AN: I am aware that some people are waiting for the next parts of Dark Times, Consequences and Downfall. However, I had a dream and it demanded to be written.
Many thanks again to Kazlyhn for beta reading...
Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Star Wars universe, I am only playing is George Lucas's and Disney's sandbox. My only profit is the fun I have.
Born in Fire and Blood
Smouldering anger warmed The Dark Lord of the Sith. He had to curb his impulsiveness. He had to force himself to wait behind the soldiers as they cut into the hull of the Rebel ship. In his youth his lightsaber would have been drawn, ignited. He would have been balancing, bouncing, on the balls of his feet, turning his sword in his hands as he waited impatiently for the clones to finish their task, eager to engage the separatist droids.
Now, he wanted to throw the troopers aside. He wanted to dig his lightsaber into the durasteel and cut through it himself, feel the metal as it yielded and melted to his sword.
This was a chance prove, again, to his master that he was worthy: worthy to be his apprentice, worthy of the title given him nineteen years before. And, in doing so, another few thousand Rebels would be wiped out.
It had been thrust upon him and he'd had little time to consider its meaning, the impact of the choice he had made by falling to his knees before Palpatine in a moment of horror and desperation. He had only been thinking of his wife, had only wanted to save her life, but now, almost two decades later he knew what Darth meant. It was power. It was domination. It was unopposed control…
The loss of the Death Star had enraged his master and Palpatine had been silent, quiet, cold.
He had merely risen from the throne, leaving Vader kneeling on the floor. Turning toward the massive circular window, he had looked out across the expanse of Imperial Centre, at the criss-crossing traffic lanes in the distance.
"You disappoint me, my friend." The Emperor's voice was devoid of emotion, despite the shimmering anger that Vader felt through the Force: hot waves of fury, barely held in check.
Vader offered no excuse, knowing no apology would appease Palpatine. He remained silent, waiting for an outburst; waiting for the heat of the Dark Side to seek him out and find him; waiting for the sudden tendrils of agonising energy that had assaulted all the others who had failed his master.
"Guards," the Emperor whispered, but his voice carried, was heard by all, "leave us."
Vader could feel the relief of the guards, their amusement, as they turned away and left the room: relief that only he was to be left to pay the price and that they had survived another day in the Emperor's service.
Vader swallowed, uncharacteristically nervous, it was a disconcerting feeling. Never before had he feared his master.
"I felt a disturbance in the Force," his master told him, surprising him by the turn in conversation.
"Kenobi," Vader found his voice. "He appeared on the Death Star. I killed him."
There was no reaction from Palpatine, no movement, no praise, as though the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi was meaningless. The Emperor was a dark figure against the expanse of light from the window.
"This was something else," Palpatine stated, voice still a soft whisper. "This was something… someone… young."
Vader gritted his teeth as his thigh muscles cramped, as the join between flesh and prosthetic protested his kneeling stance. He knew to what… to whom… the Emperor was referring.
"The Rebel pilot," Vader stated. "He was strong with the Force."
The Emperor turned around, cowl hiding his face. "Tell me."
Vader didn't know why he hesitated, didn't understand the sudden urge to protect the unknown pilot, couldn't grasp why he had no wish the share his knowledge with his master.
"There was youth on the Death Star, one of the group who rescued the Princess. He called out when I cut Kenobi down. I felt his anger…"
"That is unclear," Vader admitted. "I did not sense control, I merely sensed…"
What? What had he sensed from the figure who had cried out, lashed out, shooting down troopers in his rage. The Force had bloomed darkly, had blossomed and grown, power roiling around the hanger bay.
… power," he finished.
"And you believe this boy and the pilot are the same man?"
"Yes, my master."
Again Palpatine was silent and Vader was aware that his Master had turned inward and was seeking answers and truth through the folds of the Force. Minutes passed. The silence in the throne room was broken only by Vader's regulated breathing.
"This insurgency has festered too long. They have grown bold and now more systems will answer their call due to their outrageous success at Yavin." He looked down at his kneeling apprentice. "It is time to end it… Take your fleet, Lord Vader. Seek them out. Destroy them."
"And the pilot?"
Palpatine turned back to the view. "Find him, find him and bring him to me. I will show him what it means to defy his Emperor."
"As you wish, my Master."
He had stood, turned to walk away when Palpatine spoke again.
"Don't fail me again."
