No turning back

Disclaimer: The usual stuff. I don´t own the characters etc.

WARNING: This story is pretty dark and if you are one for happy endings then I
suggest you don´t read it. And if I could not scare you off with this comment,
there´s only one thing left to say: Enjoy. :)

Weak, that was what his son was. With his mind bridging the rapidly growing distance between the Executor and Solo´s ship, he could read the boy´s foolish thoughts so easily
that it was nearly disgusting. There was no strength here, and the confused emotions tumbling through Luke´s head were stomach-twisting: love, compassion; words that meant nothing to the Dark Lord. And yet, the mind-touch was rewarding in some way. He could feel his son´s delicious fear, could taste the hurt and anger he felt at his father´s betrayal. The last of the Jedi, and a fool like all the others. Shaking his head gravely, Darth Vader broke the link and watched the Millenium Falcon vanish into hyperspace, leaving Bespin behind. He would find him again, he knew. An encounter he was truly looking forward to.

Leia Organa sat quietly at a sleeping Luke´s side and her dark eyes rested sadly on his pained face. Whatever Vader had done to him back there on Bespin, it had shaken the youth deeply. And no wonder. This creature was a monster. Very slowly her fingers curled into fists as she remembered the events back in the carbon freezing chamber. Han bound and helpless, his concern for her and that awful moment when the freezing cold gas hit him, trapping him in carbonite. I love you, she had told him and she knew he loved her too, although he had never said it. What a strange affair that was. And now he was lost. But she would get him back somehow. If he was alive. She sighed. If. Leaning forward she gently brushed her fingertips over Luke´s hot forehead. "Be strong," Leia whispered, more to herself than her injured friend.
Suddenly she felt someone standing behind her. Turning around she saw Chewbacca ´s huge form filling the doorway. He took a step forward and embraced her gently, trying to soothe her. Before she knew it she was crying into his coarse fur, letting all her grief flow away. Vader would pay for all this. Somehow he would.

Wrenga Jixton hated having to wait. But he would never complain to his employer about it. He wasn´t suicidal, after all. Right now he was sitting patiently, more or less, in one of the uncomfortable chairs in Lord Vader´s meeting room. Meeting room, yeah sure. As if that Sith ever cared about another´s opinion. Or anyone, for that matter. Although, Vader had spared his life, hadn´t he? For his own ends, but Jix didn´t care about that. He enjoyed life. And so far his service to the Dark Lord had been enjoyable too. Suddenly the door swished open and the Dark Lord swept into the room. He stopped apruptly and appraised the man sitting in front of him for some time.

"I have a job for you," the Dark Lord said coolly and threw a datacard onto the table. Jix caught it easily and put it in a pocket of his vest, smiling. "Another thing, Jix," Vader continued, "I do not want any witnesses left behind. Is that clear?" - "Very, mylord." - "Good. Now get out."

After his agent had left the room, Darth Vader stood motionless for a long time. Then apruptly, he walked towards the comm console inlaid in the table top and activated it.
"My master," he said calmly. "Lord Vader," the Emperor whispered," You will meet me immediately." - "Yes."

The Dark Lord was smiling to himself. He had felt Palpatine´s surprise when his servant had known beforehand who was calling. The balance was shifting here and sometimes it was better to let your prey have an inkling of what was to come before you took it down. The Emperor was a dangerous game, he knew, but he was getting old too. It was definitely time for changes. And he would not let a young fool get in his way.

Walking down the hallway leading up to the Emperor´s throne room, Darth Vader felt elated. Great things were coming and he was in the middle of it all. His agent would take care of the dirty work, as always, while he could silently plot the Emperor´s downfall.

He knelt on one knee smoothly in front of the throne and lowered his head in obedience.
"Master," he intoned, growing tired of this never-changing mantra. "Rise, my friend." Friend indeed. "Your failure at Bespin was unexpected." - "Yes." - "And yet, maybe it was fortunate." - "In what way?" - "Your son will, no doubt, aim at turning you back to his way. He will come to you." - "Yes." He definitely will, poor soul. "And you will bring him to me - alive." Vader started violently: "Of course," he growled, trying in vain to hide his surprise. This was most unwelcome. His son in Palpatine´s hands? Unthinkable. "You will not dissappoint me, my servant." Darth Vader did not reply. He made a gesture that might have been one of aquiesance, but excused himself urgently.

Stalking back towards his own quarters he was fuming. Luke Skywalker, apprentice to the Dark Side? The old man must be insane. Yet, maybe...He shook his head. No. He would not allow this to happen.

Wrenga Jixton was crouching low on the mansion´s forward roof overlooking the beautiful garden. He could hear voices down below from the balcony. A man and a woman. He risked a glance and saw them in the warm light of six candles, two glasses of some liquer placed on the intricately inlaid table between them. The woman was smiling at her husband.

Jix eyebrows rose slightly. This was going to be difficult. His orders were specific. He had to eliminate the senator and get some special files from his computer. And Vader wanted the whole thing to look like a burglary. But with his wife here... No witnesses, the Dark Lord had told him. Jix sighed. The files were already safely tucked away on a datcard in his pocket. Now. He retreated towards one of the darkened windows of the upper floor and opened it quietly. Slipping into the dark hallway he stalked over the soft carpet, listening.
Finally he had reached the couple´s bedroom and stood watching the two of them through the white curtains on the balcony. Patience now.

He had lowered himself down on his haunches when the woman rose, giggling and kissed her husband´s cheek drunkenly. She walked into the bedroom and vanished into the fresher. This was it. Jix readied the metal wire he would use to suffocate the senator and slipped onto the balcony. The man was facing the garden, not even noticing the danger he was in. When he finally felt the noose slip over his head it was too late.

"Daddy?" the tiny voice suddenly piping up from the bedroom´s door let Jix´ blood run cold. The children. Awake. He let the dead body fall to the polished tiles and turned around. The little girl stared at him wide-eyed, back-lit by the hallway-light shining through the open door.

"Hey. little, one," Jix tried to soothe her and started walking towards her. Maybe he could make her believe that this was just a dream? Yeah, wishful thinking. She shied away from him, terrified. There had been two children, hadn´t there? Where was the other one? When Jix heard a sound from the fresher he sprinted towards the girl, scooped her up and held a hand pressed over her mouth.

Racing down the hallway he prayed that he was not too late. Actually he did not know what to do with the child, but he would definitely not kill her. The woman´s sudden anguished scream let him run even faster. He vaulted over the staircase and dropped to the lower floor heavily. the backdoor. Alarms started wailing and Jix cursed himself for being so soft. He should just have killed the woman too. The little girl was crying soundlessly.

Suddenly she squirmed in his grasp and bit his hand viciously. He slapped her face hard, making her cry even harder. Outside he put her down and squatted in front of her, looking into her frightened eyes: "Another sound out of you and I´ll break your neck," he warned her softly.

She nodded once, then turned around lightning quick and ran. Cursing, Jix followed, but the girl vanished among the bushes like a small animal. He crashed after her, furious. If she managed to escape... But is was not long before he found her again. Her small body was lying motionless on the grass, her head twisted at an unnatural angle. Dropping low Jix immediately scanned the surroundings for an attack. And became suddenly aware of a huge shadow looming over him.

"Do you have the files?" Darth Vader asked, and held out a hand impatiently. Jix gave him the datacard, but his eyes never left the child´s dead body. "Come on," the Dark Lord ordered and his agent followed reluctantly. In the distance he could hear sirens and alarms. It was not that he resented killing. Not by far, he was an assassin after all. But killing a child was something he had avoided so far. And the Dark Lord had murdered her just like that. She was just a nuisance for him, a bug to be squashed. Jix was shaking with disgust. And yet it had been efficient. The girl had been the only witness, so she had to be eliminated. Still. He didn´t like it at all.

"Another Death Star?" the Sith Lord inquired coolly. He waited for the nearly imperceptible nod the Emperor gave him. "Indeed, my friend. And maybe this time we will have any Jedi threats under control. How is your capture of young Skywalker coming along?" - "It is coming along." - "Good. Don´t make me wait though. I hate waiting." - "Yes, master."

Darth Vader walked out of the throne room, his thoughts drifting. Where would the boy go now? He needed someone whom he could trust, someone who knew the truth, who could reassure him. Oh my. Had he once been so pathetic too? Well, this left only one possibility.
Good. Time to pay a visit to an old, old friend. But what to do if Luke was there? Should he confront him? No, better wait. Yes, he smiled, wait some more.

Dagobah was just as he remembered. He hated this place. It was far too moist and far too loud. Pushing twigs and branches out of his way impatiently he finally found what he was looking for. The tiny hut squatted in the shadows of a huge old tree and he could see the warm lights shining dimly through the evening mists. Now, only a little concentration was needed....

- I do not know, Master Yoda, I still think...

- Dead he is forever, Luke. Not your father Vader is anymore.

- But I know what I felt!

- Do you now. Not so certain of your feelings, young Skywalker, you are. Wish you do, that it be so.

- Please, I have to try.

- There is no try.

- Then I will do.

- Perish you will.

- No, I will succeed.

- Luke, there is...another.

- Another what? Another Jedi?

- No, another Skywalker.

Interesting. Most interesting. So the boy thought he could turn his father back? Why? He had not encouraged him in any way. Rather the opposite. This was intriguing.

When he saw the boy´s figure leave the brown hut and vanish in the gloom Darth Vader stood perfectly still, his black clothing melding into the shadows surrounding him. Only when he was certain that Luke would not disturb him anymore did he stalk towards the hovel. Not that he could fit in there. But he didn´t have to. He sat down elegantly next to the window and turned his masked head towards the small creature lying tiredly on a primitive bed. Yoda didn´t notice him at first, but when he did his reaction was spectacular. "You," he hissed, his lips drawing back to reveal a row of sharp teeth and Vader could feel the Force gather around him. Feebly. "You are dying," the Dark Lord stated calmly, "And good riddance. You know, you could not have saved the boy anyway, so why bother at all? Did you really think he could defeat me?" - "If I were a hundred years younger..." - "Unfortunately you are not. And who is this other one, I wonder?" But Yoda didn´t answer. He was already fading away. Too bad. Rising lazily from his seat Darth Vader shook off the first raindrops of the night and left.

