Darth Vader and Son
To everyone who read, reviewed, favourite-d, alerted, just plain clicked accidentally, and those I cannot pm because they have turned it off, thank you!
Due to Darth Vader-typical violence, I have decided to bump this fic up to the T rating; my apologies if it causes any inconveniences to anyone. Also, have fixed the "ficlet" description into "one-shot", for first I did plan for short chapters - and then the Star Wars universe happened. Please read the AN at the end regarding a change in update schedule, not that there was any in the first place...
Chapter 9: Apology Accepted, Lieutenant Commander
In the tremulous barrier between sleep and meditation, Darth Vader remembered.
Do what must be done, Lord Vader.
Blaster fire. Brown robes crumpling at his feet. The double thud-thump of heads and bodies separated cleanly from each other.
An angel, crying.
"Liar! You're with him! You brought him here to kill me!"
Do not hesitate.
The dark side whispering tantalisingly in his mind, filling it with grand promises and paranoia.
The clash of lightsabers.
"You were my brother, Anakin!"
Show no mercy.
A blond-haired child, relieved and trusting. "Master Skywalker, there are too many of them! What are we going to do?"
Only then will you be strong enough with the dark side to save Padmé.
The snap-hiss of his lightsaber, reflected in the widening of horrified blue eyes –
Darth Vader shuddered back into full consciousness, respirator harshly quickened in response to his pounding heart. His fingers twitched in remembrance of efficient, brutal strikes, and his ears echoed with the hum of lightsaber cleaving through flesh. Blinking away the images that seemed imprinted into his mind, burnt deep with the heat of Mustafar, Vader turned his gaze to regard the boy staring worriedly at him over the head of a bantha plushie. For a moment, a long-dead youngling's face flashed over his vision; he threw it aside with a mental snarl.
"Are you okay, dad?" Luke questioned with concern, one arm squishing the stuffed animal to his chest and the other slowly coming up to settle feather-like fingertips on Vader's elbow.
The calming touch only proved to disturb Vader more; he jerked his arm away and, ignoring the fission of hurt that surged through the Force, hauled himself off the couch. He almost stumbled from the roiling emotions the memory beckoned forth, but forced it down with a surge of all-encompassing, hot rage. The dark side crackled under his scarred skin, heightening when he saw Luke flinch back in response to his malevolent aura. He turned away, unable to look at the crumpled expression on his son's face and his bright, untainted Force signature.
Having knowing the man for only a month, Luke had never seen him in such a state. It was almost frightening, craning his neck up at the looming wall that was the man's amour-clad back. Nonetheless, he reached up to tug lightly at his father's cloak.
"Did you have a bad dream?" Luke babbled in a rush, shuffling closer and ignoring the sick feeling that grew inside his chest with the increased proximity to the Sith Lord. "Cause Aunt Beru used to gimme some blue milk an' I always went back to sleep and I can get you some too dad if –"
"Unnecessary," Darth Vader interrupted, voice cold and mechanical. Luke's hand drooped back to his side. "I will be on a mission this week. Stormtroopers will watch you."
The Sith Lord strode out of his personal chambers without a backwards glance.
Vader attributed the rise in once dormant nightmares to Emperor Palpatine's accursed order to eliminate a threat on Mustafar. After leaving Luke on the Exactor (during which Vader attempted to ignore the plaintive feelings leaking into his side of their budding Force bond), he assembled his strike force in another Imperator-class star destroyer called the Chimaera. A Geonosian engineer by the name of Gizo Dellso had reactivated the combat droids remaining on the former Separatist stronghold in Mustafar, amassing an army that attracted the undesirable attention of the Empire. Accompanied by the 501st, Vader commanded an assault of both space and planet-side against the Geonosian's forces. Against the sheer number of droideka, Vulture, and B1 and B2 battle droids, many clone troopers were killed over the course of the day before they successfully destroyed the base and executed their leader.
Several commendations were given to the 501st Legion's members and promotions were handed out, partially due to the gaps left in the chain of command from casualties. It took 8 days to straighten everything with the various imperial navy higher-ups, including a rather costly salvaging mission in the remains of the droids, but finally Vader and his recovering Legion arrived back on the Exactor. In a moment of weakness, Darth Vader had ordered some of his stormtroopers to retrieve an old Separatist Belbullab-24 starfighter, a request which puzzled them even as they hurried to obey. He personally supervised the shunting of the captured starfighter into the Exactor's hanger bay and by the time the task was finished, it was late in the ship's night cycle.