The Emperor's warning had been implicit and Vader had vowed that he would not disappoint the man who had mentored him from a young age. He had always turned to the Chancellor in times of strife and conflict with the Jedi Order. Through the years the man had offered sage and sound advice. Palpatine's counsel had seen him through the Clone Wars, had carried him to that one moment of anguish when he had accepted the mantle of darkness and the title of Darth.
A sudden blast from outside the hull, interrupted his thoughts. A violent shudder undulated through the umbilical conduit that attached his ship to the Rebel cruiser. His men stumbled; some behind him fell with curses, armour clattering onto the floor.
The conduit held.
"What was that?" Vader demanded.
"The fuel storage for the rebel fighters just blew, my Lord," he was told. "The bridge reports that the starboard hanger is ablaze."
As soon as the Rebel ship had exited hyperspace, his fleet had attacked. The interdictors had trapped them, keeping them from accelerating back to lightspeed while his cruisers had pounded the vessel with fire. The hangers had been first, the engines next. Gun emplacements and weapon's controls had been blasted to debris until the rebel ship hung wrecked and helpless in space.
All ejecting escape pods had been destroyed until those still alive on board had realised there was nowhere to go. His ships had moved in. The Executor and the Devastator had drawn alongside to fasten on locks and boarding ducts to flood the ship with troopers.
"Get us aboard!" Vader ground out, now. He could feel the Rebels' fear and anger, could sense their rising understanding of the bleakness of their situation. They all knew they were going to die and yet he could also sense a growing outrage, a settling of acceptance and a hardening of their resolve.
They would all go down fighting.
Another explosion. Again the conduit rocked and a sudden swell of agony swept through the Force: there one instant and then gone.
Many Rebels had just died.
The hull plate came away and clanged inward, acrid black smoke billowed into the confined space of the umbilical. Sporadic gunfire impacted against the walls of the tube, stray shots taking down the first troopers to step into the Rebel ship.
Snapping on his lightsaber, Vader strode forward pushing his men out of his way. He parried the first shots that came towards him, his saber flashing in the darkness of the corridor as his men followed at his back. The air rang with the retorts of blaster fire, the screams and cries of dying Rebels, the crackle of fire and the hum and hiss of his lightsaber as it sliced through living flesh.
The Rebels troopers put up a heavy resistance, fighting for each second of life: ultimately sacrificing themselves for nought.
They did not stop him or delay him.
Vader pushed on, breaking through the lines of resistance. He split his forces, sending a portion to take the cruiser's bridge while he headed for the hangers. Where else would he find the pilots who had failed to reach their fighters in time to mount a defence against the Imperial attack? Where else would he have an opportunity to find the one he was looking for or at least some information that would reveal the pilot's identity?
The further they moved into the ship the more sporadic the resistance, until the corridors were quiet: the silence broken only by the groans of the wounded, the spark of circuits, the crack and sizzle of distant flames and the boot steps of his own men as they hurried behind him.
The corridors to the hangers were filled with buckled and twisted bulkheads, ceilings had collapsed and bodies lay trapped beneath the debris. He had to climb over warped durasteel, cut through walls and step around the dead to reach the hanger doors.
They were closed, securely locked, a safety response to the fires within. He stopped and pressed his hand against the doors. He closed his eyes, feeling heat of the metal through the leather of his gloves. He searched through the Force, looking for life behind the doors.
He smiled, there were survivors. Life signs were weakened, many were injured, dying.
His belly turned with unexpected agitation as he briefly touched another's presence. It was muted, weakened, merely a fading trace of light in the Force, growing fainter with each passing moment, like a dying ember.
Could this be his pilot?
"A portion of the hanger has been exposed to space, my lord," the trooper beside him informed him, reading from sensors by the doorway. "But the rest of the area has been portioned off by ray-shields. The shielding is holding, but there are fires and noxious gases throughout the hanger."
Gases did not worry the Dark Lord; his suit's filters would clean any air before his reached his lungs. His troopers' helmets were likewise equipped.
"Open the door," he commanded. He had to find the man before he died, had to know if this was the one he had been looking for. Palpatine would not be please if he delivered a corpse rather than a live captive.
The twin doors screeched apart and stopped after only a few centimetres. Vader grasped either edge and calling upon the Force he hauled them apart, the metal protesting loudly as it strained under the power of Vader's strength.
He stepped into the hanger.