"Lord Vader, I am a bit disturbed at your lack of success. Maybe I should leave Skywalker to someone else?" - "Maybe." Palpatine eyed him suspiciously. "Very well, my Lord. Mara Jade will capture him for me and you can go and oversee the new construction project. Your talents are of better use there, it would seem." That hurt, oh yes, it did.

Wrenga Jixton sighed. He was playing with the comm console, waiting for his employer.
And he had been waiting for some time. He sighed again. "Is something bothering you?" he turned to face the Sith Lord calmly. "No." - "Good. Here´s your next assignment. Don´t make a mess of it as last time or it will be your last." - "Sure." He grabbed the datacard and walked out into the rain. A new job, great. What was it this time? Massacre a school? It would just be like Vader to do something like this to him. But as it turned out life still held a few surprises for him.

Endor. Well, it wasn´t bad. It was better than Dagobah, that was for sure. And, after all, he spent most of his time on the construction site anyway. Another Death Star, even larger than the first one. What a brilliant idea. Let´s make the target bigger, why don´t we? Give the rebels more to shoot at. He really, really needed to get the old man out of the way. How was he supposed to work like this?

"My lord?" Wrenga Jixton stood at ease, like he always did, blue eyes half closed, one hand resting on his blaster, more out of habit than anything else.

- "Everything went well, I take it?"

- "Yes. Mission accomplished."

- "Very good. The Emperor will arrive in two days. Until then I want you to keep a low profile."

- "Where?"

- "Obviously not here. Take a shuttle to the sanctuary moon´s surface, enjoy the forest, go hunting, whatever."

- "Of course."

- "I will contact you when I need you again."

- "Yes, sir."

- "Dismissed."

So, everything was in place. Now he only needed to wait for the major players to arrive on this battlefield. Laughing silently to himself, Darth Vader strode back towards his quarters, caressing the hilt of his lightsaber lovingly.

Princess Leia was worried. There was still no news of Han´s whereabouts, and Lando did his best to soothe her. She knew he was trying, and that Chewie was dying with worry over having failed his friend. And now this news of another Death Star. Closing her eyes she could still feel Vader´s hand on her shoulder, holding her back, saw the green juwel that was Alderaan vanish in a merciless explosion. Han was important to her, very much so, but she would not let anything like this happen again. She had recalled Lando and Chewbacca for this next mission. They needed everyone if they were to go against the Death Star.

"Leia?" She turned around and smiled at Luke Skywalker tiredly. "Hey, welcome back, how is Yoda?" He gave her a troubled look:

- "He´s dead."

- "Oh. I am sorry to hear that."

- "And that is not all. I have the bad feeling that everything will be going downhill from now on."

- "Don´t say that, Luke. We can win this. Once we have destroyed the Death Star..."

- "You make it sound so easy, Leia, and I wish I could believe it will be that easy after all."

Resting her calm eyes on him started shifted on his feet, a bit nervous and clearly uncomfortable. What was it with him? Did his master´s death trouble him so? Or was it something else?

"Any news of Han?" Luke managed finally. "No," Leia replied curtly, shaking her head. Here was something she didn´t want to talk about right now. "Well, I guess I´d better leave you alone then," he sighed, slightly hurt, but Leia´s face turned very earnest:

- "Luke, I have discussed your role in the battle ahead with High Command."

- "Really? Let me guess: Nothing so easy as leading Rogue Squadron, right?"

- "You have resigned your commission, remember? No, we want you to keep an eye on Vader."

- "Keep an eye on him? How could I possibly..."

- "Just try to get a read so we know when he shows up."

He hesitated for a second, staring blankly ahead of him, the answered slowly: "Yeah, I guess I can do that." - "Thank you," Leia smiled at him warmly and took him into a tight embrace: "I have missed you. My friends." Holding her at arm´s length Luke looked into her eyes and what she saw frightened her. "I will always be there for you," he whispered, then let her go and left without another word.

"Welcome, my master," Darth Vader had bowed his head as dignified as he could and waited for Palaptine to finally allow him to rise from where he was down on one knee. But the old man took his time walking down the shuttle´s ramp.

- "Ah, Lord Vader, how is the project proceeding?"

- "It is proceeding well. Everything is ready for your inspection."

- "Excellent. I am glad that the construction site has been unmolested by any attacks so far."

- "The rebels will never know this Death Star exists until too late."

- "On the contrary, my friend. They will come here. Soon."

- "What?" Actually it wasn´t as much of a surprise for the Dark Lord as the Emperor might have hoped for. But no need to let him know that.

- "Yes. Indeed. This little insignificant world will see the end of the Rebellion."

- "How, my master?"

- "I have arranged for them to learn about this location and they will not be so stupid and let this chance pass. It is the only one they have left, if they want to win."

- "Brilliant." Yes, brilliant. Just what he had hoped for. Everyone would be here, everyone important.

- "Isn´t it? You may rise now, my friend." Thank you so much.

Straightening in one fluid graceful motion Vader turned around to follow Palpatine to the one part that was truly finished on this forsaken and doomed super weapon. The throne room.

"I have grave news, my lord," Palpatine began without preamble after taking his accustomed seat. "What news?" Vader asked calmly. "Mara Jade is dead." - "Really? That is - unfortunate. Was she able to accomplish her mission at least?" - "Alas no. Skywalker still is free. But no doubt he will show up here with his rebel friends. You will take care of him." - "Certainly, my master." Bowing deeply Darth Vader hid his glee behind a force-shield, careful to not let Palpatine learn his true intentions and feelings. All was going well. And soon there would be one less enemy to worry about.

Wrenga Jixton sat at the river, conveniently camouflaged by the undergrowth and dosed in the sun. He had not heard anything from Vader in four days and frankly, he didn´t mind that silence at all. This planet had proven interesting enough. Especially since the rebels had moved in. It had been only this morning that an Imperial shuttle had landed not far from here. Jix had watched the rebel team disembark and followed them for some time. He knew why they were here, of course. And he had also amused himself by calculating the odds for them being able to storm the bunker containing the Death Star´s shield. Actually those weren´t bad. If, and only if they could remain undetected until they could launch a surprise attack.

A surprise attack. Whatever Vader was planning, he seldom was unprepared and since the rebels still were alive and free, he either had no idea they were here, or else their presence was part of his plan. Knowing the Sith, Jix opted for the latter.

When he saw someone appear out of the forest across on the other side of the river, he shrunk back into his hiding place, watching. The woman was short and slender, and the battle fatigues she wore frankly did not seem to fit her at all. Her hair was tied back in a very elaborate hair-style and although Jix couldn´t shed the feeling that this woman belonged somplace else than a forest, he also noticed that she moved with precision, not wasting energy or strength. She was a fighter, no doubt about that. A rebel.

She went down on one knee and reached out to splash some cold water on her face, then turned her head to look around. She did so with a slow grace, her dark eyes seemingly taking in everything.. When her gaze found Jix´ hiding place he stopped breathing. Although he was pretty sure that she could not see him from where she knelt, he had a feeling of being watched nevertheless. It was an eerie sensation. When she finally stood and turned to leave she looked back over her shoulder, straight at him and smiled. Then she was gone.

Sith! He ranted in silence as he ran. He should have killed her as soon as their eyes met. Jumping over a fallen tree Jix let his legs fold under him and paused. Night was falling and he was not going to wait for her to betray his position. There was no logical explanation to what had happened. How could she have seen him? Or maybe she had sensed him. He stopped himself. Could she be a Jedi? As far as he knew the rebels had only one, a boy named Luke
Skywalker. Who was she then? And did Vader know about her too?

Princess Leia Organa was looking at Luke thoughtfully. It was night and they were all seated around a small camp fire, with Lando and Chewie deeply immersed in a quiet conversation not far away. And Luke, well. He was keeping very still. She went over to sit by his side and lay a hand on his shoulder: "What is it? Something´s bothering you. I can see that." He sighed deeply, then took her hand and led her away from the others, into the forest. until they were alone. Only then did he turn around to face her. He had chosen this site well. There was no way she could read his face. But his voice conveyed his emotions well enough: "It is Vader," he whispered and Leia started:

- "He´s here?"

- "No, no. Not here. But close."

- "The Death Star?"

- "I guess."

- "Luke, what is it with you?" Again a sigh. She saw him move his head away, then turn to face her again:

- "What I am telling you now must remain secret," She nodded, suddenly afraid, "Darth Vader is - my father."

- "What!" she nearly shouted and took a step back, but he caught her arms and held her tight:

- "Leia, please," he seemed to be desperate now," Imagine what a shock that was for me. It is - unbelievable, I know. But it is the truth."

- "Did he tell you on Bespin?"

- "Yes."

- "I knew it. Listen, he was lying to you, he wanted to put you off-balance. This simply..."

- "Leia. It is true," he repeated. Relaxing a bit she felt her eyes unfocus:

- "No."

- "Leia..."

- "What....what are you going to do?"

- "I am not sure."

- "But you have an idea?" He nodded:

- "I will go to him."

- "Are you out of your mind? He will kill you!"

- "I don´t think so."

- "Really. Why?"

- "He could have killed me on Bespin. And didn´t."

- "He hurt you enough, I think."

- "Leia, don´t you see? He is not completely evil, I can feel that."

- "Maybe you just wish it to be that way. I beg you, don´t go."

He let go of her arms then and hung his head: "At least I have to try," he whispered and vanished into the night, leaving the princess all alone with her fears and worries.

Darth Vader strode across the hangar bay towards the white shuttle already waiting for him:
"I will not need a pilot," he barked at the attendant and marched up the lowered ramp, into the ship´s interior. So, Jix had been alerted already and should be waiting for him at the bunker. Good. And if his information was correct, or rather, if Palpatine´s information was correct, the rebels would start their assault in a few hours. Time enough to put a few things straight. He smiled to himself. This would be delicious. Running the shuttle through the pre-flight check he walked the cramped expanse of the cockpit restlessly. He had to admit that he was nervous. If anything went wrong... But no. Jix was absolutely loyal and he would be the only witness. One he could easily dispose off if necessary. Finally the ship was ready and the Dark Lord took his seat in the pilot´s chair. Taking the shuttle off the floor he headed out into the open, leaving the Death Star behind. It hung there over the sanctuary moon like a menacing asteroid and it´s exterior was gleaming coldly in the dim lights of the stars.
In a few hours it would be space dust.

