In all circles things end. Great forests burn, lakes freeze, oceans disappear in heat. Cities are leveled, there is death. People are born, they age and they die. Civilization comes to an end; Peace is brought to a close. In the end all is destroyed. Even stars burn out.
Today was a quiet day he decided. Quiet days were days to be treasured in war. No sirens wailing, no burning smells, no sounds of friends and comrades screaming as they died. No tense words exchanged between leaders, no blaster fire, nothing.
He liked the quiet days, the days when he could smile and not feel his face stiffening with the false movement, days when he could laugh and not hear the note of harsh fear in the sound. The days when he could crack jokes and act as a friend to his fellow fighters and not their commanding officer.
The quiet nights he could do without. As soon as his eyes drifted closed the nightmares returned. Seeing dead friends' faces and replaying their deaths, helpless to do anything but stand by and watch as they died. The intense waves of guilt over how many had died by his hand, the crush of anger and agony over choices to be made and things still to be done.
He forced those things out of his mind and concentrated on enjoying the day, living in every moment, every practical joke. He knew these days would end, knew the war would come crashing down and reality would rear its ugly head and look to him to destroy yet another peaceful day, but it would not be this day.
He enjoyed it to the point that when night crept up on him, he was completely unaware that the day was done and the possibility of reality ever closer. He briefly closed his expressive eyes and sighed, wishing his friend and comrade a good night as he made his way to his quarters.
Wearily he palmed open his door, walked inside and dressed for bed. He did his nightly routine of getting ready and as always went and sat at the large bay window overlooking a large lake. He found peace gazing at the water and purposefully avoided looking at the bed. At around two o'clock in the morning he finally surrendered to his body's need for sleep and collapsed on the bed.
As if he'd hit an alarm, the voice came again. This voice was the other reason why he avoided sleep. It was a deep one, calm and comforting even as it filled him with unease. It was a person he should not even be in contact with, but the presence was a balm, even as the physical one drove fear into the hearts of his comrades. It was the voice of Lord Darth Vader, the voice of his father.
Luke, the voice whispered softly in his ear, I have missed you.
He remained silent and the voice said persistently, Luke, I know you're there. Please speak with me. Don't make me talk to empty air.
Luke Skywalker stretched and briefly his eyes fluttered open, bright sapphire peering around the room to make sure he was alone. He relaxed and leaned back, thinking in his father's direction.
As long as it doesn't end the way it did last time, Father.
How did it end last time, Son? It's been a long time.
You tried to get me to give you the location of the Rebel base.
Oh yes, now I remember. You shouted at me in Huttese and refused to answer my calls.
Remember? You never forgot. Yoda explained about how the Force can augment your memory. Then he proceeded to tell me the exact conversation he had with you when you first came before the Council.
Hmm. I suppose you found that conversation interesting. The voice in his head sounded chagrined. Luke grinned. It wasn't often that he caught his father without a snide reply.
Actually, I did. I don't know very much about you, after all.
You could always ask.
Would you answer my questions?
If I don't it means it's something I'm not ready to speak about.
Okay. Where did you grow up?
Coruscant. I was born and raised for nine years on Tatooine, though.
Hmm, I'm surprised Obi-Wan never mentioned it.
So am I!
My mother's name was Shmi. She was a gentle woman and she loved me dearly. I loved her as well. Scratch that, I worshipped her. She made my early life easier, made the privileges of others seem to be not as unfair. And she indulged my hobbies.
I built droids from spare parts around the yard where I worked. It was a junkyard that belonged to a Toydarian named Watto. I built a podracer from the wreckage and fixed all sorts of different things for him. I'm the only reason he stayed open so long.
You built a pod? Luke's mental voice was envious. He'd seen the super fast racers from a distance once and even touched one before Owen had seen him and hustled him away.
Yes. I raced them as well.
No human can race pods! They're too fast!
I did. I was the only human who could. I won the Boonta Eve Classic.
No wonder Owen wouldn't let me near Mos Espa when I lived on Tatooine. He knew I'd see the records.
It was probably more Kenobi's fault than Lars's.
Luke kept his face passive, remembering when he and Owen had gotten into an argument and Owen had blamed it on his 'bad blood'.
Bad blood! I may be a little hot-tempered but that's my own attitude, not bad blood! His father sounded incensed.
Stay out of my head, Luke warned.
Impossible, young one. When you are having a mental conversation you cannot shield your thoughts. It is like trying to keep water out with a rain slicker when you are already wet.
Oh. That wasn't mentioned in my speed lessons.
Yes, there are probably many of those missed lessons.
Anyway, why did you leave Tatooine?
You lived there son, you tell me.
Ugh. I could list a hundred reasons. Hang on a second. You said you worked for Watto but you were only nine. Employment is only legal when you're over 15!
Good. You're quick. That only took you about 10 minutes.
Cut with the sarcasm, Father. What gives?
I wasn't willingly employed by Watto and neither was my mother. We were slaves.