The Rebels had been caught by surprise and no fighter had been launched. Twisted ruins of X-Wings and Y-wings littered the deck. The floor was strewn with bodies. Both grey clad technicians and orange clad pilots lay curled and prone; some in groups, some alone, some trapped under debris, or hanging from buckled gantries. Those still alive were gasping for breath, gulping for oxygen like landed fish. Black smoke from burning ships and fuel gathered at the ceiling, dark tendrils curling down the walls to the deck where it collected and crawled like a creeping haar.
"Check for survivors!" Vader ordered. "Pilots only. Dispose of the rest."
His men fanned out, and sporadic shots could be heard above the crackling of flames as the troopers carried out his orders. There were coughed cries of protests as live pilots were pulled from the deck and dragged to him.
None were his pilot. None were willing to divulge a name.
Fingers curled around the neck of the last man and, even in his anger, Vader noted he was young, dark headed, probably Corellian. Hazel eyes glared at him: terrified and defiant.
"Where is the pilot who destroyed the Death Star?"
"Go to hell!" The words were choked. The Rebel's hands clasped his own, fingers trying vainly to pry away prosthetic digits.
Frustrated Vader tightened his grip, listening to the gurgles, watching lips turn blue. "Where?"
And then he saw the Rebel's eyes inadvertently dart to the side.
Vader crushed his neck. The gargle of horror was cut short with the snap of vertebrae. He tossed the corpse to the side.
"Over there!" he snarled, sending the troopers back into the smoke and fire in the direction of the dead pilot's last look.
It was not long before the cry went up.
"My Lord, over here!"
Vader made his way through the horror of the hanger. His men had gathered around the figure of a pilot. The Rebel was belly down against the smoke blackened wall of the hanger, the back of his flight suit was scorched through to skin, shoulders and back blackened and raw. A small pool of blood was gathering beneath his head. One arm lay twisted to the side, the other hung down into an open vent in the floor, sleeve and skin shredded, crimson dripping from gloved fingers.
The man looked dead, but Vader could still feel the pulse of the Force.
"Medic!" Vader barked and a trooper moved in, removing a pack from his back. He stepped over the body of another pilot and knelt beside the still figure.
The Medic scanned the body quickly. "He's unconscious. Impact injures, hairline fractures to the skull, ribs and left arm. Third and second degree burns. Hepatic contusion, ruptured spleen, internal bleeding. He's hypovolemic. " He glanced up at Vader, wanting to know the Dark Lord's intentions for the dying Rebel.
Vader nodded and the medic grabbed the torn and burned flight suit, turning the Rebel, forgoing the care he would give to his colleagues.
There was weak groan and the captive's chest hitched in breath, but he did not waken. The medic continued his assessment.
"Lacerations to forehead and right arm…"
Vader stepped in closer as the man spoke. The pilot was young, blond, but his features were difficult to see under the bruises and the mask of blood. Was this the same boy from the Death Star hanger bay, the pilot who had destroyed the battle station?
"…he's struggling to breathe… smoke inhalation… traces of radoxin in his lungs from the burning fuel… fluid is…"
But Vader was no longer listening; his attention now caught by the hilt of the lightsaber blade attached to the man's gun belt.
He bent down, pushed the medic aside and unhooked the sword, turning the silver cylinder in his gloved hands.
It had been a long time since he had held this sword in his hands. It seemed an age since it had fallen to the black ash of Mustafar only to be picked up and removed by Obi-Wan when he had turned away and left him to die.
"You were my brother Anakin! I loved you…"
He was shaken; he was recalling events long-since passed: events he had considered long-since purged. Events so consigned to the past that even the appearance of Obi-Wan on the Death Star had not stirred the memories.
He was Darth Vader.
So why did the discovery of his lightsaber on the belt of this Rebel pilot unsettle him so?
The medic glanced up, swallowing. "My Lord… he's dying. I'm not sure if…"
"Wake him," Vader growled, his fist closing around the lightsaber.
"My Lord, I… he needs to be stabilized, fluids and…his injuries are…"
"Do what you must, but wake him."
The medic moved quickly, cutting open the flight suit, slicing up the arms and chest of the uniform to expose the flesh. He set up a fluid transfer line, fought to find a vein that didn't collapse as he tried to insert the needle. He covered the bruised and bloodied face with an oxygen mask and placed sensors on the pilot's bared chest to monitor his vital signs.