The landing was uneventful and in these early hours of the Endor day, with mist hanging between the giant trees, the forest moon seemed to be peaceful even. Darth Vader landed the shuttle on the bunker´s landing platform and shook himself once before disembarking. And after leaving the ship he was quickly joined by Wrenga Jixton, who seemed to have appeared out of thin air.

The agent was following him quickly and determined, ready for action. Good. They walked down the stairs, their boots clanking over the metal steps, and rounded a corner to stand in front of the heavy blast door. Vader punched in the security code slowly and then they waited until the door had opened ponderously. A young officer was standing in the hallway leading to the control room with a smile: "Welcome, Lord Vader," he said very politely and gestured for them to come in. The Dark Lord strode forward, with Jix right behind him, and ignored the guard hiding behind the doorframe completely. Instead his hand shot out to grab the officer´s head and gave it a sharp twist. The moment the man´s body hit the floor the guard toppled forward, a knife sticking out of his chest.

Wrenga Jixton turned towards his employer coolly and nodded. He slipped around Vader and soon shots rang out from out of the command center. Not for long though. By the time the Sith had entered the room, Jix was already bent over the shield controls, standing amidst dead bodies. "Do you think you can handle this on your own?" Vader asked him calmly and noticed the slightest confused hesitation before the other man nodded. "Good," unclipping his lightsaber from his belt he turned towards the command center´s entrance again:

- "The speed rate?"

- "1.4"

- "Make it 2.0"

- "As ordered."

Leaving his agent to work the Dark Lord quietly stalked through the hallway towards the presence whose approach he had sensed only minutes ago. Luke Skywalker. The youngster was standing not four meters away from the blast door, his lips pressed together in deep concentration. "Welcome, my son," Vader whispered and stepped out into the open.

The boy didn´t move, when the red blade flashed into existence. "Father," he replied quietly and nodded once, not taking his eyes off the advancing figure. Vader barked a short laugh:

- "A true Jedi. Do you not want to defend yourself?"

- "We do not need to fight, you know?"

- "So you will join me?"

- "No."

- "I see. Then why should I let you live?"

- "You are my father."

Darth Vader stared at the boy for a long moment. He could feel his son´s profound confidence in his father, a confidence that told him that there was still some good there.
Could feel the peace he himself had forsaken long years ago. "Fool!" he spat angrily, "Foolish Jedi! Don´t you see how weak you are? I never understood why Palpatine ever proposed turning you at all anyway," he added viciously," You are nothing, boy." Luke flinched as if struck and his face fell for a moment: "Alright then," he answered grimly at last and ignited his own lightsaber, but did not move yet.

- "What are you waiting for?"

- "Bespin. Why didn´t you kill me?"

- "You jumped off the gangway, remember?"

- "You took off my hand."

- "Yes," Vader replied dreamily.

- "You don´t feel anything at all?"

- "No. What would you have me feel?"

- "Remorse." Vader laughed:

- "Next you will tell me that I should feel a certain bond between us, love perhaps? You are mistaken, child of mine."

- "And you are inhuman."

- "Glad you realized that at last."

Vader was grinning behind his mask when he lunged forward, slashing at Luke in a wide arc, that the boy did not even try to block. Instead he ducked under the blade and stabbed at his father´s mid-section, missing it completely. Sommersaulting out of his reach he stopped again. "I do not want to kill you," he said, his voice anguished. Vader laughed again: "That makes it easier for me, doesn´t it?" he answered coldly and moved in.

But Luke had had enough, apparently. His swordplay became more and more aggressive, and the Dark Lord could feel the red haze of anger and hatred rise up in his son´s mind, overwhelming everything Master Yoda had taught him. When their blades clashed again, pressed against each other in a deadly struggle for dominance and sparks flying in all directions, Luke´s blue eyes were burning with a fire all of their own: "Are you satisfied now?" he whispered, his hoarse voice barely audible, "Isn´t this what you want me to be? Father?"

Vader disengaged his lightsaber apruptly and the boy lost his balance, walking right into his father´s next stroke. A tiny gasp escaped his dry lips as his body slowly slid off the blade. Luke sank to his knees, his eyes disbelieving. "No," Vader said at last, "This is what I wanted all along." He watched the boy fall to the ground, felt his life force flee the dying body and shut down his blade in satisfaction. Turning around sharply he faced Wrenga Jixton, who had watched the last part of the fight standing in the doorway: "Is everything prepared?" Jix simply nodded, but his eyes remained fixed on Skywalker:

- "You killed him."

- "Obviously."

- "Why?"

- "Because he was standing in my way," the Dark Lord hissed angrily and went back into the bunker to check the shield´s status.

Wrenga Jixton swallowed hard. This was - not what he had expected. Vader was - of course - senselessly cruel at times. Ambitious in a way that could be frighteningly cold. But this. Was. More than he could tolerate. He considered briefly taking on Vader, but knew that he would only lose. This left only one possibility. Setting his jaw he picked up the boy´s dead body and vanished into the forest. Up in the sky over Endor, the Death Star´s shield started contracting quickly, crushing the space station mercilessly in the end.

Leia stood next to Lando, once again checking her gear. Blaster, knife, spare power cells, everything there. She was as ready as could be. Chewie mewled at her softly, then nodded, taking the lead. In single file the rebel group made their way through the dense undergrowth of the forest moon in the early morning hours. The princess´ thoughts though were not on the battle ahead. She was thinking of Luke, and wondered what would await him out there. Meeting his father... His father. The Dark Lord of the Sith. She still couldn´t believe it.

"Oh , Luke," she whispered softly and shook her head in dismay. There was no way she could help him now. He would be all on his own. Please let him be alright, she prayed silently, hoping that the Force would protect him somehow. Maybe she was mistaken. Maybe Vader really was a good person, somewhere underneath all that vicious cruelty. And then she felt it.

It was as if her mind was being ripped in two pieces, and she dropped to the soft, mossy ground, screaming in absolute horror. "Luke!" she screamed, and thought she could feel his sudden surprise, his pain, the sense of betrayal and hurt and loss. Then nothing. Panting loudly she could barely hold herself upright. "Leia!" Lando knelt down next to her, his handsome face a mask of concern. "Leia, what happened?" - "Luke. Something happened to him." - "Are you sure?" - "I think he is......he is dead."

Finding the rebels did not prove too difficult, but Skywalker´s body was growing heavy in his arms. Mouth set in a grim line, Wrenga Jixton risked a short glance at the boy´s face and cursed loudly. He reached over and closed the still open blue eyes very carefully. In the distance he could already hear their excited voices.

"Hey! he called out, "Some help over here!" He did not have to wait long. The woman he had seen by the river was the first who broke through the bushes and when she saw him her eyes immediately moved to the body in his arms. Her gaze hardened and when she looked at Jix he could tell that she had known beforehand just what had happened. "Vader?" was all she asked and he nodded. "I should not have let him go," she sighed and bent forward to rest her hands on her knees, exhausted.

"When will your fleet arrive?" Jix asked her suddenly, but was interrupted by the arrival of her companions. The wookie roared at the sight of Skywalker dead in the arms of a stranger and Jix wisely let the body slide to the ground, with due respect, of course. Leaving the boy´s friends to grieve he went over to stand beside the woman. She looked up at him, eyes broken and tired. "Why do you ask?" So she had heard him after all.

- "If he gets off this planet, and worse, to Coruscant, you will never defeat him. Palpatine wanted power, nothing else. But this one, he knows how to fight efficiently, and with noone holding him back..."

- "Then the Emperor is dead?"

- "The Death Star blew up ten minutes ago. Didn´t you feel that?" She gave him a look. "I...I thought...", he stammered and shut up.

- "That I am a Jedi? Hardly. I am Leia. And you are?"

- "Call me Jix."

- "So are you going to help us?"

- "Yes. I cannot sanction what he does. What he did. He killed his..."

- "Son."

- "You know?"

- "I wish I didn´t. I wish he were still alive. But he isn´t and as you said, we have to stop Vader before it´s too late. Lando!" She waited for the man to look at her: "We need to contact the fleet. Set up the comm unit."

He stood in silence, looking up at the expanding ball of fire that was the Death Star turning into nothingness and smiled. A feeling of profound satisfaction wrapped his body in a warm embrace and for a moment it was a feeling close to happiness. But only close. Happiness was something he had not felt in a long time, but it was such a weak emotion, nothing like the raw power of unbridled fury.

So, Jixton had betrayed him. A pity. But not unexpected. Of late he had noticed the agent´s growing aversion against the Dark Lord´s methods and it had been clear to him that at some point he would have to get rid of him. Now was that time. Wrenga Jixton would not leave Endor alive. And, of course, there were still the rebels to take care of. Turning towards the bunker, Darth Vader made his way back to the landing platform, when the sudden whine of fighter engines snapped his head around.

Two x-wings were skimming low and fast over the treetops, passed the bunker overhead and were gone again. Cursing loudly the Dark Lord sprinted across the small clearing toward sthe forest and made it just in time, before two expertly aimed torpedos blew up the bunker along with his shuttle. He hit the ground hard, and his own momentum carried him even further. Feeling the shock-wave rolling over him like a wild desert storm, he lay there unmoving in the dense undergrowth, trying to regain his senses. It didn´t take long.

There were no more sounds to be heard, but Darth Vader was sure that things would not stay this quiet for long. Frowning, he looked up again. The rebel fleet had been due in system only later. Had he miscalculated so badly? Or was something else behind this? Whatever had happened, he should contact his fleet and get some transportation off this forest moon.