Yes. Even during the Old Republic slavery was legal on Tatooine because legislation didn't reach to the Outer Rim. Didn't care, more likely.
How did you leave then? I've heard of those transmitters. They sound nasty.
They were. When I was nine, two Jedi were forced to land along with a royal convoy from a Mid-Rim world. One of the Jedi came into town with a handmaiden and a native of the world looking for parts to repair their ship. They came into Watto's shop but he wouldn't take Republic credits.
Royalty? Huh, sounds interesting.
It was. I followed them when they left the shop and offered them shelter from a sandstorm. I knew the man was a Jedi because I saw his lightsaber. I took them home. I remember showing the handmaiden the droid I built. His father's voice was wistful, remembering better times. She was impressed. He was a protocol droid that I left with my mother. Annoying droid, he wouldn't shut up. I finally installed commands in his programming that allowed me to make him stop talking.
Was he prissy? Luke's voice was a mixture of excitement and amusement. If this was the same droid…
Very. So stiff and formal. Very dramatic too. Always made things worse than they were.
What was his designation?
Luke burst out laughing. He was hysterical and couldn't stop for five minutes.
What's so amusing? His father said dryly.
Would you like him back?
What? Oh no, you have got to be kidding!
Nope. C-3PO was one of the two droids sold to Owen by Jawas.
NO! Do NOT send me that kriffing droid! He is welcome to stay where he is.
Good. I've kind of gotten attached to him. He is a little exasperating sometimes. Do you still know those codes?
Yes. I'll give you them so you can stop his talking.
Thanks. Han would die laughing if he knew you built Threepio.
The conversation continued on this way for some time and slowly Luke was aware of a growing tiredness. Unable to stop it, he yawned hugely, just about cracking his lower jaw in the process.
Ahh. I forget others need sleep.
What do you do at night?
Besides talk to my inquisitive son for over an hour?
Ask me next time and maybe I'll answer.
What time is it where you are?
Half past midnight.
So you're somewhere in the Core Worlds, aren't you?
Very good. I'm with the fleet just outside Chandrila. What's your time?
Father, I'm not that stupid.
Of course not. Just testing.
Luke looked over at the clock and yawned again. It was 3:30 in the morning.
Very, very early in the morning.
You should go to bed earlier! Staying up that late is childish.
Oh no, not you too. Leia gets on me about that as well.
Well, that's one thing the Princess and I agree on.
All right, all right, I recognize a clear dismissal. His father chuckled softly. Goodnight, Son. May the Force be with you.
And with you.
Luke rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. He drifted into slumber without another thought.
* * * * *
The next morning Luke walked into the mess room and sat next to Leia. Princess Leia Organa looked at him and started to look away then she did a double-take. Luke was rubbing his forehead and his eyes were watering.
"Are you all right, Luke? You look horrible."
Luke winced and lowered his hand. He glared at Leia and muttered, "Didn't they tell you how to be polite in conversations on Alderaan?"
Leia turned away as if struck, face pale. Luke had never said anything like that to her, only Han. Coming in Solo's sarcastic tone she never took it seriously but Luke had just about snarled at her.
"Sorry, Commander Skywalker, I was just acting as a concerned friend," she snapped.
"Enjoying yourself aren't you, Princess? Never thought you'd be one to pull rank."
Leia flinched and stood, trembling. She stared at him for a few minutes and walked away, sitting next to Solo.
"Hey Sweetheart, what's wrong?" Han answered, looking at her in concern.
"Luke's what's wrong. I asked him if he was all right and he snapped at me about polite conversations."
"No way! The Kid's not like that," Han protested.
"He is today. I said I was just concerned and he said he'd never thought I'd pull rank."
"What's wrong with him I wonder?"
"I don't know but you can be the one to invite him. I'm not going near him again until he cools his temper."
Han stood and walked warily in Luke's direction. If he was in a temper, he didn't want to get things started on the wrong foot. He tried to adopt his usual swagger and walked to the seat Leia had just vacated.
He sat down and looked at Luke, noting the watering eyes and the persistent rubbing of the forehead.
"Migraine?" He said sympathetically.
Luke looked up through narrowed eyes and sighed when he saw Han.
"Yeah, a bad one."
"Leia and I are holding a little party for Carlist. It's his birthday in two days and we wanted to do something for him. Do you want to come?"
Luke smiled. "Definitely. Rieekan is one of my favorite people around here. It'll be nice for him to get away from the brass."
"Yeah it will. See you in two days. By the way, you didn't need to snap Leia's head off. She was just concerned. Bet you stayed up too late huh?"
Luke was silent for a second but Han was shocked to see his shoulders tense and his free hand tighten into a fist. He breathed heavily for a second and then growled, "I wish everybody would get their nose out of my damn business. It's like hanging around a crèche."
He pushed his chair back with an abrupt scrape of metal on metal and stood up, glaring at Han. Then he spun around on one foot and strode out, slamming the door shut on his way.
Han stared after him for a moment and then turned and walked over to Leia.
"Yeah, he's coming."