Vader watched the man work, swallowing back his impatience, using the cycle of his breathing to regulate his feelings, to dampen down his haste and hurry for answers.
At last the medic placed a hypospray against the skin of the Rebel's neck and administered a dose of a strong stimulant.
The boy on the floor tried to heave in a breath, face contorting in agony. He coughed, dragged in another breath. His legs kicked and his head turned on the deck, but he did not fully waken.
"More!" Vader commanded.
Knowing better than to argue again, the medic gave another dose.
The Rebel's eyes snapped open. He gasped in oxygen, body stiffening against the excruciating anguish that racked it.
Vader stepped in, crouched down and the pilot's blue eyes flickered toward him, widening in horror.
"Do you know me?" Vader demanded.
The youth swallowed, coughed again, closed his eyes with a low moan.
Vader reached out, placed a hand against the bloodied cheek and the boy's eyes opened once more. "You are the pilot who destroyed the Death Star." It was a statement, not question.
A nod against his palm. There was no point in denying it.
Vader held the lightsaber in the Rebel's eye line. "Kenobi gave you this."
"Why?" He growled the question.
He wasn't asking why Kenobi had given the boy a lightsaber. He wasn't asking why Kenobi was training the youth: he had expected his old master to take on a new padawan in an attempt to pass on the Jedi teachings.
He was asking why Kenobi had given the boy this particular lightsaber and had not just constructed a new one for practice. He was asking why because the Force had become still and quiet around them as though waiting, anticipating.
Another grimace and the youth's body arched, his legs jerked, his breath catching in a smoke damaged throat and Vader was sure that if the boy had the strength he'd be screaming.
Vader cupped the back of the pilot's head, lifted it from the deck. Blood from the cut on the boy's forehead, ran over his gloves and dribbled to the floor.
He could feel it in the Force: drip by drip this boy was dying.
Time was running out, time was slipping away and frantic consternation rushed him. He wanted an answer. He needed an answer.
So did the Force.
"Why?" he snarled, confused by his desperation.
There was a spark of anger and grief on the boy's face. Blue eyes, flaring with hatred, fixed on Vader's mask. The Rebel lifted his hand and wrapped a blood soaked glove around Vader's arm.
He swallowed and tried to speak, a hoarse sound, a desperate whisper.
Vader could feel the effort the boy was making. His body was trembling, hand clutching at him as though trying to muster his strength from the Dark Lord himself. Vader removed the oxygen mask to allow the boy to speak, but held it close so the Rebel could still breathe.
The Force was motionless around them.
The boy closed his eyes, and took in another shallow breath. He opened his eyes, his hand tightening against Vader's arm. "My….f…fa…fa..ther's."
Vader dropped the boy's head, pulling away from the Rebel's grasping hand.
The Force rushed him, the truth brutal, vicious, real. The lightsaber… Anakin's lightsaber… was this boy's father's!
He stood, took a step back, horror rattling through him.
This boy, this pilot… this Rebel… was his son?
It couldn't be!
She had died!
The child she carried had been unborn. This was a Jedi trick, this was Kenobi's idea of a joke. This…
And he remembered the look of peace on Kenobi's face on the Death Star. He remembered the Jedi glancing toward the hanger bay, remembered the look that the Jedi had given him. It was a look of knowledge and understanding… of compassion. Kenobi had smiled before closing his eyes and raising his sword in capitulation.
He had thought Kenobi's actions had been purely an act of sacrifice for his younger friends, to allow them to escape. Perhaps that had been part of it… and perhaps he had also been trying to convey a message to his old apprentice.
Perhaps that last battle had also been Kenobi's last lesson.
He glanced back at the boy lying gasping for air, slowly dying in agony on the deck.
If she had not died on Mustafar then Palpatine had lied.
And that changed everything.
The man turned around at the unusually soft tone.
The boy's eyes flared in horror at the order. His mouth moved in a silent plea. "Please… no…"
The medic glanced at his patient. "I… my Lord, he is close to death and the procedures required are invasive. He's been given stims, he cannot be anaesthetised for several hours and he will not live that long."
Vader regarded the field medic, ignoring the frantic gasping from the boy, the alarm, the terror that spiked in the Force. "Then perform the procedures while he is awake. He must not die."