Turning on his comm only static greeted him. So. They were jamming all frequencies. Very well. This could mean a few things, and when he finally reached out to scan the area with the Force, he found the Imperial Fleet on the move. They were actually retreating! Fools! As if this ragtag army could stand against the Imperial Navy. When he got back to Coruscant, he would make some cutting changes in High Command. Maybe, though, they had received orders to retreat. But one would need the proper codes to....Jixton! Of course. Groaning inwardly he pushed himself up and rose from his hiding place. No need to conceal himself now. The rebels knew where he was anyway.

Undoubtedly they would soon come back to get at him. Or try to. He was smiling. Maybe he could surprise them yet again. Once they had landed on the moon it would be an easy task to steal one of their ships and leave. The smile turned into and open laugh, one that died aprutly, when he realized that the rebels had more than one way to deal with him here than an open assault. And when hours later still nothing had happened, his confidence dwindeled by the minute. This was bad. But not a lost cause yet. Reaching out yet again, he let his mind hover at the edge of the rebel fleet and waited.

Wrenga Jixton was grinning at the Princess, shaking his head once again in disbelieving admiration.

- "That was a master piece, you know? I never would have thought of that." Leia smiled at him:

- "Well, you did order the Navy´s retreat."

- "Yes, but this... He´ll be so mad..."

- "None of our concern anymore."

- "You know, Princess, if anyone could tame Darth Vader it would be you."

- "Thanks, Jix, but I prefer him dead."

- "I know what you mean. What are we going to do now?"

- "Coruscant. We should have enough of a momentum to crack the capitol´s defenses."

- "And we are just leaving him here?"

- "Of course. It´s not as if he has any chance to get off the moon, right?"

- "Yeah. But I would rather not leave him alive."

- "He won´t survive."

- "I hope you are right."

The fleet was ready and all coordinates were set. One by one, the rebel ships accelerated and made their jump into hyperspace, leaving Endor behind.

All, that was, except for one. The Corellian Corvette´s crew did not even realize what was happening and the Dark Lord did not care for them to ever do so. Taking over their minds had not proven too difficult, and once he was on board, there was no need anymore to concentrate on controlling them or himself. Oh no.

Stalking the silent bridge of the rebel ship he took a look at the preprogrammed coordinates and smiled. He would find them again. And then he would have his revenge. But first, he needed to get back to Coruscant. Soon.

"The `Guardian´ didn´t make it," Leia announced solemnly, hugging herself tightly, eyes dark in utter despair. Jix looked up at her from where he sat half asleep slumped over the table top of her desk. "What?" he asked muzzily. "The ship didn´t make the jump. And I think this can only mean one thing." His blue eyes widened for a second, then became dangerous slits in a face suddenly hard as granite:

- "How soon can we move?"

- "We already are moving," she replied with a tiny smile, "You slept through the hyper jump. Now we only need to conquer Coruscant. As if it were that easy." Jix regarded her pensively:

- "I wonder."

- "What?"

- "I think Palpatine was well aware of Vader´s ambitions. Your fleet came in earlier than expected, didn´t it? And the Imperial ships left without questioning."

- "Yes. You think he had this planned?"

- "Maybe. We will know more once we reach the capitol."

The `Guardian´ hung in deep space, no more than an empty shell now. Only one being was alive on the ship and this being was currently trying very hard to control his anger. He had tried contacting Coruscant. He had tried to get into the mainframe. He had even considered going there himself. But he knew that this would be useless. Palpatine had been a step ahead of him. A very large one. Darth Vader would not find any support on Coruscant. That he was sure of. Very well. Although he did not like finding himself in such an isolated position he was not loath to it either. This way he had no restrictions holding him back, no obligations, no duties. He could do whatever he wanted. Darth Vader smiled.

The Jedi were dead and there was no enemy worthy of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Except that was, for one. She did not know it yet, but he had chosen her to be his heir. If he did not survive this, and, being realistic, the chances for that were very high, he could still let her continue his legacy. It would need only so little to turn her, she was too much like him. Too much like her father. And the key to the Dark Side was love. He would show her. Oh, yes.

She would turn on him, he had no doubt about that. But this was part of the game and he would enjoy it to the end. For now though, he needed to prepare their playground. And then he would send her a nice invitation. One she simply had to accept. A present maybe... Smiling again, he let his mind wander and lost himself in sweet dreams of vengeance. Soon. Soon she would be his.

Princess Leia Organa stood on one of the Imperial Palaces many balconies, frowning.
She was alone save for Wrenga Jixton, who had taken up the post as her bodyguard almost without her noticing. Leia was not sure why he did that. Maybe it was because he felt an obligation to her. Although she could not imagine what in the world that might be.

They had arrived at Coruscant almost a week ago and to their utter surprise had met little resistence. It was a miracle. One she could not yet believe in. They had been told that the rebels were more welcome than the Dark Lord, yes, but that had only told Leia that Palpatine had manipulated his enemies into this situation. And nothing good could come of that. Additionally they would now have to deal with a vengeful Sith. Rebel Command was delighted and Leia felt as if everyone had suddenly gone mad. How could they trust the Emperor´s going away gift so blindly? But Mon Mothma had told her that they could deal with anything from Coruscant. Really? she had asked back, And what if Vader comes back to claim his own? That was what frightened her most. He had not been loath to killing his own flesh and blood to satisfy his ambitions. And she had the feeling that a fleet of warships would not stop him either.

Sighing deeply she turned around to go back into the quiet room that was her office. Jix followed like a silent shadow. He had been so valuable in the past week, with his deep inside knowledge of both Coruscant and the Empire in general. Leia was glad to have him. And, she told herself, she should be happy that they had won so easily. But there was something missing. Han. Closing her eyes she brought back the image of him looking into her eyes, back there in the carbon freezing chamber on Bespin. "I love you." - "I know." That simple. Maybe now she could be free to go looking for him herself. Maybe she would find him again. Maybe everything would be alright in the end. "Why are you smiling?" she heard Jix ask softly and she smiled. "It is just memories," she answered, shaking her head.

Suddenly the comm installed in her desk top started blaring loudly. She went to answer it. It was Lando and he sounded more than nervous. He was clearly frightened:

- "Leia, a ship just dropped out of hyperspace. It is the `Guardian´." Leia froze, swallowed hard, then whispered:

- "Don´t go there alone."

- "Thank you, I won´t," he replied drily, "The `Liberty´ and `Home One´ are moving into position. If they detect anything suspicion they´ll blow her up."

- "And what if not?"

- "Then we will move in."

- "Contact me if you find anything."

- "Of course. Lando out."

He broke the connection and Leia took a moment staring into the distance. If he was here already...They were not prepared. They - .

- "He won´t be on board, you know?" Jix said calmly from behind her.

- "What makes you say that?"

- "I know him. It is probably just a trap for your troops."

- "They´ll be careful."

- "They can never be careful enough."

- "I could order them to destroy the ship immediately."

- "Maybe you should do that."

Just then the comm started again.

- "Lando?"

- "It´s okay," he answered, sounding tired. But she could feel that there was something else.

- "So. What is it?"

- "A message." Leia felt the pit of her stomach turn to ice:

- "What kind of message?"

- "The subtle, yet straightforward one. Better come an see for yourself. And bring Jix."

- "You bet. See you in an hour."

Walking the silent cold corridores of the corvette, Leia tried hard not to let the sight of brutally mutilated bodies get to her. He had slaughtered all of the crew, from troops to technical personnel on. It was a message alright. And she didn´t like it. Jix and Lando were walking at her side, their troubled eyes grazing over the scene of destruction laid before them. Chewbacca was bringing up the rear, equally silent. Noone spoke on their little trip, but everyone felt the same hatred, fear and impotent fury. Leia could feel it. And that frightened her the most. That she could barely control herself, as if something simply had to give. Was it the Force she felt? She was not sure. The only thing she was sure of though was that Vader would pay for this and everything else. She would make him pay. She would make him suffer.

The ship´s bridge had been cleared of the command crew´s bodies already, but when the four arrived there, they were held back. "What is it?" Leia demanded harshly. "We do not know yet," one of the troopers answered, gesturing towards what seemed to be a medium sized metal box. Leia frowned: "I will have a look." - "Princess, I don´t think anyone should touch that before we know - " - "Stand back," she hissed, "All of you, get out." Out of the corner of her eye she caught Jix´ startled expression at her sudden outburst.but she didn´t care. There was a feeling... Leia shook her head.

Stepping into the silent room all alone she was acutely aware of the smells, the absence of sound, of a darkness lingering. She shivered. The box was a simple affair. There was a lock, but it was not activated. It was waiting for her, she knew. For a moment she pressed her eyes close, fighting a wave of sudden despair. but she would not let her fear get the best of her. Reaching out slowly she pressed the lock down. And as if on purpose the box opened just as slowly. Staring into it´s black interior the Princess froze.

She felt her head spin, her breath catch and her heart leap all at once. She gasped in shock. Heard something. Turned around to face the tall figure crouching atop the communications panel like a huge black predator. "Do you like it?" he whispered softly, his silent laughter echoing through her head. They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity. And Leia could feel something, could feel the darkness reach out for her, embrace her and she found that she could not resist. "You are dead," was all she answered before grabbing the box in both hands and dashing for the door, screaming at the top of her lungs. Back on the bridge Darth Vader slipped off his perch and smiled. Love was the key. And only that.

Wrenga Jixton immediately went for his blaster upon hearing the Princess´scream. And when he saw her charging out of the room, the box hugged tightly to her chest, eyes haunted, he knew just what had happened. "He´s here," she half-sobbed and fell to her knees. Lando moved to take the box out of her hands, and Leia simply growled at him. He stood back, surprised. But the top of the box had popped open again, spilling its contents on the dark floor. Jix´face hardened, while Leia just stared down, unmoving. The only sound in the corridore was Lando´s retching. Then Chewbacca moved. With a beastial roar he charged towards the still open door to the bridge, but a stun blast out of Jix´gun broke his headless attack. "Don´t be stupid," the agent said calmly, then motioned for everyone to retreat.