Leia nodded sharply, hoping that by that time Luke would be over whatever fit he'd fallen in. She walked out of the mess room after eating and disappeared down a hall, trying to put Luke Skywalker out of her mind.
Leia smiled as Rieekan burst into laughs of delight at their surprise. There were streamers hung around the room and lights of different colors illuminated the floor. A traditional Alderaanian cake sat in a place of honor in the middle of a host of other flavorful dishes and written on the tablecloth in florescent green paint were the words, 'Happy Birthday to Carlist, Our Favorite member of the Brass'.
This was his second birthday since Alderaan's destruction and Leia knew these times were hard for the General. His wife and young son had died on Alderaan and since then Leia had seen a reduced sparkle in his eyes.
Present at the small party were Wedge, Han, Chewbacca, Artoo and Luke. Leia was relieved that Luke's mood seemed to have improved. He was still prone to wincing at loud sounds but it was a great improvement over his glares.
They all wished him a happy birthday and sang to him before cutting the cake and making him eat a large piece. Han said jokingly that the only thing missing was ryshcate, a traditional Corellian cake and Leia smiled and uncovered a large dish piled with pieces of the moist brown cake.
Everyone split into small groups after eating to digest and talk and Luke ended up sitting with Wedge, which was fine by him. He liked the Corellian pilot. He sat down and rolled his shoulders as Wedge launched into a story, content to listen as he tried to get rid of his headache. It was lasting longer than his usual migraines.
"You okay? You keep rolling your shoulders," Wedge asked.
"Yeah I just have a bad headache and my shoulders and back is sore. I must have pulled a muscle lifting those crates from the shipment yesterday."
Wedge winced in sympathy as he remembered the large packing crates of stolen weapons that had come from an Imperial base. Not one had weighed less than 50 lbs and even the muscled members had been sweating over it.
A few hours later Luke stood and walked over to Rieekan, wishing him a happy birthday and a good night. He walked over to Leia, sighing when he noticed her stiffened back.
He looked at her, gazing into brown eyes filled with confused anger. He gently reached out and brushed her cheek as he muttered, "Can you forgive a farmboy who didn't get enough sleep or should I beg?"
Leia looked into his suddenly embarrassed blue eyes and decided she didn't want to hold a grudge. "Yes, as long as you don't repeat it. The comment about Alderaan was a low blow."
Luke winced. "Yeah, it was. I'm sorry Leia."
"It's okay, Luke. Just let me know when you don't feel great next time, okay?"
He gave her a hug and turned towards Han, glad to be done with one apology. There was one left though. He strode toward Han and the next thing he knew, everything was black.
Rieekan stared as Commander Skywalker started to walk toward Solo and stopped. He could see shock on Han's face as Luke seemed to slowly drop forward, speeding up as he came closer to the ground. Chewbacca howled and jumped forward, barely catching the unconscious man before he hit the ground.
He moved forward as Leia stiffened and Wedge started hurrying in their direction. He looked at the limp Jedi and turned to the towering form of Chewbacca. "Can you pick him up, Chewbacca?"
"Easily," Chewie growled, "he weighs less than a sapling woshyr tree."
"Please do so then. I think we should take him to Medical."
Rieekan led the way, confusion turning the wheels of his mind into overtime. He knew Luke well, knew his father well for that matter and he knew the young Jedi's constitution was incredible. It took a great deal to knock him over that easily. He didn't show it on his face, but he was worried.
He opened the door and motioned the weathered doctor over to where Chewbacca had set Luke down. He started taking Luke's blood pressure and pulse, running a small scanner over Luke's wrist where his medichip was. As he was doing this, he said "What happened?"
"We were celebrating Carlist's birthday and he was just leaving. He started walking toward Han and just dropped to the floor. Chewbacca was barely able to catch him in time," Leia answered, her voice shaking.
"He also kept rolling his shoulders," Wedge volunteered. "When I asked him why he said they were sore from lifting."
"I'll need to keep him here overnight. It may just be exhaustion but he needs monitoring."
The small group walked away, worried about their friend.
Luke was fitfully sleeping, tossing back and forth in the dimly lit medical room. He was seeing faces in his dreams, two in particular. One was dead, one living. He felt his father reach out toward him and eagerly gathered the Force to him, ready to answer.
Instead he shrank back from the Force, crying out in his head as the touch felt like an electric shock, coursing through his blood like a live wire. It burned painfully and he was jerked out of his sleep with a piercing scream.
Instantly he was aware of a bright light coming through the doorway and a dark form near his shoulder. He felt a familiar prick and jerked away too late to escape the hypo, gasping in relief as it numbed his body.
"Whatever you just did, don't do it again," the kind voice said sharply.
Luke was only too willing to obey.
The next afternoon Leia and the rest of the group came back, clustering around Luke with nervous glances toward the closed door. He gazed at them and Leia found it hard not to flinch back in shock.
