Summary: What if Vader, wanting to be with his son again, had taken a very different approach after Luke escapes him at Bespin? How far would he go to regain what he has lost?
Disclaimer: I'm not George Lucas!
Chapter 1. The epiphany
In the blink of an eye, the Falcon soared away into hyperspace and vanished from the vast viewport of the Executor.
There was a terrified silence on the bridge. Not a single person moved and even the massive engines of the Super Star Destroyer seemed muted. Vader was aware of Piett staring at him with wide eyes, sure that those invisible fingers would squeeze his windpipe at any moment.
Vader, too, was certain that he would. His son was gone, far from his side as was the boy's rightful place. Piett's failure had cost him the capture of his son! He reached –
But the Force withdrew from his grasp, slithering away through his mental fingers. Surprised, he sought his rage, that murderous mantle that brought comfort in its darkness, the key to the powerful Dark Side. But again he was taken aback as he found his habitual anger shockingly absent. Instead, all he found was something unfamiliar, something that hurt. He couldn't understand it at all.
Unable to respond in the only way he knew how, he turned away from the viewport. He couldn't help himself, however, as he paused and glanced back once more. It was as if some part of him couldn't quite believe that his son had really disappeared, that the search had to begin all over again. But the stars simply twinkled at him from the blackness of space, mockingly absent of that disc-shaped ship containing his precious son.
Precious? Since when did Sith Lords use such words? It was unsettling, and together with this wholly uncharacteristic absence of anger, it was most disturbing. Whatever had come over him it was clear that he needed time and privacy to decipher. Clasping his hands behind his back, Vader walked off the bridge and headed for his quarters.
His eyes remained closed as the metal claws closed over his mask and lifted the pieces away. The cool air in the hyperbaric chamber whispered across his skin but he barely felt it on the thick scar tissue marring his head.
All Vader could think about was his son. Blond, as he himself had once been in his previous lifetime, with the same bright blue eyes. He recalled those blue eyes amidst the vapour and fiery glow of the carbon freezing chamber, bravely holding his gaze with determination and carefully controlled fear. He felt a twinge of pain. Frowning, he checked the heart monitor on his right – everything seemed normal. He closed his eyes again and refocused on his son's face – only to feel that ache yet again.
He ignored it this time and continued on with his thoughts. His son's grasp of the Force was impressive, not bad at all for someone with so little training. Under his father's teaching Luke would become a formidable Sith, perhaps even more powerful than he himself had been before his doomed duel with Obi-Wan. It passed his notice that the thought of his former master for once didn't stir up murderous contemplations. Instead, his heart swelled with pride and the scars on his face stretched as he grinned. Sidious would be no match for the two of them.
Thoughts of his current master, however, didn't fail to turn his mood dark as had invariably been the case recently. It hadn't taken him long after he had discovered the identity of the rebel pilot who had blown up the Death Star to realise that Sidious had lied to him. The existence of a son was proof that he had not killed his beloved wife. Padmé had still been alive after the duel and Obi-Wan must have taken her somewhere to give birth to his son. How she died afterwards was a mystery, but he knew that the body entombed on Naboo was most definitely the body of his wife. His best agents had double checked, triple checked, on his insistence, and then he had checked himself. Twice.
After all this time, he still couldn't think of Padmé without a painful ache deep in his heart. He had spent countless agonising hours thinking of her and of that ill-fated day on Mustafar. When she had arrived on that landing platform he could perceive only his blinkered view of his fledgling steps in the Dark Side and had been unable to see that she was telling the truth. Much later, and much too late, when he had calmed enough to think clearly, he had arrived at the heart-wrenching realisation that she hadn't knowingly brought Obi-Wan to him. He knew Padmé. He knew the depth of her loyalty to him, of her unswerving love. And he knew that once Obi-Wan had discovered this, the Jedi would have utilised this to find him without her knowledge. In the ensuing years his remorse and self-loathing in believing that he had killed his innocent wife and child had driven him further to the Dark Side and ensured his subservience to the only mentor left to him.