Vader could sense the man blanching, horrified at the agony the Rebel would endure; the tube down his throat, the ventilator to take over his breathing, surgery to stop the internal bleeding, the setting of bones, the removal of fabric that had stuck to his burns, the excising of scorched skin. However self-preservation prevailed.
"I… at once, my Lord." He turned back to his patient, ordering those around him, "I need a medical capsule. Alert the med centre that I have a priority patient, full trauma response team required. We need to intubate, insert a chest drain, get his bleeding under control and bring his blood pressure up… I need replacement fluid and blood… Prepare a bacta flush…"
The boy was sleeping. Eyes closed, his lacerated and bruised face was peaceful, body at rest on the hard medical bench. He was dressed in white med-centre sleep pants. His bare chest was adorned with large patches of yellowing contusions and healings scars from his surgery, from the tubes pushed into his body to drain fluid from his lungs and abdomen. The large, puckered, scar on his forehead ran along his hair line, dropped down to slice through the edge of his right eyebrow before curling in toward his ear.
The bacta dressings that covered the deeps burns on his back reached over his shoulders and up his sides. Fluids dripped into his body from intravenous lines. An oxygen mask covered his nose and mouth, the hissing of it lost to Vader's own regulated breathing.
Scanners monitored the boy's condition, scribbles of data scrawling across the screens showing a regular heartbeat, a slightly low blood pressure and an oxygen saturation of seventy per cent. The ray shielding around the bed hummed quietly. His son was also fastened down by binders and straps. Even if he could summon the strength to move, the boy was going nowhere.
They had lost him three times and three times he had been resuscitated, brought back from the brink, life forced into an unwilling body. Oxygen had been driven into damaged lungs, fibrillating heart re-started, fluids and replacement blood pushed into leaking blood vessels.
He had fought them from the start. He had choked against the tube inserted into his throat, trying to cough it out, hands flailing, catching hold of the medic's arm until he was given a muscle relaxant that denied him movement and left him helpless to the medical ministrations.
That was the first time his heart had failed.
The Force had screamed his shock and distress. It had screamed his horror and agony when he was revived into the same situation. It had shrieked and howled when he was transported to the facilities on Vader's ship and placed on the operating table to have his clothes cut from him, to have the fabric plucked from deep burns.
It was, Vader mused, much like his own re-birth. Awake and aware while the droids worked, suffering and screaming his agony to unfeeling machines.
When the surgeon droids had cut the Rebel open to repair the internal bleeding his heart had stopped for a second time.
It had taken three hours before the stimulants wore off, before the boy was quietened with anaesthesia and given blissful respite. He had been kept in an induced coma to ease his healing when lowered into the bacta… only to be removed a few minutes later to be revived again.
He had spent four days in the tank, his vital signs growing stronger and his presence in the Force becoming brighter, clearer, powerful.
There had been little protest when the Dark Lord had ordered the boy removed from the healing fluid earlier than advised. He had been warned by the droids that the subject would remain scarred, that lung capacity was not yet at one hundred per cent, that his fractures had yet to fully knit and healing outside of the tank would take considerably longer.
However, he needed the boy weakened: he needed the bruises, the scars and the dragging breathing.
"Deactivate the shields," he ordered the droid waiting by the bedside. He stepped up to the bench as the screening dropped.
In his sleep the boy moaned through the oxygen mask, twisted his head on the solid surface as though sensing his father's presence.
"Stop his pain relief," Vader ordered, not looking at the droid, "and wake him. Then keep him awake."
Vader needed him alert and aware, senses unclouded by drugs.
He kept his gaze firmly on his child as the boy began to stir.
Such strange concepts, notions left behind on Mustafar so many years before. They had been lost and forgotten to time, to anger, to rage, hatred and destruction.
His son was an adult. Nineteen years growing up with neither mother nor father. Hidden and abandoned by the Jedi he had found a cause with the Rebellion against the Empire: against his own father.
Vader watched as the Rebel pilot woke, eye lids flickering, fists curling, breathing quickening, a grimace of pain furrowing his brow, pulling on the large scar at the side of his forehead. He groaned, his eyes opening fully, blinking against the light above him. Confusion narrowed his eyes, his disorientation clear through the Force and from his expression as awareness returned.
He blinked, slowly turned his head toward the sound of Vader's breathing and gasped in recognition, gave a cry of horror and Vader knew that the nightmare memories of the last few days were spilling unbidden into the boy's mind: memories of pain, of suffering, of agonising medical procedures while he lay trapped and awake as the droids had worked.