"Come back here," he ordered a still dazed Chewbacca and the Wookie complied grudgingly. They waited. "Let´s go in?" Lando suggested, shaking. Jix shook his head. Whatever Vader had planned, he would never give up without a fight. And the four of them could not stand against him. Almost unconsciously his gaze wandered towards Leia again. What was it with her? She seemed different. But then, he thought guiltily, having a loved one killed could do that to you.

Leia blinked away tears in surprise. She had not even noticed that she was crying. Through the wet curtain of salt water she could still see his face, blind eyes regarding her without fear. Had he seen it coming? Had Vader teased him before ending his life forever? "I love you," she whispered and reached out to touch his face, his lips. She cried harder. Oh, Han.

"He never was worthy of you, Princess," the hard, cold, metallic voice ripped through her griefing uncaring, mocking even. Leia closed her eyes, heard Lando gasp and Jix curse. No sound out of Chewbacca. Was that a bad sign? Probably. She jumped when she felt his black cloak brush her left cheek gently. And for just one second she wanted to bury her face in the warm, soft fabric and hide in its comfortable darkness forever. For just a moment she wanted him to hold her, comfort her, before she killed him. A cruel smile twisted her lips at the thought of sweet, sweet revenge. "Leia," he whispered, "I can give you whatever you want." When she turned her head to face him she knew that her eyes were colder than even his could ever be: "I want you dead." He laughed again. That quiet, mocking laughter, chiming in her head like the bells of doom. "Not yet, Princess, not yet."

- "You cannot escape," Jix said suddenly, his voice calmer than he felt. Leia stared at him.

- "I am not intending to leave right now," the Dark Lord replied ironically, but did not move.

- "Then what do you want?"

- "My daughter." Jix´eyes snapped towards the still kneeling Princess, who was paling visibly.

- "You - ", she whispered.

- "Yes."

- "Well, you cannot have her," Jix replied, his tone a bit harder than before.

- "And you want to prevent that, traitor?"

- "I will most certainly try."

- "And fail."

- "Maybe, but - ."

Leia had enough of this pointless debate. If Vader wanted to kill them he would have done so already. Whatever he was planning, she would not let him get what he wanted. His daughter?
Well, she could be worthy of that heritage, no problem. Moving very suddenly she grabbed the edges of the still open box and hurled it at Vader´s head. His right arm moved up to bat the object aside almost casually, but by that time she had already gotten hold of his lightsaber. With a small cry of triumph she ignited the blade. The blue blade. Luke´s lightsaber. Her - brother? The weapon suddenly seemed too heavy in her hands. "You killed him," she said hoarsely, meeting his masked gaze again, "You own son." He did not answer. But she would not have heard him anyway. Father or not, he was going to pay. Raising the blade high she prepared to strike him down. He did not move at all. Leia hesitated. Blinked twice. And shut down the lightsaber. "No," she stated calmly, "I will not join you. Never." - "Too bad," Vader answered viciously and moved out of the blade´s reach.

It was then that Chewbacca broke his silence. He threw himself at the Dark Lord with a low growl, ducked, when Vader turned towards him and raked long, sharp claws over the other´s torso. Leia stared in shocked surprise first at the Wookie, then at the dark blood suddenly running hot and wet down the black armoured suit. Vader screamed. It was an ancient scream, a challenge to a fight beyond any emotion, beyond physical restrictions. The sound of it made Leia´s blood run cold. "Chewie!" she screamed in absolute horror, but then Lando was at her side, carrying her through the still open door onto the bridge. She fought him at first, hitting him blindly, but the door closed, shutting out the awful noises of battle. "Leia," he whispered soothingly, "It´s alright now." Looking up at him she felt her heart break: "Nothing will ever be alright again."

Darth Vader was furious. She had not reacted to the bait the way he had hoped for, but still he had managed to shake her resolve. Just a little more and she would finally snap. If not, he could always kill her. Luke had turned to the Dark Side in the end. Because his father had betrayed the trust he had put in him, because he was not what the boy wanted him to be. Leia wanted him dead. That was, frankly, a problem. He smiled, fending off yet another attack by that seemingly never-tiring Wookie. In passing he slapped Jix´blaster out of the other´s grasp, breaking the agent´s other wrist too. If he did not move quickly he would run out of excuses. And he needed one, that was for sure. And it had best be convincing.

Walking backwards he kept a steady eye on the rebel troops closing in. Jix was leaning against the wall, exhausted, and the Wookie was only waiting for his next chance to attack.
All was well. Now to spring the trap. Gesturing towards the door controls he sought Jix´ gaze, and the man reacted promptly. "Don´t let him get in there!" he screamed, causing the others to charge forward blindly. Vader pushed a bit harder and then the door controls finally obeyed his will, opening the bridge yet again. Moving quickly he sought Leia´s presence and smiled. She was quivering with rage, he could feel it across the room. Good. The bridge was crowded by the time he had reached the command panel and vaulted over the structure, seeking cover.

Calrissian´s first shot hit him right above his hip and he doubled over gasping. Falling to his knees he smiled unseen behind the mask. Make your move, child. Now or never. The blue blade hissed into being right beside his head, swung around to come to rest at his throat. The armour would not stop a lightsaber, that he knew. But she would not kill him. Not yet. He turned his head slowly, studying her face which was eerily lit by the weapon´s glazing light. Saw her fear and determination. "Don´t move," she hissed and left her hiding place, keeping the tip of the lightsaber at his neck. He could feel the weapon´s hot caress even through the mask. "Or what?" he shot back, deciding to risk some more. But she would have none of it. Nodding towards Calrissian she shut off the blade. Then there was nothing but a bright blue light engulfing him and he lost his consciousness.

Leia was leaning against the doorway, her arms crossed in front of her chest, and stared at he man lying asleep on the infirmary bed. Her mind was blank, there was no room for thoughts, for emotions, for anthing. She was tired. And she did not really see him at all. He was just a shadowy outline in a shadowy room, something she could neither grasp nor understand.
And she had found that she very much wanted to understand him. Understand if what was happening to her had happened to him too. How he had gotten as cold and cruel as she felt herself becoming now.

Wrapped in a protective layer of numbness she stepped forward, coming to a halt next to his head. Looking down she looked into his open blue eyes, still feeling nothing. He was smiling. "Why so thoughtful?" he asked, almost tenderly, raking her emotional armour apart with only three simple words. She slapped him hard. It didn´t seem to faze him at all. "Don´t you dare," Leia hissed, "Don´t you dare play with me. You are not my father and never will be." Something flashed in his eyes. Annoyance? Or was it disappointment? Fuming, Leia turned away from him: "You are not my father." His silence was even more disturbing against the noisy background of the machinery keeping him alive. The Princess shivered. "Leia?" She shut her eyes. "I am sorry." - "What for?" she snapped irritably. How could he tell her he was sorry now? Was he completely out of his mind now? "For disappointing you. For not being with you." Her anger welled up again: "Did you tell Luke the same before you killed him?" Leia whispered hoarsely. He did not answer at first.

- "Luke was weak. He was not - what I expected him to be."

- "And I am?"

- "In a way."

- "What way?"

- "Your strength. Your determination. Your anger."

- "Is that all?"

- "No. You are a leader, like your mother."

- "Did you love her?"

- "Yes. Very much so."

- "What happened?"

- "She left me."

- "Well, I can understand that."

- "Really? You do not know me, child. She did."

- "Don´t call me that."

- "My apologies."

- "How did she die?"

- "A friend, an enemy, he stole her from me and killed her."

- "Obi-Wan? I don´t belive you."

- "I cannot make you believe it."

- "Very true. I am leaving."

- "Will you come back?" She hesitated.

- "Yes."

Princess Leia was dreaming. And like in all the nights before, it was the same dream. A nightmare. She was walking the dank, dark corridores of the `Guardian´, searching for something, something she needed badly and could not find. At first she had thought it was Han.

But as the days and nights passed she found that it was something else entirely. Entering the `Guardian´s bridge she stood atop a sand dune in the middle of a desert, looking down at what seemed like a small fortress, squatting in the shadows of wind-blown mountains. Tatooine. She remembered that planet from a long, long time ago. In the dream she started descending the dune, approaching the fortress. Until she stood finally in front of the huge door´s sally port. It was curious, but she felt like she had been running all the time. Her breathing was ragged and loud in her ears. The building was unknown to her. But she felt not afraid when she entered.

It was cool in there, she knew, but she could not feel it, just like she had not felt the heat of the desert either. She smiled. Whatever it was she was looking for, she would find it here.

And then she woke up.

- "You look worried," he told her with some concern and her eyes narrowed dangerously when she turned to look at him again. He lay there, unmoving, his scarred face impassive as if those fatherly words never had left his mouth at all. He was playing innocent again. And Leia hated it.

- "You cannot fool me with this, you know."

- "Yet you come here to talk."

- "I cannot explain why."

- "You don´t need to. I can feel it."

- "No." He smiled at her, just a hint of mockery on his lips.

- "No? I can feel your worry, your fear and confusion. Do you think that I cannot feel other things too? " She blushed furiously. It was true. Over the past week Leia had realized that in a way she loved him. In a very twisted way, she found that he truly cared for her.

- "Why did you kill Han?"

- "He was - a smuggler, a low-life. You are a princess. You are my daughter."

- "Yet you told me that you were a slave once and married a Queen. Wasn´t that the same?" His blue eyes hardened.

- "I was a Jedi Knight then. And we were right for each other."

- "Han was right for me too." His face fell a bit.

- "I am sorry."

- "Don´t say that if you don´t mean it."

- "I mean it."

- "I know. And I do not think I can cope with that."

- "Maybe you will learn to in the end."

- "Maybe."

Looking at him pensively, his smile, his eyes so full of hope and yearning. I do not want you to love me, she though, and to her horror an inner voice answered: That is a lie and you know it. And she knew that it was true.

Wrenga Jixton sat at the conference table very quietly, staring down at his bandaged wrists. They were nearly healed again and it was about time. He hated feeling so dependent and helpless. He had told everyone who would listen that Vader was planning something, that they never could have defeated him if the Dark Lord himself had not wanted that to happen. It had been far too easy. But the one person who should listen didn´t. Leia apparently had decided to see beyond her father´s cruel manipulations, she even seemed to have forgiven him her brother´s death. And that of her love. Jix could not understand. What did she see in him? Did she really believe that he had changed so apruptly? Well, he did not and he would talk to her again. Until she realized that she was making a big mistake in trusting Darth Vader.