His face was pale and haggard, lips drawn into a thin line. His eyes were lackluster and seemed watered down from their usual intensity. He also looked thinner somehow, buried in the sheets of the bed. There was a quiet despair in his demeanor and Leia wondered what the doctor had told him.
The doctor wandered into the room, gazing down at a clipboard at his notes. He looked up and gaped at the group of people. He had not been expecting this many.
"What is the diagnosis?" Rieekan asked softly.
"First of all, I would like to say that in my twenty-plus years of practice, I have never seen this set in so quickly. It's a wasting sickness," he said, as if that explained it all.
"And that does what, exactly?" Han drawled.
"It pulls all its energy from the patient's body. It sucks muscle strength and it's very hard for the patient to accumulate any body weight. Eventually it sucks that as well. It is a very rare condition. This particular version is one I've never seen. It's not only pulling his physical strength, but the Force strength as well."
"What are you saying?" Rieekan whispered.
"I'm saying that in a month or so he's going to die. There's nothing I can do about it."
Leia gasped and spun to look at Luke. He caught her gaze and nodded before leaning back against the pillows behind him. That explained his despairing expression. He knew he was going to die. He'd most likely known before the doctor told him.
Leia's lip trembled as she asked, "Is there anything you can do for him?"
"No. All of the medications that might help and the superior equipment are on Coruscant in the hands of the Empire's elite doctors."
"Thank you, doctor." Leia whispered.
Luke's expression was sober as he considered what the doctor had said. In the hands of the Empire huh? Well it just happened that he knows someone in the Empire. He would go anyway; now that there was so little time left he wasn't going to waste it on judgments.
"Rieekan, could I speak with you alone?" He stated.
"Of course, Skywalker."
"It will just take a minute Leia," he added to the Princess, seeing her questioning expression.
The rest of the group filed out except for Rieekan and Luke gritted his teeth. If anyone was going to protest it to Mon Mothma, it might be the man in front of him. Here goes nothing.
"Rieekan, you said you knew my father. How long did you know him?"
"A very, very long time. We fought together in the Clone Wars. He saved me more times than I like to remember. I also know he currently calls himself Lord Vader."
Luke gazed in surprise at Rieekan and slumped back against the pillow in relief. He looked at the General with a new respect and said, "You don't condemn me for being his son?"
"Why should I?" Rieekan answered mildly. "I don't even condemn him really. I don't condone some of his actions, but I understand what he's gone through. I certainly don't blame him for Alderaan. That blame falls on Palpatine and Wilhuff Tarkin."
"I don't expect you to understand or agree with me, but now that I know I'm dying," Luke paused, trembling, "I have to go to Coruscant. I have to be with him at the end, the fact that he's a Sith has nothing to do with it. He's my father and I've spoken with him and begun to understand him more."
"You've spoken with him?" Rieekan said sharply.
"Yes. Through a Force-bond he has with me. I have never given him a base location or betrayed the fleet though."
"I believe you. If you tell your friends and the Princess and they freak out, I will accompany you. We'll appropriate one of the B-wings and go on our own."
"You'd go with me?" Luke whispered, looking at Rieekan hopefully.
"Yes. I would like to see him again, not to mention Derak."
"He's more commonly known as Black Three. He's a fellow Alderaanian and had guarded your father's back on more than one mission."
"Let me tell the rest of them and we'll go."
Leia wandered back in, looking at Luke and Rieekan. Rieekan was standing protectively near Luke, gazing without expression at them. Luke looked nervous and was wringing the edge of the blanket between his fingers.
"I owe you an explanation. On Bespin, you know that I was nearly captured by Vader. Just before I jumped off the path, he offered me something and told me a truth about myself I hadn't known. The offer was to join him and overthrow Palpatine and the truth was about my father. Anakin Skywalker was a great Jedi but he loved his wife more than he trusted his Order. When he saw visions of her dying, he went to Palpatine for help. Palpatine betrayed him and he fell into a river of lava while dueling Obi-Wan. He was saved by Palpatine and underwent major reconstructive surgery that completely changed his appearance."
"Is anyone else getting the conclusion I am?" Chewbacca growled.
"What's that Chewie?" Han said.
Chewbacca looked Luke in the eyes and nodded. "The cub's father is alive. He's known by another name. Someone we all know."
"Huh, he's alive? I wonder who he -?" Han came to a stop. His eyes widened and he looked disbelievingly at Luke. "I have got to be getting this wrong. This cannot be the same person you're thinking of."
"What? Who is he?" Leia snapped, impatient.
"You're not wrong, Han. My father's name is Lord Vader."
Leia's face lost its color, turning white as a sheet. She looked at Luke, trembling.
"It does not matter to me cub. I will follow you." Chewbacca growled.
"Follow? What do you mean Chewie?"
"That has to be the reason why he's telling us. He's dying and he wishes to see or be near his father when he dies. I would do the same."
"You're going to Coruscant, Kid?"
"Yes Han. I have to. I don't expect you to understand."
"I assume you're going with him no matter what?" Han directed this at Rieekan.
"Yes. I know Luke's father and I would like to see him when it isn't across a battlefield."