After a moment's hesitation, Vader decided it was best not to head straight to his quarters. A check with the Force told him that Luke was fast asleep, though his slumbering mind was stirring subconsciously in response to his presence. Withdrawing as unobtrusively as possible, Darth Vader began an inspection of his ship for errors in the week of his campaign.
While the bloodlust of battle had lessened the knife-keen edge on his rage, Vader was still fuming over unearthed memories and the added deaths of several promising stormtroopers. Their loss was something the Sith Lord allowed himself to regret, if only briefly and to enhance his connection to the dark side. As a result, he was merciless to his officers as ever. Due to his reluctance to frighten Luke away, they had enjoyed an unusual lack of executions via Force-choking for the past month. Therefore, as soon as Vader stepped into the command bridge alone, a collective shudder of dread ran through the room.
Except, of course, the recently promoted and transferred Admiral Belarc. Arrogantly assured of his place – due to his occasionally, Vader admitted, useful contacts – the admiral began engaging the Sith Lord in small talk of all things. Good evening Lord Vader, how was the mission, did you destroy another city, etc. etc., causing Vader to twitch under his mask and cut him off with a telekinetic warning pinch to his throat. The damage of his leniency in the past month had to be repaired.
Stars forbid if his officers came to regard him as "approachable". Satisfied by the level of terror in the room, the Sith Lord released the admiral and held out his hand for the datapad in a gaping aide's hand. The young man continued to gawp at him, and just before Vader could choke him as well for his stupidity, a braver man stepped forward.
Second Lieutenant Cassio Tagge slivered into the space his superior once occupied, immediately offering a report on the missions that had been assigned in Vader's absence. Vader acknowledged him with a nod. Despite the Sith Lord blinding his overly-ambitious brother some years earlier Tagge was nothing but respectful, efficient and rather competent in not provoking him. It was almost regretful that the junior officer was to be transferred back to Tarkin's command from his temporary post on the Exactor; Vader would follow his career with interest.
Scrolling through the datapad, Vader suppressed a groan. He suddenly wondered if he could commission clones of Tagge to be made throughout his ship.
"Tell me, admiral," Vader began, causing the man to straighten, "why is it that a rebel spy has escaped in a smuggler's freighter when he was known and monitored by your men?"
Before the admiral could open his useless mouth, Lieutenant Commander Needa stepped forward, face set in a tense but resigned line. Vader recognised him from previous missions – somewhat able, but under scrutiny by the Emperor. He wasn't stationed on the Exactor, but commanded on a smaller Carrack-class light cruiser called the Integrity that was assigned in the rebel's last known location.
"My apologies, Lord Vader. I take full responsibility," the man admitted, visibly gulping but nonetheless steady. He proceeded to describe an elaborate chase involving a stormtrooper (not of Vader's Legion, but of a contingent from a nearby world) shuttle that crashed into an asteroid, a lost TIE fighter, damage to Needa's ship, and finally the escaped freighter containing smugglers and the rebel spy.
Another time, Vader would have been grudgingly approving of the man's willingness to admit his failure upfront. However, incensed as he was, he raised his hand in a vice-like gesture that made the crew draw back reflexively.
"They are minor criminals!" Vader raged, bringing the Needa to his knees as he gasped for air. The dark side swelled under his hand. "Marginal outlaws! You are inept."
The grip on Needa's throat tightened; he wheezed fearfully from beside Vader's boots, "N-no, Lord Vader, please –"
"And ineptitude is of no use to me or the Empire."
Just as Vader was to crush the man's windpipe, a little voice caused all the men in the room to freeze.
"Dad?" Luke's voice was tainted with concern. "Is he okay? He's gone all purple."
Unseen, Darth Vader had to close his eyes for a fortifying moment. Too late; he could already feel the dark side retreat in the wake of Luke's bright Force signature, like a wild beast shieding away from a fire. Needa gasped in lungful after lungful of air, one hand gripping the floor to steady his shuddering body and the other massaging his freed neck.
"Luke, you should be sleeping," Vader almost sighed, turning to his son with a stern frown that he conveyed through the Force. The boy, holding his T-16 in one arm, blinked confusedly as he tried to acclimatise himself to the mental communication after a week without.
