celchu appeared to be winning, leaving Antilles, Janson, and Klivian to mutter darkly about the dubitable trustworthiness of Imperial defectors. All of them set up a round of greetings for him, which scraped against the distraught spy's nerves like a cheese grater on his toenails.
"Come join the game, Antilles?" suggested Antilles.
"I could stand to win another hundred or so," Celchu said.
"Actually," interjected the Princess, "now that we're all here, Luke and I have a special announcement to make. Threepio?"
The golden protocol droid reappeared, passing around little glasses, into which Skywalker began emptying a bottle of purple Kuvian champagne to many appreciative comments. Having topped off all the cups, he sidled up next to the Princess and wrapped an arm around her waist.
"As you all know," the Princess said, "Luke and I have become very, very close and will soon be joined as one." They paused to gaze adoringly into each others' eyes. Karlino was so disturbed he didn't notice the abrupt fit of coughing that afflicted several of the partygoers at once. Neither did he observe the treacherous twitch at the corner of Skywalker's mouth.
"But recently," Skywalker continued as the Princess snuggled even closer to his side, "we received some surprising news that we just confirmed with the medbay. We've always felt very connected by the fact that we were both adopted as infants."
"What we never suspected," the Princess concluded, "was that we were biological twins!"
The hope that suddenly illuminated the core of Karlino Van Hermahutt's soul was almost unbearable. Could it be? Could it be?
"Yes," said Skywalker, tucking his newfound sister against him so closely they might have been conjoined, "now we realize that our future union will be even closer than we'd ever dreamed!"
Everybody broke into applause and hoots of approval. Solo lofted his glass and called out, "Here's to a family truly reunited!"
Karlino stared at the beaming pair for one further moment. Then, no longer caring about subtlety, he snatched the champagne bottle off the table, drained it, and staggered out of the cabin.
No sooner had the door slid shut behind his back than the whole lot of them burst into riotous laughter. Leia swept a mock curtsey to the Rogues' cries of "Encore!" Luke buried his flaming face in his hands while Wes pounded him on the back.
"One in a million, Boss!" he crowed, clearly about to explode with pride for his commander's wholly uncharacteristic performance. "Right, Solo?"
Han, paralyzed with spasms of laughter over in the corner, couldn't do more than nod. Lando applauded them both with a broad grin.
"Now will you let us stop this stupid charade?" Luke groaned.
"You know, Boss, after a show like that, I think we will," Wedge said.
"Of course, we won't let you live it down," Hobbie reminded him, toasting him with what remained of his champagne. "But we do promise not to tell your daddy, how's that?"
Leia's renegade streak had taken like a magnet to Han's idea for putting a final one over on Fred Antilles, and she'd talked Luke into it by promising to transfer Antilles to another ship the next day. He suspected her of using a Jedi mind trick. In any case, he'd sat down with Lando and the Rogues to diagram his revised family tree before getting them in on the scheme. He wasn't certain Lando believed him, but the Rogues found the whole thing vastly entertaining. Far from rejecting him, they seemed to take perverse pride in the revelation that their CO was, in literal point of fact, Sithspawn. Everyone had agreed to Solo's scheme with relish, leaving Luke with no alternative but to feign incest and hope none of this ever got back to Vader.
"You tell any of this to anybody," Luke growled, "and I'll send you packing off to my daddy, Klivian."
"Look on the bright side, Boss," Tycho said. "I think ol' Fred Antilles has finally snapped!"
Lieutenant Kyler Mespa, who had just a few days ago received both a promotion and a transfer to the Imperial Intelligence Service, trembled the whole way back down the bridge catwalk and stumbled into his work station.
"Nicely done," said his right-hand neighbor, Lieutenant Tooma. "I've seen newbies faint before they ever got to him."
Mespa, freshly delivered of the afternoon Intel update for the commander of the Imperial Navy, glanced towards the far end of the bridge, where the hulking black-caped terror lurked in the flesh (so to speak). "Gods, he just reeks of scary."
"Sure thing," said Tooma. "Good news is he usually takes it out on the brass if he gets mad about something in Intel. So all you gotta do is make sure you don't get promoted."
"Too bad nobody told me that before they pinned on my hash marks," Mespa muttered. "From now on I'm keeping my nose the hell outta—"
"Ssssssh! He's coming!"
Mespa typed frantic nonsense into his console until the bootstrides faded into the distance, then blew out a drained sigh. "Sithspawn, I hope I get transferred."
Vader scanned the file the Intel lieutenant had brought him. Agent Van Hermahutt had submitted his report two weeks early.
This, he told himself dispassionately, had better be good.
In his quarters, he loaded the holofile into his new projector. It held one lonely holodoc this time, unaccompanied by the usual supporting files. He played it. Van Hermahutt appeared in miniature, looking dreadfully frazzled. "My lord, I regret to inform you that my mission has proven impossible," the agent rasped. "Organa and Skywalker are determined to remain together despite any obstacles. I'd include supporting evidence except I've only got five minutes to reach the next supply shuttle out of here."