"You're going to need help getting past Air Control. They're tight on security there. Luckily you've got me," Han finished cockily, grinning at Luke.
"Thank you Han," Luke whispered.
"No problem kid. I'm not going to abandon you just because a Dark Lord is your father. Heck, I'm really not too mad at him even. Just trying to talk to his son. I'd probably try some similar sort of trickery in his place. You are rather gullible," Han finished with his trademark smirk.
"I'll take that as a complement," Luke said dryly.
"Leia, will you come with me?" Luke asked, voice trembling as much as Leia's hands were.
Leia turned and headed for the door. Just before she left she said, "I have to think."
Luke's eyes followed her departure, worry etched into his face.
Lord Vader sat in his office one evening not three days later, gazing at some paperwork that needed his attention. He looked it over and signed the last page, placing it in his small pile marked 'Complete'. He looked over at the larger pile marked 'Incomplete' and scowled behind the mask. It seemed to get larger every day instead of smaller. Force, how he hated paperwork.
He stood up and decided that he'd done enough for one evening. He walked out onto the balcony and gazed at the sunset. He loved the night on Coruscant, when the artificial daylight from the orbital station was released and eternal night took over. The stars gleamed brightly in the night, shimmering in teasing patterns, inviting you among them.
He walked to the door and exited, heading down to the large informal lounge and his company. Not that they could truly be called company. They lived with him in his spacious home when they were on release from the military. Sitting on a chair near the fireplace was a thin man with salt and pepper hair and jet black sideburns who had captured many hearts over his years due to the rugged good looks and the mesmerizing dark green eyes.
Kicked back in a large armchair was a taller man who had a few more pounds on him than his slightly older companion. The red hair that had been wavy in youth, cheerful gray eyes and quick smile had given the devil-may-care Corellian a bridge full of junior officers that would follow his judgment through any battle.
Sprawled near the sabacc table were their sons. Both boys were tall and thin. There any comparisons ended. The dark-haired man's son had jet black hair with premature whitening at both temples that gave him a polished, mature look. The red-haired one's son was a soldier who moved with an aggressive power even when relaxed. His father often said he'd gotten his mother's temper along with the auburn hair.
The older one with ebony hair was called Derak Alderidge, his son was named Jas. The Corellian was Gilad Pellaeon and his son was named Avery.
Lord Vader chuckled softly at the scene before him. As he made his way to the large dark green armchair near Gilad he noticed that Jas and Avery were arguing about the performances of the different Imperial Academies. Jas was defending the Flight Academy and Avery the Officer's Academy as usual. It was only fitting since Jas was a squadron leader on the Judgment and Avery was a General of Battle Strategies on the Avenger.
Derak's com pinged gently and the pilot slowly roused himself from near slumber and said with a yawn, "This is Derak."
He sat up straight at the answering voice and spoke in a low tone for a few minutes before turning to Lord Vader and saying, "Anakin, is it okay if a ship lands on the third docking platform?"
Vader nodded once, wondering who it was. Derak spoke for a few more minutes and then turned the com off. He looked at Vader with a disbelieving expression on his face and said, "That was Carlist Rieekan."
"Why would he be on Coruscant?" Avery asked, startled. He gazed at his father with brilliant blue eyes and waited for an answer.
"How would I know?"
"He said he's leaving the weapons on the ship. He means no harm to any of us." Derak said.
"Well, let's go meet him and see what he has to say for himself."
When they reached the docking platform Rieekan was waiting for them, a small A-wing fighter resting on the platform near one edge. He approached them nervously and said, "The Millennium Falcon is hovering just beyond sensor range. Solo wanted me to make sure that the situation was clear before he lands."
"You can tell Solo I only go after people once. If I capture them, I forget about it the next time."
Rieekan flicked on a com and said clearly, "You're good, Han. Bring her in."
They watched as the YT-1300 light freighter came in with a low roar and smoothly settled onto the platform. Rieekan's placement of the A-wing made sense as the Falcon just cleared the little fighter and settled its bulk on the surface.
The engines settled to a low hum and fell silent just as the ramp lowered. Han walked down the ramp followed by a scared but composed Leia Organa and a dark-brown haired man who wore a Corellian outfit.
"Thank you for allowing us to land, my lord," Leia inclined her head. She spoke with gracious politeness, lips firmly pressed together when she wasn't speaking.
Lord Vader nodded, unwilling to admit that he was confused. Why was Organa being so polite? She had every reason to be furious with him right now.
"This is Wedge Antilles of Rogue Squadron," Carlist added, introducing the Corellian.
"Why are you risking a trip to the center of the Empire?" Derak asked Carlist.
"Luke," Leia answered simply.
"He is with you?" Lord Vader demanded, voice trembling.
"Yes, I am," a voice whispered weakly.
Leia jumped and turned. Standing behind her was Chewbacca and standing next to him was Luke.