"Sergeant Russ says you were coming back today an' I wanted to see you," Luke answered, shuffling his feet shyly at the dozens of eyes on him, "'cause Tanker said you were in a big battle." And you didn't say goodbye, whispered his tiny thought through their mental connection, so muffled under a blanket of timidness that Vader didn't know if Luke was aware of it.
Instantly, the words summoned a barrage of guilt the likes of which Vader hadn't felt in almost four years. The feeling slithered, snake-like, into the cavities of his chest and squeezed around his lungs. He tried to push it away, but his sense of failure was compounded by the fact that his son barely managed to meet his gaze without hesitating. Resisting the urge to clear his throat, he turned back to the still kneeling man.
"Apology accepted, Lieutenant Commander," he bit out, and added warningly, "Ensure this is the last time."
"Y-yes, m'lord, th-thank –"
"Come, Luke," Vader overrode the man's rasp, cape sweeping around as he strode away.
After a moment to gulp at the staring officers, Luke gave them a quick wave and scrambled away to follow his father.
The remainders let out a collective breath. Eventually, someone remembered to help Needa to his feet.
Irritated by what he saw as a show of weakness in front of those he commanded, Darth Vader stormed into his personal quarters' workshop to assess the damage to his lightsaber. Before the workshop lights stuttered on, he used the Force to assemble his tools on his desk, on which still rested a blueprint of a starfighter from his previous works. He began to disassemble his dual-phase lightsaber to check the damage had not reached into its innermost components, the weapon heavy and familiar in his artificial hands. The Sith-oriented tool reminded him of his power, which had faltered in the face of Luke's broadcasted emotions, and helped ground him with monotonous, long-practiced actions.
"Dad, can I see that?" Luke's blond head popped up over the desk, having found a stool to drag over. His hands grabbed onto the edge of the table; without looking, Darth Vader nudged some red-handled pliers away from the small fingers using the Force.
Still somewhat wary of his son's turbulent feelings and their influence on him, Darth Vader replied with curtness, "No."
"Do you need my help?" the boy persisted, shuffling closer.
"What are you doing?"
"Luke, go play."
"Can I fix it?"
"You should sleep."
"I'm not sleepy anymore."
"Luke. Either go back to sleep or quieten." The tone brooked no argument.
The boy quietened, watching as new, intricate pieces floated into their proper places and were attached by deft, practised hands. As the blessed silence continued, Vader felt himself become more absorbed in his work.
"Why'd that officer-man fall down like that?"
Luke was becoming very adept at shattering his concentration, Vader observed.
Darth Vader had never felt any qualms before; he was a Sith Lord and could not afford mercy. He tolerated no failure or incompetence, particularly in those under his command, and never had to explain his actions. And yet, Luke stared at him with wide, unwavering eyes. He decided not to coddle the boy.
"I used the Force to make him…" he simplified, "hold his breath."
Did children his age understand death? Luke had offhandedly mentioned his grandmother's grave on Tatooine – which had been a conversation swiftly terminated – but Darth Vader was uncertain. A disturbed look passed over his son's face.
"That was mean!" Luke declared ardently, leaning forward as if to impose his will on the Sith Lord.
This would be much easier if Beru hadn't instilled morals in the boy.
"Those that serve under my command obey me; they are aware of what happens when they fail," Vader said, abandoning his lightsaber in favour of addressing his son directly. "They know they, regardless of rank, are insignificant next to the power of the Force. It keeps them in line and allows to ship to be run properly without foolish power plays."
Luke scratched his head, contemplative. Darth Vader sensed his mind running over the words, rabbit fast and skittering to conclusion.
"Can't you give 'em treats instead, dad? Uncle Owen an' Aunt Beru gave me treats if I'm good, and then I try to be good all the time to get treats," Luke suggested with his face brightening in enthusiasm at the idea, to Vader's trepidation.
He suddenly had a disturbing vision of Luke walking alongside his father and handing out candy to officers he deemed as "good".
"Then they will feel that they are entitled to reward for fulfilling their duty to the Empire, Luke. Already, some expect certain allowances to be made due to their name. Those officers gain their position through political connections." Luke's mind silently voiced his confusion. "…people they know or are related to in Coruscant. Your stormtroopers are the ones who work for their rank." Either that or they are engineered into it, Vader did not add. "I find this a useless system that breeds failure and idiocy amongst the higher-ups. My methods eliminate the weak before they cause too much damage."