The meeting was reaching a new climax when Mon Mothma decided to push the issue:
"Leia," she began, her voice soft yet firm, " you have not yet revealed your opinion on this matter." Jix turned to gaze at the Princess who had follwed the discussion with only a minimum interest. He had noticed that absent look in her eyes, her slack features, as if she wasn´t really there. "Leia?" She started. "What?" - "Your opinion?" The Princess blinked once, then smiled faintly: "I agree." - "Good. Then we are decided. Now we only need to set a date." - "A date for what?" - "Leia, what is it with you? You seem preoccupied. And I was sure that today´s debate would interest you especially." - "It did," Leia answered, but Jix could hear a lot of uncertainty in her voice. Had she forgotten already what they were talking about? "Your father," he whispered, coming to her aid. Her face hardened instantly: "The execution?" Jix nodded. "Of course," she sighed, "I still agree. If you would excuse me for a moment?" Without waiting for acknowledgement she stood and walked out ofthe room, slowly, picking her way very carefully. Jix followed her out.

Leia stood in a courtyard bordered by a grove of beautiful trees, in full bloom at this time of the year, and their sweet fragrance filled the air with promises. Promises. She sighed deeply.
"Are you alright?" Turning around she glanced a t Jix briefly, then averted her eyes again:

- "Alright? How can I be alright? I have lost my brother, Han, and now I will lose the last of my family."

- "He is not what you think he is," he told her gently.

- "No? He is my father. I cannot deny that anymore. You should see him now, Jix. He seems so different. Vulnerable. He truly loves me."

- "Are you really sure about that, Princess? Cause if not you are taking a very high risk in trusting him."

- "I have sanctioned his death already, Jix. But it does not make the whole affair easier for me. Regret, that is the best word to describe what I feel. I regret not having known him before - he turned."

- "Do you love him?" She laughed.

- "Maybe. Maybe not. I am not sure. But I feel something for him."

- "I still think you should be careful. If he is only playing..."

- "Not anymore. I know that for sure. He is deadly serious."

- "I know."

- "Deadly?" she whispered, smiling, "Yes. He is that, but many things more."

- "Be careful."

- "I will," she answered, voice grim and left, hugging herself tightly.

Jix bit his tongue hard and tried not to listen to the angry voices screaming at him that he should tell her, tell her what it meant trusting the Dark Lord. That he should tell her about the little girl. But he ignored them all. Leia was right. She had sentenced Vader to death, but at the same time tried to regain something that he had denied her all those years ago: a father. Now she was building an image of him of the fragmented pieces he fed her whenever she visited. Jix was not certain if this was a good thing or not. But as long as it helped her ease the pain he had no right to interfere. With her, that was. Vader himself was another matter.

He did look more vulnerable true. But behind that calm blue gaze Jix still recognized the eye of the storm, a simmering fire ready to erupt in a volcanic explosion and consume everything standing in its way. They stared at each other for some time, and Jix wisely kept his distance.

- "Are you serious about the Princess?" he asked finally. Vader smiled:

- "What do you mean?"

- "Are you just playing with her or what?"

- "She does not tolerate anyone playing games with her."

- "I know."

- "Then why do you think I could?"

- "Good question. Maybe you are just more determined."

- "In what way?"

- "You want her to continue your legacy. You want to make her yours."

- "She already is mine, Jixton. By blood."

- "I mean her spirit. You want to turn her."

- "There is no way for me to turn her now." Not anymore. Jix started.

- "What?"

- "Nothing. She is too strong."

- "Yes, I can believe that." Vader´s eyes lit up with sudden pride:

- "She is a leader, so full of strength and will. Noone can stand against her."

- "Not even you?" The other man smiled.

- "She is an admirable woman, don´t you think?"

- "You love her."

- "Yes."

- "I wish you had said something else."

- "Why?"

- "Because you are such a poor liar." The Dark Lord´s roaring laughter surprised Jix.

- "Truth, Jixton, lies in the eye of the beholder."

- "Then let us hope she is watching very closely," he answered stiffly, then left.

Leia was dreaming again. She was walking through the dry, wind-blown corridores, listening to the distant music coming from the inner bowls of the fortress. She knew where she was now. It was Jabba´s palace and Han was here, as his prisoner. And he was not far. Stalking further the music grew louder and louder, until she managed to shut it out of her mind completely.
The only thing she could hear now was the slow, lazy heart-beat of the Hutt. When Leia entered his throne-room her mouth twisted in disgust. She had never seen so many low-lifes in one place. One dirty place. They were staring at her, one by one, and she could feel their silence gathering around her like a cloak. She smiled. Jabba´s huge golden eyes blinked in her direction, then widened with fear. He sputtered something, tried to flee. She was faster.

Closing the distance in long, easy strides she felt her blood dance in anticipation. You stole my love from me, give it back! she screamed silently, her mind drunken with a sudden feeling of giddying power. You are mine. Lashing out at the Hutt´s obese form she watched his belly ripping open, spilling his guts into the room, filling it with their hot stink and driving the other denizens of the fortress away. She did not care that some of the gastly fluids had splattered over her, she even cherished the feel of it. it reminded her of the aftermath of battle, when your enemies´ blood mixed with your own, strengthening you with their life-force. She had never felt so satisfied in her life and her mind semmed to make a double flip with joy, trying to pull her in a myriad directions at once. Drawing a deep breath she turned away to find Han.

It did not take long. Jabba had had the slab of cabonite trapping the Corellian hung at the opposite wall of the room like a piece of furniture, a souvenir. Leia smiled. How tasteless. She worked the controls quickly, then stood, waiting, her heart beating faster and faster. Han! tears were streaming down her cheeks when she finally saw him there, kneeling on the dark, slick floor, blind, but safe. She wanted to laugh, hold him in her arms instead of crying like she did, but something held her back. He looked around, frowning, then finally seemed to acknowledge her presence. Cocking his head as if listening to some unheard music, his face became calm, nearly impassive: "Are you going to kill me now?" he asked resignedly, shattering Leia´s joy instantly. What did he mean? No, Han, no. I came to save you.
And then she woke again.

Sitting on a chair she had pulled up to his bed, Leia was watching her sleeping father thoughtfully. The dream was bothering her immensely and she could not shed the feeling that it was some kind of Force-induced nightmare. Was it her own worries and fears trying to make themselves heard? Was it the Dark Side speaking to her? She desperately needed answers to reassure herself, to be prepared to fight. And the only one who knew the Force was her father. Of course she remembered Jix´warnings, and she knew that her father was devious in more than one way. But there were no dangers here for her. She could feel that.

Reaching out Leia brushed his cheek gently, trying to wake him up. And when his hand came up short against the restraints shakling his wrist to the bedframe, Leia took it carefully. He squeezed her fingers reassuringly and opened his eyes, deep blue glaciers reflecting the harsh lights of the room. He smiled.

- "I have a question," she began without preamble, certain that he already knew.

- "Then ask."

- "It is about dreams. Do you dream sometimes?" He shook his head slightly:

- "Jedi do not dream. But in deep meditation they can experience visions, which can seem like dreams. Have you had one of those lately?"

- "I guess."

- "Tell me about it." She hesitated at first, then told the whole story, haltingly, trying hard to hide her anxiety. When she was finished at last his gaze had become thoughtful.

- "What do you think about it?"

- "I am not sure."

- "He thought I wanted to kill him." He hesitated before answering:

- "Maybe, in a way, you think you did."

- "Kill him?"

- "Yes. Guilt can be a powerful catalyst for visions like you have descibed it."

- "I - I- am not sure it was that."

- "You are, Leia. Do not deny your fear. You have to face them in order to overcome this crisis."

- "Is it a crisis?"

- "I believe so."

- "The Dark Side?" He nodded. Leia inhaled sharply:

- "Father - " she began, and stopped when she realized that she had for the first time acknowledged her parentage in front of him. But when his face lit up with a beautiful and joyful smile Leia was sure that it had been the right thing to say: "I need your help here."

- "Whatever I can give I will, I told you that before."

- "Yes, but I did not believe that you were sincere then."

- "You think differently now?"

- "Yes. I - trust you. In a way."

- "And I trust in you. The way it should be." She smiled at him:

- "Yes. And I wish it could stay like this forever." His own smile did not fade:

- "I will be with you, Leia, always."

And with these words her resolve melted away like snow in the summer sun. Throwing her arms around his neck Leia buried her face against his right shoulder and sobbed desperately. In all these years with the Rebellion she had not had time to watch the time go by, had not realized how she had grown up without really passing through adolescence at all. It had been from child to adult straight away. And she had not missed anything. Until now.

How had she ever been able to endure the hardships, the defeats and setbacks without anyone really, truly caring for her? It seemed impossible. Han had loved her, true, but he had never said it, right? That had hurt her more than she cared to admit. And her father was right, she did feel guilty for his death, which was paradox in itself. She had not killed him, but she had cared more about the Rebellion than her own happiness. As she did all the time.

Again her heart was filled with the deep burning regret she sometimes felt when lying awake all night, contemplating her life and achievements. She always fought for the rights of others, giving herself willingly and sometimes the sudden realization that noone cared for her would hit her with shattering force. Up until now she had not dared reveal her despair to anyone. Not even to Han, or Luke. Her father was the first who seemed to understand the lingering darkness in her heart, filled with ghosts of regret and dreams long abandoned. "Be strong," he whispered in her ear, his breath caressing her neck gently and sending cold shivers down her spine.

Leia dislodged her arms from his neck and brushed away a single tear, smiling bravely. "I needed that," she stated and he laughed silently. Once again, she could feel that connection between the two of them, but this time the dark band was laced with golden threads of hope. Brushing a light kiss on his forehead she smiled: "I love you."