Lord Vader heard Derak's sharp intake of breath and felt Gilad flinch but was unable to answer. Luke looked so frail. When he'd last seen his son face to face he'd been hurt and angry but filled with vigor. Now he looked as if he might break under a firm touch.
His skin was pale and there were dark bruises under his eyes. He was far too thin and trembled with the force of suppressed shaking. At first Vader thought it was because of him, but that notion was shaken off when Luke took a couple of trembling steps forward and locked eyes with his father behind the mask.
That was when Vader flinched. The blue eyes that gazed into his were still a vivid color but the sparkle of intense ferocity that had dominated every expression had faded. The eyes in front of him had faded. Now they were filled with agony and anguish that were so fierce he had to break contact.
That was when Luke chose to speak up again and say softly, "Father, I had to come here. I couldn't hold to judgment now, not at the end of all things."
He caught Vader's eyes again and said, "Father, I'm dying."
Carlist was standing off to the side when Luke told his father he was dying and he was probably the only one on their side who understood the full significance of Anakin's reaction.
One couldn't see his face but his body language spoke volumes. He jerked up straight and took two rapid, halting steps backward. The whole frame was starting to shake and the bewilderment and fear was apparent in every tense line of his body.
He reached out a trembling hand to his son and when Luke took it, pulled him forward and wrapped one arm around him as if protecting him from something no one else could see. He knew what the Dark Lord was seeing. It was the faces of his mother, Luke's mother and every soldier he'd fought with and for that had died during the Clone Wars. It was the face of death itself.
Carlist heard Leia's soft gasp of astonishment and had to acknowledge that they were probably seeing the strongest emotion that anyone had seen from the irritable Sith Lord. Luke's trembling increased at first but slowly slacked off until he was almost completely still.
He looked over at Han and saw that the brash pilot's jaw had dropped open in surprise. He snorted. If Solo had known Anakin before he'd been Vader, he wouldn't be taken aback. In fact, the two men who resided here with Anakin had suspiciously wet eyes. Gilad used a cough to cover a sniff and Carlist smiled despite the grave situation. The tough Corellian hated showing much emotion. He called it a weakness.
Chewbacca turned and growled softly at Carlist. "This man has seen death close to him before."
"Yes he has. Too much for a lifetime."
Vader released his son with reluctance and Luke timidly stepped back. He gazed at his father for a moment and the entire party started moving forward. Carlist kept a sharp eye on Luke and was the first one to notice the subtle increase in his shaking. By the time they were inside the hall Luke's face had paled significantly and Carlist caught Chewbacca's eye and nodded.
Luke saw him and muttered, "I'm fine, Carlist."
Luke shot him a glare that said he knew Carlist was humoring him just as a single tremble went through his entire body and he started to collapse. Chewbacca caught him up and growled, "Is there somewhere I can put him?"
"Any room on the second floor," Vader answered, stunned.
Chewbacca walked away briskly, easily carrying the slender Jedi.
"I believe," Lord Vader hissed, "an explanation is necessary."
He turned and stalked away, a clear indication that they were to follow him.
Wedge swallowed and muttered, "Here's where we find out whether we were fools or heroes."
Carlist had to agree with the Corellian. Anakin was more than slightly annoyed and worried. Most of the time this wasn't a problem, but if annoyance turned to anger, it could be a difficult situation.
Chewbacca headed toward the stairs, cradling the unconscious Jedi in his arms. His reasons for coming with Luke were complex. He had not entirely sorted them out himself, which added to his confusion. One of the main reasons was the debt he and his people owed Master Yoda. Chewbacca had recognized the name when Luke had told them where he'd been since Bespin. Master Yoda had gained the respect of the Wookiee tribes when he'd helped them against the Separatists.
The other reason was Luke himself. Chewbacca had seen many warriors and leaders in his 200 plus years but this young human was different. He was frail and yet contained the strength to stand against darkness, young but wise. He was also someone Chewbacca had seen go from a farmer off a backwater world to a leader whom others would follow to death or capture. He was full of contradictions even as he stayed true to his character.
He stepped into the first room on the second floor and howled softly in astonishment. The room was gigantic and filled with delicate wood and metal furniture. A canopy bed with dark silver hangings and a silver and black comforter lay across the wide room from a fireplace with a blue screen. There were no less than four large comfortable armchairs and through one of the doors off of the room was a large tub sunk into the floor deep and long enough to fit a full-grown Wookiee.
Carefully he laid the Jedi Knight down and covered him with a swift, sure movement that was both strong and gentle. He backed away, checked the fire and walked out of the room, heading back downstairs. He knew that his companion had a reason to be nervous and snarky around Lord Vader and he didn't feel like breaking up a fight tonight.
Chewbacca stepped into a spacious office where the humans were gathered and noticed the surprise on Han and Carlist's faces when a voice stated, "Be welcome in my home under the stars, Chewbacca of Rwookwarroo." The surprise was due to the fluent Shirriwook more than the traditional Wookiee phrase of welcome.
"Any place touched by the stars is welcome, Lord Vader of Coruscant," he answered, inclining his head with respect.