"What did that Needle-man do?"
"He failed to capture someone very important. I punished him."
"But he looked like he was hurting! It's…" Luke hesitated, glancing up at his father uncertainly with his brow scrunched down, "wrong to hurt people." The next words were rushed out in a cautious whisper. "Bad guys hurt people."
The beginnings of frustration rose and was successfully quashed. The Dark Lord of the Sith would not get into a battle of ethics with a 4-year-old boy.
"In order to do good sometimes we must do things others may see as bad," Vader tried to explain patiently. "Like my crew, this galaxy is run by fear. People are afraid of the unknown, and what greater mystery is there than the Force? The Empire would not be able to hold onto its rule unless its citizens, from the lowliest recruit to a Grand Moff, know that resisting the Emperor will bring them nothing but pain. This system brings order, stability and peace to an otherwise chaotic world, but it is not effective. Not entirely. One day, with you by my side, it will be possible."
Vader was about to launch into an impassioned spiel he had preprepared to sway Luke over to the idea of ruling the galaxy, but the boy interrupted.
"I don't like it," was the stubborn response.
"When you are older we shall have this conversation again," Vader decided to end the subject. "Perhaps your view will change, my son." They would have to; the Emperor would not tolerate anything else. "However, I would appreciate it if you refrain from interrupting me in the future. The crew require discipline, and may not respect me if you keep rushing over to save them."
The latter part was said wryly and Luke puffed up in offence, like a little finch with ruffled feathers. The boy crossed his arms and rested his elbows on the table top with a grumble. Vader tried to resume his work, but found it almost impossible when Luke's disquiet practically radiated from him.
"I have something to show you," Vader offered, leaving his lightsaber for later. "Follow me."
Luke frowned at him; his feet remained glued to the spot. Vader took a few steps towards the doors, but ended up turning around when he did not hear the tiny footfalls of leather-covered feet.
"Luke?" the man questioned, a frown in his voice at being disobeyed.
"I don't wanna."
"Luke, come with me." Vader did not plead. He commanded and expected instant compliance.
"Why?" Luke replied sullenly.
"Because it is the only way."
He is only 4 years old, Darth Vader reminded his growing frustration. "I have something to show you. I brought it back from my…trip."
Luke stayed silent, staring at his boots.
"We've captured a Belbullab-24 strike bomber during the battle," Vader offered, almost hesitantly had he not been a Sith Lord. "Would you like to inspect it with me?"
Luke looked to the side, biting his lip in clear conflict as he murmured, "Can I pilot it?"
"No." Vader decided to extend his peace offer further at Luke's falling expression. "But I will show you how."
After a long moment of indecision, Luke turned to him with beaming smile. Vader hadn't known a strange knot had formed under his chest plate until it loosened, allowing his shoulders to relax in relief. As soon as he was aware of doing so, he tensed them back to a rigid line. These emotions that had begun to stir within him…he needed to monitor them closely lest they become strong enough for Darth Sidious to detect. It was a weakness – Luke was a weakness – but one he could not bring himself to relinquish.
The child latched onto his glove with both hands, gently realigning his thoughts.
"Dad, c'mon! I've gotta tell Biggs all about this - Dad! Can I send a message to Biggs?"
Luke began pulling him towards the hanger bay impatiently with all his strength, yet barely enough to move his arm. Still, Darth Vader allowed himself to be dragged away, listening to the renewed excited chatter of his son.
AN/Change of Schedule: For the next 2 months, I will have limited internet access for most of the week and replies to your reviews may come rather late. I will also not have as much computer time to type, so updates will be posted at best once a week or fortnight. Which is not ideal.
Never fear, though. I am committed to this story! Even if I have to slot in some typing time when I get back to where I'm staying at 11 pm, it's happening...though it might not be very coherent.
Also, have you heard of the sequel to "Darth Vader and Son" coming out next May? "Vader's Little Princess". Guys. GUYS.
Next Time: The park crisis. To those who have the book, yes, that park.
Some Time: Force Training, bounty hunters, visit to Tatooine's zoo, what is Greedo doing here, Scruffy Nerf Herders, Halloween II, Princesses and Paupers