What followed were nineteen miserable, lonely years of servitude. And that, after having left his beloved mother on Tatooine all those years ago in order to escape slavery – that thought alone was unbearable. But then to discover that it had all been for a lie...
His blinding, all consuming fury at the realisation that Sidious had lied to him had left him standing in the middle of a whole city decimated to the ground, with only vague recollections of his blood red lightsaber and the Force billowing like a violent storm to explain to how he had got there. Even the stormtroopers of his 501st legion who were accustomed to his dark moods had been trembling visibly as he boarded the shuttle to return to the Destroyer.
Vader could feel his rage building and took a deep breath to calm himself. He was not here to muse yet again on how much he despised the Emperor. He consciously turned his thoughts back to his son, on how he had been carefully concealing his burning hatred from his master as he searched and plotted to bring his son to his side where he belonged. After three, long, fruitless years of chasing, the intel from Boba Fett regarding the Princess and smuggler heading to Bespin had been a rare stroke of luck. But that plot, too, had now failed.
He had never intended to maim his son. He had only meant to show his superiority in a duel and thus how much he could offer the boy. But at some point the Dark Side had taken over, fuelled the fight into something more serious. And Luke – Force be with him – the boy had responded in kind, matching his increasing ferocity with a focused calm that Obi-Wan would have been proud of had the Jedi been permissive of such feelings. Then, after recovering from the fall off the ledge, his son had sought Vader out and continued to fight, meeting blow for blow. Until that moment when he failed to block.
Vader closed his eyes again but he couldn't stop the memory. He could still remember the brief moment of sickening resistance as his lightsaber cut through the boy's arm. The memory of Luke's agonised cry pierced his heart as if it was happening all over again. To make matters worse, he had forged ahead in true Sith-like manner and demanded that his son join him. He had given no comfort as Luke clung to the narrow gantry platform, in great pain, exhausted and no doubt afraid. No wonder the boy had rejected him.
No wonder – but nonetheless, it hurt. Only then, in his quiet solitude, did he recognise it as the same pain he had felt when Padmé had refused to attempt to rule the galaxy with him back on Mustafar. His love for her was such that her rejection cut deeper than any blow dealt by Obi-Wan in the ensuing duel. And now his son's rejection caused the same anguish. In one startling moment, he suddenly recognised the long forgotten feeling coursing through him.
He loved his son.
It was a surprising, eye-opening realisation for a Sith Lord who had long believed himself incapable of such feelings. The agonising ache, the remorse, the guilt – it was all because of his love for his son. For Padmé's son.
And with that one thought his eyes were opened. He desperately wanted to turn back time, to meet Luke anew on Bespin and re-shape their first encounter. What he wouldn't give to have his son not regard him in fear! He wanted to be a father to the boy, not a Sith Lord claiming him as a possession or a tool. The thought that he had almost succeeded in delivering his precious son to Sidious sent a shudder through him and he felt a surge of relief that the boy had escaped. He wanted to guide and watch over him, to pass on all he had learned so that his son wouldn't make the same mistakes he had. He wanted Luke by his side for no other reason than to be with him and provide all that the boy might want from him. He wanted to make the same offer that his wife had made to him all those years ago on Mustafar, to go away together and leave everything behind. To simply be a family.
Damn the Empire. And damn the Dark Side.
He was over twenty years too late to make amends with Padmé, but by the Force he would do right by his son!
Piett started uncharacteristically as Vader's voice rumbled from his comlink. He was usually the picture of military efficiency and stoic composure, but he was somewhat jumpy from expecting his execution at any moment due to the earlier escape of the rebel ship.
"Yes, Lord Vader," he replied with a level tone imposed with a great exertion of will.
"Move the ship to rejoin the rest of the fleet then proceed to refuel at Bannistar."
"Yes, my lord." The line went dead, and Piett stared at his comlink for a second as if to see if Vader would return and pronounce his death. When nothing was forthcoming he took one deep breath, tucked his comlink away, straightened his jacket, turned to the bridge officers and calmly started dispatching orders.