"Where did you learn to speak Shirriwook that well?" Han demanded.
Lord Vader turned his head and said, "When I was a Jedi Knight in the Old Republic I spent three months aboard the Wookiee smuggling vessel Tree Bonds. I visited Kashyyk and met some of the locals. They remember me as being a decent carver."
Han nodded. He'd heard of the notorious Wookiee smugglers and bounty hunters on the Tree Bonds. He wasn't surprised that the Jedi had sent someone undercover.
"Have they told you the situation?" Chewbacca asked.
"Yes," Lord Vader growled. "I have to think. You are welcome to share dinner with myself and my companions, as long as you think you can stand breathing the same air as me, Princess." He said to Leia.
"That would be wonderful," Leia said.
"Dinner is at 2000 hours."
The shadows had lengthened across the bedroom, sliding to touch the restless features crowned by golden hair. That fine hair was darkened with sweat though the fire had died down to embers. Luke shifted nervously in his sleep as though aware he was being watched.
Standing near the dark blue curtains, Lord Vader watched his son. He blended in with the night, only the orange flickers from the fire reflected in his armor gave away his position. His posture wasn't aggressive or irritable, merely meditative. He watched Luke sleep, considering what he'd been told.
It was staggering, to consider the fact that he had maybe a month with his son. He was glad his son had come to him and at the same time very angry. If Luke hadn't been so stubborn he may have had a longer time with him. When he considered the situation fairly, it was the most ridiculous thing that was bugging him.
Yet again, death was claiming a member of his family. First his mother had died after the Tusken Raiders had captured her. Then Padmè had died at his hands. Now it was trying to claim his son and only child. No father should live longer than their child, Lord Vader thought.
He watched his son for a moment longer as he considered the time. He stepped forward, strides hesitant. When he was by his son's bed he stopped and knelt, placing one gloved hand gently over his Luke's eyes. He effortlessly reached out with the Force and wrapped sleep tightly around his son's mind, tightening it around the bright presence until the unconscious trembling stopped.
Slowly he pulled himself to his feet and started toward the door. He stopped, cursing his preoccupation with his son.
Carlist looked at him, smiled sadly and said, "Luke Skywalker is precious to all who know him. His optimistic nature and gentle spirit have inspired trust enough that those who have a reason to hate you will put it aside for him. If you do not already, you will love your son by the time he's taken from us."
Carlist turned around and walked out, leaving Vader to stand in the dark room. He turned and considered his sleeping son before walking out with a half-smile turning his lips painfully.
Dinner was a very tense affair, as most of the companions were worried about the only missing person. Lord Vader added to the tension, refusing to sit and instead standing next to a window, staring through the glass at something only he could see. The only times he would speak was when Leia asked him a direct question. Leia wouldn't admit it but the Dark Lord's worried silence was a positive thing in her mind. It meant that he cared about his son.
Lord Vader suddenly turned his head and looked at Leia. He barked, "Come with me, Princess."
Startled she stood and followed him, aware of Rieekan and Han behind her. They walked down a series of long hallways until they reached a door. Not bothering to cover the keypad the Dark Lord touched the keys, fingers moving quicker than Leia could follow as he entered his code. He stepped into the room with her just behind him, waiting as the lights slowly lifted on the room.
Leia stared around the room, filled with shock and surprise.
It was filled with holographs, most of Luke. There were a great deal here that Leia had never seen, ones of Luke as a child standing on the sands of Tatooine, his graduation picture, standing with a black-haired man who could only be Biggs Darklighter.
The rest were of a beautiful woman in elaborate robes and facial paint, formal photos that Leia would have seen in newspapers or on the HoloNet. There were a few farther down of her with her hair and face more natural and Leia could see her delicate features and her smile. She shot a look over her shoulder at a more recent one of Luke and then back to the woman.
"Is she Luke's mother?" Leia asked Vader, who'd been quietly watching her the entire time.
"Yes," he hissed. "Her name was Padmè Naberrie Amidala of Naboo."
"I've seen her before," Leia whispered. "She was there when I came to Alderaan. She was so beautiful, her smile could light a room."
Very carefully Leia pulled a holodisk that was on a cord around her neck out. She removed it from its chain and thumbed it on. The small holo hummed as it warmed up and revealed a picture of a woman with the same features and the same smile. Timidly Leia set it next to the holo of Luke's mother and gasped.
It was the same woman. The picture around Leia's neck was of her birth-mother. Rapidly she thought back to a conversation she'd had with Luke, she remembered their surprise at the fact that they were born on the same day and they were the same age. If this was Luke's mother and it was also her birth-mother that meant… Luke was her twin! It also meant—
"You're my daughter," Lord Vader whispered, voice as close to shock as Leia had heard it in her lifetime.
Leia snatched the holo, turned around and walked to the door. She was not going to think about this any longer and what did he think he was doing, prying into her thoughts? Just before she left she snarled at her newly discovered father, "Stay out of my head!"
The door gave a very good impression of slamming shut.
