Disclaimers: All things Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm.
All non-original dialogue in this story is credited to The Empire Strikes Back script (Script adaptation by Lawrence Kasden and Leigh Brackett, from a story by George Lucas).
Please do not reproduce this story without permission from the authors.
BY THE GRACE OF LADY VADER
by Alderaan21, ami-padme, and FernWithy
The ship seemed to block out the sun, throwing a shadow over Luke's field of vision as the shuttle dropped into the gravity well around Coruscant. Beside him, Darth Vader surveyed the view of the world his wife would claim tomorrow. Luke sensed a deep satisfaction in him, edged with malignant triumph.
My life begins today.
The thought brought no feeling with it. Luke knew that he couldn't go back, but he couldn't imagine the future that lay ahead of him now.
"Your thoughts are clouded, Luke," Father said. "You should not try to shut me out."
"I'm not trying to shut you out... Father. My thoughts are unformed." This was true, as far as it went. That he was deliberately keeping his cloudy, unformed thoughts at the top of his mind, while images of Han and Chewie, and of Yoda on Dagobah, kept trying to peer up through them, was his own business. He didn't think it would be a good idea to let his father see those things, at least not yet. Maybe someday, when things were better, and they'd all become more used to one another.
"What will you do now, with the war over?"
"I will defend her position, against those who are envious of it. "
"And the Rebellion?"
"Your mother wishes to offer forgiveness to all who come before her and swear loyalty."
"One of us, of course, will be required to search their hearts, and be certain such avowals are sincere."
"Oh," Luke said, because he couldn't think of anything else. He turned away from his father, and watched the gray surface of the planet draw nearer. "And Leia? If she recovers?"
"She will recover."
"She is hurt badly, Father."
"She will recover."
"And if she does, will she remain your prisoner?"
Father just turned his head, very slightly, and Luke could feel the piercing eyes on him. He had asked if he might see his father's face someday, and it had been promised, but the eyes... the eyes, he thought, wouldn't be a surprise. They would be blue and cold and sharp, impossible to escape. Luke wanted to see them anyway.
The shuttle docked on a huge landing platform near the Imperial center. Crowds waved red flags and confetti flew through the air so heavily that Luke felt like he was in a sandstorm. Father cleared the path to the transport that was waiting for them, and an honor guard flanked the passageway.
Mother paid no heed to any of it as she walked beside the small floating platform, on which a broken body lay. Luke fell in behind them, and Father swept in last, his cape twitching like a dragon's tail. Then they were shut inside the transport, and the crowd was closed away from them. Luke could feel their collective disappointment.
What did they expect? That she would break away from her injured daughter to give a political speech?
That train of thought sounded all right to Luke's mind, but there was something skewed about it. It took him a moment to understand: she had used their instinctive love for her to build her career, then to take power, and now, when they had won a great prize for her, she turned her back on them without so much as a word of thanks, and he knew that she would fly into a rage if anyone suggested she do otherwise.
"She is distracted," Father said, picking up on the thought (that would take some getting used to). "She cannot be asked to attend to such things now."
"Luke, you are hiding something. Do not imagine that I cannot sense it. It would be unwise to imagine that."
Luke tried not to wince, and mostly succeeded. "Father," he said, "there are things I have not shared. But they will come in their own time." He squeezed his hands into fists and dared himself to go on. "When I decide they will come, and not before."
He waited to see whether or not his father would kill him for that, but after a tense moment of stormy flickering in the Force, Father merely drew himself away from Luke's mind. "My patience will not be indefinite, Luke," he said, and left for the rear of the transport.
Luke just watched the viewscreen of the transport, as the city flowed beneath him. He couldn't find any wonder in it. It occurred to him that he should go back to Leia, but his feet didn't seem to want to move. A great hangar opened before them, and the transport headed toward it.
Just before he crossed the threshold, a wrenching wave of doubt and self-loathing flowed through him. But then he was inside, and he felt nothing at all.
Leia rested silently on a pillow of darkness.
Someone had seen to it that she was comfortable, sedated against a break she could feel in her ribs like a distant storm, and against Maker knew what else. There were voices, unintelligible, foreign. And there were small, warm hands, which grasped hers frequently and tightly. She could see nothing, and she wanted to see nothing. Blind, she could be anywhere, and the hands could belong to anyone. She could be on Alderaan, and the voice that sometimes whispered through the fog to say, "Hush, Leia, Mother's here" really belonged to her mother - her real mother - who would tell her that all of this was a bad dream. Han could be in the next room.
Han. My love. The keeper of my heart.
Some sense, some whispered secret floated across her mind, a kind, furtive whisper that she couldn't understand. It was Luke. She knew it was Luke. She didn't try to comprehend what he meant. She had understood far too many words from him lately.
She let herself slip back into blessed unconsciousness. Her dreams were untroubled by the memory of Luke's voice saying, over and over, "Han and Chewie died in the crash. "Something else awful had happened. She knew it. Something about
a fight, but it was faraway and unimportant. Only that one sentence had made sense to her, and she would give everything to unhear it. And if she couldn't unhear it, she could stay here in the dark, and not think about it.
The warm hands came again, and wiped a cool cloth across her forehead. She found herself wishing they would linger, and hating herself for wishing it, because somewhere in her mind, she knew to whom those hands really belonged.
But what a comfort they were in the cold!
She had no way of knowing how long she'd been sleeping when she finally woke up. She knew only that she'd been wandering in the emptiness for a long time, and had come to a fork in the road - either she had to wake up now, or choose to never wake up.
It was not an easy decision, but in the end, she knew that she didn't want to let go of her life. She swam up toward consciousness, and found herself alone, except for the ever-present medical droids.
Her vision was blurred and shadowy - still useless, but better than it had been. "Time?" she whispered, and her voice sounded like a death rattle. She coughed - it was agony on her ribs, but it cut through any remaining drowsiness - and tried again. It sounded marginally better.
The droid didn't answer either version. It just leaned over her, a presence both gleaming and shadowy, with long pincers that reached toward her. It spoke with a mechanical voice that no one had bothered trying to modulate to human tones. "I will inform your parents that you have awakened."
My parents. A deep dread gripped at Leia. "No, I... "
But the droid was gone. It was not programmed to take her orders.
She sank back into the bed as the lights in the room came up gradually. The walls were gray, the bed sheets sterile white. She could see standing machinery casting grasping shadows where it blocked the light.
The door opened, and three shadows came in, one after another. The smallest came first - an unformed, shifting mass of red that came to her bedside and hovered like a nervous bird. She reached out for Leia's hand, but Leia pulled it away.
Behind her, Luke was small and lithe, a black silhouette against the growing light. She could see his eyes, somehow, glowing from the depths of night. He was reaching to her with his mind. She looked away from him.
On her other side was Vader, standing still and impassive as always, the solid, unchanging darkness that had shaped her life in the light. Only the sound of his respirator separated him from the droids.
"Leia," Mother whispered from within her scarlet cloud. "Leia, come back to us."
Leia could feel her hand, still casting a welcoming warmth across the covers, could see the desperate need in her eyes.
But there was nothing to turn away toward. Han was dead. The Rebellion was defeated. Alderaan had been blasted from the sky. All that was left was a heart that grieved as her own did, a voice beloved above all others, a hand that longed for her own.
For a long moment, she simply looked at that hand, lying there beside her own on the coverlet.
Then, in a rush of loneliness and despair, she grasped it.
The sequel to By the Grace of Lady Vader -- The Ascension of the Queen -- is in progress at TheForce.Net's Fan Fiction forum, at http://boards.theforce.net/message.asp?topic=6528225. We hope you enjoyed the story!