He leaned back again, smiling, as he watched her leave, then shook his head slightly. Leia was so contradictive in herself, it was amazing that she could function at all. On one hand she loved her father, and on the other she hated him enough to sanction his death at the hands of her rebel friends. Strange, that. And Solo. She had all but forgotten who had killed him and who had hurt her with his death. The same with her brother. Amazing. Had she received so little caring in her life? Apparently so. And despite all her strength and will, her loving heart was the one weak point she shared with her father. Had shared. He had shed that weakness a long, long time ago. A move he had never had to regret since then. Over time she would learn to shun that weakness too. And hopefully sooner than later.

She neared the huge portal with dread, tried to stop her approach, but could not. Again the doors opened for her and the cool hallways took her into their dark embrace. The distant music sounded jarred in her ears, making her head itch from the inside. No more, she whispered, but still her dreaming mind walked on. For the first time she noticed the sand strewn all over the place, the harsh, hot desert wind howling through the fortress. Noticed the stench in Jabba´s throne room. He gazed at her, golden eyes reflecting death himself. Leia blinked, but then the dream moved on and again she stood over the Hutt´s body, laughing in delight. She turned around, searching. Han, she moaned softly and found him there, frozen like a statue, calm and composed. He was not afraid, she could feel it.

Her fingers moved over the controls carefully and then she waited again. Han, kneeling on the floor, shook his head, looked up at her with blind eyes. And asked again: "Are you going to kill me now?" Han! she shouted in dread, and her hand reached out to him. "Let us end the game here," a cold, metallic voice answered, and Leia ´s head spun. No! It cannot be!

She tried to pull back, but something held her mind tight, despite her desperate struggles. No, please! But there was no escape. She was trapped, heart and soul. She watched Han hold his head high, watched the blood-red blade slice through his neck and closed her eyes. When she opened them again she was awake, staring up at the dark ceiling of ther room. And then she screamed all her rage and fury into the night, a black cloud of hatred shrouding her mind as she took a ragged breath to whispered only one word: "Father."

Wrenga Jixton followed the trail of destruction Vader had left in his wake with measured steps, walking carefully over pieces of furniture and machinery that had been ripped apart in a furious maelstream of Dark power. Nothing had been left intact in the Dark Lord´s former prison. Standing in the doorway, fists propped on his hips, Jix surveyed the room with an expert eye, but he found no pattern behind this mess. Maybe this week of having to pretend being someone else had taken its toll on Vader. And no wonder: He was the complete opposite of the gentle, innocent and harmless prisoner he had played in front of his daughter. Just like Jix had told her over and over again. And after one week of pretense he had finally snapped, just like that. Luckily noone had been with him at that time. Jix grimaced, then sighed. The Dark Lord was gone, that was for sure. Now they only had to find out where he was hiding.

The Princess was already packing when he arrived at her quarters. Dressed in black battle fatigues, her brother´s lighstaber dangling from her belt, she looked up when the agent entered and gave him a cool look. "Don´t say anything," she warned quietly and Jix simply shrugged.

- "Where are you going?"

- "Tatooine."

- "But not alone."

- "This is my affair. Stay out of it."

- "He´ll kill you."

- "We shall see."

- "No way I am letting you go there without any support. Preferably a few warships to back us up."

- "They would be useless. He told me that the game would end there. And he is playing with me, not with anyone else."

- "Thank the stars. But still, you need me." She looked at him for a long time:

- "For how long have been meaning to tell me that?" He swallowed hard, then tried a smile:

- "From the first day we met. Do you mind?" Leia smiled sadly.

- "No, I don´t. And you are right. I will not succeed without any help. And you know him best, it seems. Better than I do, that is for certain."

- "I am sorry that you got hurt so much."

- "You don´t know half of it," she whispered and continued to pack.

Jix wisely kept his mouth shut. If she did not want to share that with him it was fine. He did not need to know everything. Taking a seat Jix let his eyes wander over the room´s interiour, noticed the bright colors of plants and pictures everywhere. He smiled. And then he saw a medium-sized metal box sitting atop a small table in one corner. He started, stared at Leia who had followed his gaze. "Isn´t there something you need to prepare too?" she asked calmly, her face betraying no emotion at all. "I guess," he replied slowly and stood, "Leia - "But she cut him off immediately: "Not another word, Jix. I´ll meet you at the Falcon in fifty minutes."

They were standing together atop the dune, looking down at what had once been Jabba´s palace. Leia held a pair of binoculars in her hands and frowned at the huge portal. It was closed. "Are you sure he is here?" - "Yes." - "Just asking." Scrambling to her feet again she threw the binoculars at Lando who caught them and put them into his backpack swiftly. "Let´s move in. No need to wait anyway."

Stalking the dark hallways, sand crunching underneath their boots, all four of them tried to notice everything at once. Every movement, the tiniest sounds caught their attention. But Leia knew where they must go.

Jabba´s throne room was as empty as the whole fortress. Or so they thought. "You have come," the metallic voice ripped the silence apart with cold blades of silent fury. Leia started, then drew herself up to her small height proudly: "I accept your challenge. Let us end it here." - "With pleasure," he hissed, and then the shadows moved. Chewbacca let out a terrified roar, trying to spot their enemy, but in this dark illusion nothing was certain. "Whatever you do, don´t shoot!" Jix screamed suddenly, before the floor fell away underneath them.

Leia turned around sharply, when she heard her friends´startled shouts. And to her horror found them gone. "Leia," she heard him whisper in her back, "Let us continue the game." - "To the end," she answered and followed him.

Jix was upset, very much so. He had hurt his shoulder badly during their fall, but he had to admit that Chewie and Lando were not much better off. The ex-baron groaned loudly, then switched to cursing even louder until the Wookie´s angry snarl silenced his tirade. "What is that?" Lando asked suddenly, when a low growl bounced over the craggy walls of this underground cave and revibrated in their heads.

- "I am not sure," Jix answered, turning around, "But it is one ugly big monster, I´m telling you."

- "Is it standing behind us or what?"

- "You´re saying it, brother."

- "I have a bad feeling about this."

- "And you are not the only one," Jix answered quietly and drew his blaster.

He eyed the thing carefully, which wasn´t hard, since it was too large to be simply overlooked. He had no idea what it was, but it didn´t seem to be friendly. In fact, it seemed to be hungry. Very much so. "Duck!" he yelled at Lando, who obeyed instantly and managed to get out of the monster´s way just in time before it´s huge claws could rip his head off.

It was then that Chewie aimed his bowcaster at the thing´s head, firing with precision. And hit it squarely in one tiny eye. "Good shot!" Jix shouted, "But get the hell away from there!" The Wookie threw his body sideways, crashing into the cave-wall hard. The monster screamed, furious and searched around blindly for its attackers, raking sharp claws over the stone, sending sparks flying wildly.

Jix hunted around for any possibility to escape this nightmare. There was an iron gate not far. Unfortunately the beast was standing in front of it. "The door!" he shouted, waving, and finally both Lando and Chewbacca got the message. When Jix dashed forwards, they moved too. Confused, the monster swung its giant head from one side to the other. And Jix drew his blaster, aiming high. The laser bolts hit the bars above their heads, loosening the huge trap door. Jix had to be careful though, since the beast was truly angry now. When finally the trap-door came crashing down he heaved a sigh of relief, and made for the door. The last thing he heard of the monster was its blood-curdling death-howl.

"Jix!" Whirling around he saw Lando trying to get Chewbacca out from under the beast´s carcass. He hesitated. "I can´t," he yelled, desperate,"I have to help Leia!" The two men shared a glance and then the Wookie grunted a pained response. "Then go," Lando told Jix calmly and nodded. "Thanks, guys," turning around Jix set to work on the iron gate and finally broke free. A narrow flight of stairs led back up to the throne room, but the agent repeatedly hit his head and legs against the walls, since there was no light anywhere. "Leia!" he called once he was again standing in the huge chamber. There was no answer.

He was watching her, a satisfied smile on his lips. Leia stood tall, facing him with cold, amber eyes. In her right hand she held Luke´s lightsaber, not activated as of yet. But that might change. He hoped very much that it would. From where he stood he could feel her anger and hatred and it filled her mind to bursting. Something had to give soon.

For a week he had built up her trust in him, nourished her hopes and dreams to such an extent that in the end she truly believed that she loved him. But not anymore. The inner glow he had seen in her heart had been replaced by a hard slab of black ice, shielding her against any renewed injuries, mental or otherwise. And he had done his best to hurt her. In fact, he was pretty proud of this little masterpiece. For Leia there seemed to be no other way to end her misery but to kill him here and now.

"Leia," he began in mock concern,"you look terrible. What happened?" She let out a low hiss: "You happened to me. Father," she spat the word at him, shook her head, then took a step towards him, ready to ignite her weapon. When she spoke again he could barely hear her voice choked with anger:

- "You killed my brother. You killed Han. And I swore to make you pay a long time ago."

- "You missed your chance, little one," he told her, smiling.

- "Not at all. I have only just began."

- "You have lost already."

- "Untrue, and you know it."

- "Really? I believe that you, child, are not even aware of just what you have lost."

- "Nothing. I have nothing to lose, thanks to you."

- "You are mistaken, Leia. There is so much more. Friends, love, acknowledgement, understanding. Tell me, why did you not turn back to help your friends?"

- "Because I want you."

- "And you did not care wether they were hurt or not."

- "No."

- "The same way you did not care about Han."

- "Yes," she whispered.

- "Do you see now just what you have lost, what you have become? What you have gained?"

- "What could I possibly -"

- "Look at yourself, Leia. You are far stronger than before, hardened by a cleansing fire that burned all weakness off your soul."

- "You made me suffer."

- "To give you strength. And power."

- "Power."

- "To do whatever you desire. Noone will stand in your way."

- "I - ," she choked, swallowed hard, and recognition flashed across her eyes, before she closed them in dismay,"I have become like you. Just like you."

- "Yes. That you have."

Leia stood, eyes still closed, unsure of what to answer. Maybe she had no answer. She could not have one. And if she managed to make herself believe that her actions were justified, she would not even see that they still were of the Dark Side. She was trapped, there was no escape. Darth Vader smiled slowly. He had won, once again.