For a moment when he opened his eyes he wasn't sure where he was. Then he remembered he was on Coruscant, the capital of the Empire. Dazed he looked around the opulent room before his gaze touched the light filtering through blue curtains. He didn't know how long he'd slept but his body felt a great deal stronger.
Carefully he swung his legs over the edge of the wide bed and sat up, pausing on the side of the mattress before attempting to stand. When he finally did stand up, he had to brace a hand on the bedside table. He was shocked at the loss of strength in his muscles, he felt as weak as a young child. Luke shook his head in annoyance and strode toward the 'fresher.
When he'd finished taking a hot shower and dressing in the simple slacks and tunic laid out on a chair he sat down. It had taken most of his energy just to do that simple task. Luke was angry with himself; sure that he was overestimating how quickly the disease moved through his body.
Slowly he made his way down the staircase, 25 stairs in all. He counted them on his way down, wondering how his muscles would feel after walking back up this evening. He stopped and reached out cautiously with the Force, ready to pull back if it hurt him again. Quickly he located Leia's position and then let go with a sigh of relief. He didn't know why his body had reacted so painfully when he'd touched the Force before but he wasn't anxious to repeat the experience.
He moved toward the back door, Leia's presence had indicated that she was outside. When he walked out he stopped in astonishment. He had stepped out onto a spacious veranda made of white wood. A few small tables with places for three were spread around, with one larger table that could hold twelve placed under glowing lanterns with blue and green hues.
Leia was sitting on one end of the longest table, perusing a datapad. Luke moved in her direction, noting that the perfume from the flower arrangements was stronger on this end of the veranda. He stopped a few paces from Leia. A smile twitched his mouth as he realized that the Princess was very pretty. He'd never really noticed it when they were fighting the Empire, but poised on a delicate chair while wearing a gown of soft amber was a little different from holding a blaster while wearing a dirty uniform.
"That seems to be very absorbing material you're reading, Leia," he said.
"Luke!" Leia looked up with a smile, brown eyes flashing happily when she saw him standing there.
He walked up to her and pulled out another chair, seating himself to her left. He was glad to get off his feet, the short walk had left him more taxed than he liked to admit. He leaned back and sighed as a cool breeze caressed his face.
"Would you like a drink or a snack? Dinner's in two hours," Leia commented.
"I think I can hold out, Leia. How long was I asleep?"
"Two days," Leia answered.
"What?" Luke yelped in shock.
"You weren't planning on doing anything yesterday, were you?" A voice stated with amusement behind him.
Luke turned his head and shot at his father, "No, but I didn't realize I'd sleep that long!"
"Luke, you barely slept ten hours the entire trip here! You're exhausted and not exactly in the best condition either," Leia lectured.
Luke bristled at Leia's tone until his father stated firmly, "I agree with Leia. If you hadn't required that much sleep you would have woken up earlier."
Luke looked at Leia's expression with confusion. If eyes could kill than his father would be dead right now. Briefly he wondered why but he turned away from the new puzzle to listen to his father.
"You and your companions are welcome here, Luke. I would like it if you would let my medic look over you later this evening."
Luke sighed and nodded. Vader turned toward the house and started to walk away. Just before he walked inside Luke said, "Thank you, Father."
The Dark Lord hesitated for a minute and then disappeared as silently as he'd come.
Turning to Leia Luke asked, "Leia, why did you react that way when he called you by your name?"
"I would prefer if he didn't," Leia said stiffly.
"You hate it when Han calls you 'Princess' or 'Organa'," Luke said.
"That's because he says it in a derogatory manner, Luke. That thing may be my father but—"
"What?" Luke was stunned.
Scowling Leia muttered to herself before she removed a holo from around her neck and set it down. Luke thumbed it on and gazed at the beautiful woman with long chestnut hair and dark brown eyes who smiled back at him.
"Our birth mother," Leia said. With a smile she said, "It's no coincidence that we have the same birthday and we're the same age Luke. We're twins."
"You look like Mother," Luke whispered.
"Which means that you must take after—"
"Father," Luke finished, voice distant. "You have his temperament though," he added, teasing her.
"I do not," Leia answered sharply. To imply that she had any similarity to that arrogant, sadistic murderer—
"Leia!" Luke shouted.
"If I can hear your thoughts than he can as well," Luke snapped.
"That's perfect then. He knows how long it will take me to forgive him, let alone accept him as my father!" Leia almost shouted.
Luke pushed himself away from the table and stood up, staring at Leia. "If you're going to be so unreasonable as to accuse him of being responsible for Alderaan or something similar, I have nothing more to say to you for now. I think you should have stayed in the Empire, Princess. Your biased state of mind would fit in perfectly."
After his short, angry speech he turned and walked down the stairs of the veranda and into the confusing maze of the gardens. He shut his mind down in the Force, done listening to Leia's irritating mental tirade.
Leia was left sitting on the patio, stunned into tears by Luke's words. She sat there a long time before she walked into Vader's home and up to her room to prepare for dinner.