"What?" Vader roared at the hologram. "I did not give you permission to leave your post!"
"I'm tendering my resignation effective immediately with intentions to flee to the Unknown Regions," Van Hermahutt gibbered, "but then there isn't much more to report anyway. Skywalker and Organa ought to be getting married in about a week per Alderaanian custom. Anyway even if they don't, I'm forced by other recent developments to conclude that their relationship will be permanent."
Inexplicably, Vader felt a sudden, dire foreboding.
"Since about the same time as Solo's return," the agent whimpered, "I've heard that Princess Organa has been ill. Specifically, I determined that she has been regularly ill each and every morning for the past three weeks. The reasonable explanation is, of course, pregnancy—"
Darth Vader passed out on the spot.
About a week later, on the forest moon of Endor…
The hatch of the AT-AT hissed open, and there—finally!—escorted by a bevy of guards, stood his wayward son. Vader charged forward and dismissed the escort almost before the officer had a chance to report anything or hand over Luke's lightsaber. Then he seized Luke by the arm and hauled him down the corridor of the landing platform to a slightly more private spot.
"You know," Luke said with nervous bravado, "dragging me around is not going to convince me to turn to the Dark Side—"
"Forget the Dark Side," Vader snapped. "Is your sister pregnant?"
Luke's eyes went wider than some laser cannon barrels Vader had known. "Sis—preg—wait! H-how do you know about that?"
"She is pregnant?" Vader screeched.
"No!" Luke yelped. "Not that I know of anyway! Why the nine hells would you think that?"
Vader's obsessive grip on Luke's arm relaxed a bit. "If you are certain that neither you nor that reprobate Solo has—wait!" His grip cinched on the boy's biceps again. "How long have you known she was your sister?"
"Not even a week! How long have you known?"
Vader, ignoring the question, forced himself to dial back the intensity of his grasp again and assume a more moderate tone. "In that case, perhaps your conduct with her can be excused."
"What conduct?" Luke asked nervously.
"Do not play coy with me, son," Vader snapped, pointing a finger from his free hand at the boy's nose. "I have holographic evidence that the two of you were romantically involved!"
Luke gaped at him, trying to feign innocence but looking guilty as sin. "I—I don't know what you're talking about—"
"Perhaps the kiss you shared on Hoth rings a bell? Or your one-on-one dinners together? Or your recent wedding rehearsal?" Vader's tone launched from sarcasm into ire. "Or the multiple warnings I attempted to send you? Or possibly the agent I commissioned to separate the two of you? Or—"
Luke's eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. You don't mean that creepy Fred Antilles guy?"
Vader paused mid-rant. "I believe that was his alias, yes."
Luke flung his bound hands in the air. "And here we thought he was stalking Leia. Unbelievable. And he never figured out we were playing him the whole time—I'm going to kill Wes, this is all his—wait! You did send those ridiculous hotline messages! And you broke Han out of Jabba's palace! Force, wait till Leia hears this…"
Vader stabbed his finger straight into Luke's chest. "Do you expect me to believe the two of you got engaged merely as a practical joke?"
"It wasn't an engagement!" Luke protested.
"You gave her a ring!" Vader seethed. "I witnessed it myself in holographic recording! What is that if not an engagement?"
"I gave her a memory ring!" Awkwardly Luke wriggled a silver band off one finger and held it up. "See?"
Vader inspected it. On the underside was etched Owen and Beru Lars. Feeling suddenly quite sheepish, he handed it back. Luke was muttering dire imprecations against Wes, Hobbie, Tycho, and Wedge, whoever they were. "Then…you are not romantically involved with your sister?"
There were several minutes of silence, broken chiefly by the occasional hoots and whistles of the local fauna. Somewhere nearby a pipe was dripping. In a distant vagary of post-mortem spiritual existence, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a great number of Jedi were no doubt howling with laughter. Luke rubbed his head wearily. Vader made a mental note to strangle everyone on his intelligence staff. Slowly. Then decapitate everybody in the Imperial Ministry of Intelligence. Then hunt down Karlino Van Hermahutt and mince him into confetti.
"Let me guess," Luke said, leaning against the rail and cutting his gaze to the ceiling. "The Emperor has been expecting me?"
Attempting to ignore how utterly ridiculous he now felt, Vader answered, "At least he is the only one who is expecting."
Luke snorted and rubbed his forehead with both bound hands before perking up and regarding his father with a shrewd glint in his eyes which made Vader feel decidedly at a disadvantage, despite being the one with free hands and two lightsabers and the power of darkness at his command. "So...going back to your first comment, is that forgetting the Dark Side option still on the table?"