"Leia!" Jix´ eyes flickered from the seemingly dazed Princess to the tall shadow that was the Dark Lord. And he moved instantly. Whipping out his blaster he aimed a shot at the Sith, who immediately moved up his left hand to block the laser bolt. But Jix had more than one weapon. The sharp metal disk he had found on his way here and had kept hidden behind his back whirred through the air and closed the distance to its assigned target with high speed. Too fast for Vader to react in time. It grazed his body squarely above the hip, cutting through the thick, padded suit with ease, before it crashed against the far wall and fell to the floor. Jix stared at Vader, who seemed astounded at the deep wound and the hot blood drenching his armour. When he looked up again Jix felt his mega-watt blue gaze burning through his head.
"You!" Vader hissed and lashed out.

Leia followed Jix´fall with her eyes only. And when his body finally hit the ground she felt as if her last life-line had just been severed.A low growl brought her attention back to the Dark Lord. He was steadying himself against the wall with his left hand, fighting hard to keep his balance hunched over as he was, trying in vain to staunch the bleeding. His gaze was fixed on the agent lying unconscious on th floor and Leia could very well imagine his blue eyes blazing behind the mask. Jix had crossed him one time too many. Suddenly though his head turned towards her and he managed a bitter laugh: "He thinks he has won, the fool, " Vader coughed. She stared at him:

- "You killed her."

- "What?"

- "You killed my mother." He laughed again:

- "What a clever girl. Yes, I did. And I enjoyed it. Do you want me to tell you how I crushed the life out of her? She was so pathetic in the end, so weak. But you will be strong Leia. I know it."

Leia did not fully comprehend what happened next, but when she was able to shed the red haze of fury and hatred again she found herself staring up at her father. They were standing very close. She had pushed him back against the wall and he was leaning towards her, breathing hard. The Princess tried to swallow, but could not. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, over her chin, and mingled with his blood running down her throat as his right hand clamped around her neck with vice-like strength. Leia closed her eyes. He would kill her, she knew, fear filling her heart with cold dread, paralyzing her.

But then her own sobbing brought her back into the present. Be strong, she told herself. To her surprise she found the reassuring weight of a lightsaber handle in her hands. Luke´s saber. Looking down she followed the blade´s length up to where it vanished in the Dark Lord´s left shoulder. Her brown eyes flicked towards his face again, widened in sudden understanding. Behind him she could see the darkness gather, ready to swallow her once and for all. "You are mine," he whispered and she felt her head spin with lack of oxygen. Gasping, she slid to the floor.

Darth Vader felt Leia´s consciousness falter and as her body slipped out of his grasp he followed her movement closely to keep the blade from reaching his heart. Very carefully he deposited her on the cold tiles slick with dark blood. His own blood. It covered everything. Even Leia. As she lay there before him, completely at his mercy, he found that he had trapped himself. Falling to his knees he reached up to catch the lightsaber and deactivated it. His right hand was shaking with fatigue and his left had been rendered useless anyway. He had been such a fool.

"A mistake," he whispered, shaking his head disbelieving. In killing her father Leia would have given herself to the Dark Side completely, with every fiber of her being. And he had just prevented that from happening. Why? He had been ready to die to see her rise in his place. But not anymore. Leia had spawned a desire in his heart that had changed his mind. He did not want to kill her. He did not want her to kill him. Leia´s black-clad body was draped over the floor like that of a fallen angel, the pale oval of her face shining with an inner light. And around her red blood was spread out like the broken wings of dark vengeance. She was beautiful. His beautiful daughter. Closing his eyes he moaned softly both in agony and despair.

His legs refused to support his weight any longer and he fell forwards, catching himself on his hands before his head could hit the floor. Pain stabbed through his chest and abdomen so suddenly that he did not even realize it at first. With a groan he looked up, seeking Leia´s gentle, peaceful face again, but his eyes found Jix´hard, blue gaze instead. The agent was standing not four meters away, very straight, very tense. Next to him Calrissian and the Wookie, beat-up but alive, stared at the scene laid before them. He had not even heard those two arrive.

Wrenga Jixton´s left hand pushed the Wookie´s bowcaster down yet again. "Don´t," he ordered him quietly, "He hasn´t deserved to die just yet." Raising his own blaster and setting it on mild stun he aimed a shot at the Dark Lord, who apparently tried very hard to maintain his anger. Such pride, Jix thought, shaking his head. The blast would paralyze him, but not so much that he could not feel the pain anymore. Oh no. With a man this injured Jix was willing to take some risks, but the Dark Lord was always good for very nasty surprises. "Get the princess," he told Lando and the ex-baron obeyed quickly, keeping a wary eye on Vader, who had not moved.

Checking Leia over quickly Jix felt his relief ease some of the tension away. She was alive. "Leave. Now," he whispered, keeping his eyes on the Dark Lord. Chewbacca hesitated, but one look at Jix convinced him that he did not want to remain here after all. Once he and Lando were safely out of ear-shot, Jix moved the setting of his blaster to full power and walked closer to the fallen Sith. "No more games, my lord," he said calmly, smiling a bit. He settled down on his haunches next to Vader´s head and almost casually slapped the lightsaber out of the other´s reach. "What are you waiting for?" the Dark Lord asked harshly, his voice laced with both impatience and pain. A good question, Jix mused, should he kiill him now or simply leave him here to die?

- "Is that decision so hard then?"

- "Stay out of my mind."

- "Too much to ask right now, don´t you think?"

- "You are right."

- "No more games, remember?"

- "I do."

When Vader´s right hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, nearly crushing the only recently healed bone, Jix almost jumped and dropped the blaster. He stared at the weapon, back at Vader and felt his mind freeze in panic. He was dead. Strangely though, the Dark Lord did not move in for the kill. Instead he let go and pushed himself up on his knees. Immediately the agent stood and took a few steps back, picking up his weopon in passing. "Don´t move," he all but screamed, and was swept off his feet by an unseen hammer. "You always were a coward, Jixton" Vader hissed and rose, shaking himself slowly, "And a fool. You sent your companions away. Why?" Jix swallowed hard. In hindsight it really had been a stupid idea: "You are right. I should have killed you straight away." Vader laughed: "Too late."

Jix desperately tried to scramble away, but he needn´t have bothered. Vader´s fall was, he had to admit, quite impressive. Toppling over the Dark Lord went from vertical to horizontal in one elgant movement and crashed spectacularly to the hard floor, where he remained unmoving. Wrenga Jixton heaved a deep sigh, picked himself up, dusted off his trousers and tried to stop the shaking. He wanted to say something suitable, but his mind was devoid of any words. For the first time in years he had truly felt fear again. That had been close. Bending down to grab his blaster, he turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" the voice, still full of haughty pride and anger, stopped him in his tracks. "Wherever," Jix answered and locked his jaw tight. "Do you truly think that you have won, Jixton?" He closed his eyes, saw Leia´s pained face, her eyes dark and haunted. Shaking his head, the agent remained rooted in place, undecided. "You failed again, Jix. You will always fail." Enough. Jix whirled around, right arm outstretched, blaster aimed at Vader´s head. The Dark Lord was crouching on the floor, barely able to remain upright. Jix hesitated. Finally he lowered the weapon and smiled:

- "It is you who failed, my lord. You tried to trap your daughter with false promises of love, and see what it got you. She caught you instead," Vader remained silent, "Her father´s daughter, don´t you think?"

- "Yes. That she is," the Dark Lord whispered at last.

- "I told her, you know? If anyone could defeat you it would be her."

- "Really."

- "And nothing you can say now could ever change my feelings for her."

- "You love her."

- "Yes. And the same cannot be said of you. What kind of father does to his children what you did? You are a heartless monster, Vader. And I will gladly watch you die."

- "That might not happen as soon as you wish for."

- "I can wait."

Jix did not hear the Dark Lord´s laughter at first, but as it grew louder, that pained, wheezing sound sent cold shivers down his spine.

Sitting back Darth Vader leaned his back against the wall, still laughing. He had long given up trying to stop the bleeding and he could feel that his end was near. But he did not care anymore, if he ever had. Looking at the agent hunched on the floor across the room the Dark Lord let his mind drift into the shadowy realms of memories. When had he last felt this chaos of emotions, this ocean of regret, sadness and lost hope desperately trying to drown him? So long ago. He did not want to remember, did not want to feel. But he was helpless against this onslaught, too weak to fight it. And at this point it was far too late for regrets. "Father." His gaze found her dark eyes and saw his own pain mirrored in their depths: "You came back."

Standing for a long time Leia just looked at him. Tried to recall the man sharing his thoughts with her, easing her worries, giving her strength. This was not him, only a mockery of what she had seen in him. What she had believed him to be. Her father.But Leia had seen the darkness and now was prepared to face the light. The light she knew was there, imprisoned in a heart of ice. The one she had seen in his clear blue gaze, that cool abyss so full of a wisdom that he did not even realize he posessed. But she knew. It was his one true strength, a gift he had misused to conceal his many weaknesses. To no avail. She had found him out after all.

Closing her eyes she followed their dark bond to the other end, saw him smile. And even as she watched, golden lightning came streaking towards her, piercing her heart. For you, he whispered. Leia did not answer. Instead she continued looking at him, a serene shadow slowly drifting away into nothingness. I love you, he told her finally and she could feel that for once he truly meant it. Drawing a deep breath Leia whirled around and grabbed Jix´arm, hauling him to his feet. She could not say it, not now. But she was certain that he knew how she felt.
"Let´s go," she ordered Jix quietly and left. There was no turning back.

Left alone in an all too silent room Darth Vader sighed deeply, trying to ignore the pain in his lungs. The darkness was closing in slowly and he watched the shadows stalk him in silence. Evening was falling outside, dimming the twin lights of Tatooine´s suns for the night. What a fitting metaphor. He smiled. Leia had defeated him, without him ever noticing. He smiled faintly. Yes. Love was the key.

Leia, he thought quietly, wherever you are, remember this one lesson. Even if you try to forget everything else.

I will be with you. Always.

The End