Vader stood still as the boy pulled on his restraints, tugging arms and legs against unyielding durasteel cuffs, until he gave a final frustrated cry and lay still. Chest heaving for air, his haunted eyes gazed at the ceiling, staring into nothing.
"Your friends are dead," Vader told him, the words cold and callous. "Only you survive to suffer the consequences of your rebellion."
There had been over two and a half thousand rebels on the ship. Vader remained silent, allowing the numbers to sink in, allowing his son to understand the scale of his loss, the magnitude of his own situation.
A soft sound, an exhalation of breath: a sob. Despair closed the boy's eyes. "I'll… fight you…" he declared, voice a whisper through the mask.
Vader smiled at the words, at the defiance. His son was in dreadful pain and still he had the courage to stand strong. He would need that strength in the coming hours. "Then you will be fighting the wrong man."
The unexpected answer brought the boy's eyes back to him.
"We will reach Imperial Centre in less than a day. You will be taken to the Emperor," Vader told him. "He was most explicit in his order for your capture. He plans to deal with you himself."
The lines on the monitors jumped, crazy and uneven. A low tone issued from the speakers. The Rebel gasped in oxygen, panting against aching ribs and his oxygen saturation levels fell as his breathing grew more shallow, hampered by his growing pain.
There was no need for Vader to explain why the Emperor would be interested in a low ranking Rebel Flight Officer. The loss of the Death Star was explanation enough.
"You embarrassed him, you made the Empire look weak. That is something he cannot ignore and cannot leave unpunished." He paused leaning over the youth, posture and voice angry, threatening, pointing out, "You are also strong with the Force, something the Emperor will not allow. There will be little left of you by the time he kills you."
The boy closed his eyes, little breaths of pain and panic escaping his dry and cracked lips. "Ah… ah..."
Vader straightened. "But all is not lost. There could still be hope for you."
Bewilderment, a muted hope, opened the youth's eyes and his gaze flickered to the man standing over him.
Unhooking Anakin's lightsaber from his belt, Vader snapped it on, blue blade sliding into life. "You told me this was your father's."
The boy stiffened on the bench, suddenly more afraid, instinctively trying to move away from the armed Dark lord, fearful of the sword being used for torture… but he was held in check by the restraints.
Vader swung the sword, testing the blade, teasing the Rebel. It hissed and hummed and the boy's vital signs jumped in response, the tones of the monitors changing in pitch at his reaction.
"Your name is Skywalker."
That caught the youth's attention again and he turned his eyes away from the sword to the Dark Lord.
"Your father was Anakin Skywalker."
Blue orbs cautiously watched him, a spark of rage igniting in the Force, a twist of hatred deepening the boy's presence, briefly overriding his pains. Vader smiled beneath his mask, his son had great potential for the Dark Side.
At last a whispered response, words angrily dragged through a still healing throat and parched vocal cords. "Y..you kill…ed… him."
Vader disengaged the sword, watching relief slacken the boy's face. "Did Obi-Wan tell you?"
A guarded nod, eyes watching him warily.
"Obi-Wan always did like his points of view," Vader noted, turning the weapon in his hands. He held the hilt for the boy to see, telling him. "This was my lightsaber."
The boy frowned, eyes narrowing in thought, in confusion. He shook his head, denying the Dark Lord's words. "No, B..ben said… Obi… Obi-Wan said. He said… it was my fa…" He heaved in a breath, trying to fill his lungs. "… father's."
And even as the boy spoke Vader could feel the realisation dawning, could feel the awful understanding slip into place. Again the tones of the monitors changed, becoming higher pitched as his son's heart began to race and his blood pressure rose. The boy's eyes flared wide and he tugged against the restraining cuffs once more, agitated, distressed.
"Ah… No… no…" he rejected his own thinking. "Ah… I… I'm a Skywalker…"
"As was I."
The declaration sliced through the youth's denials and his head fell back loosely. He stared upward at the ceiling, looking at nothing, breathing heavily, each exhalation punctuated by a soft sound of distress.
"No…" he whispered, more to himself than to Vader. "You can't be… Ben… said… No…" He wrenched his head to the side, looking up at the towering bulk of the Dark Lord. "Y... you killed… killed my father."
Swallowing his impatience Vader did not answer, maintaining his silence as the boy recoiled against the truth. There was rage that he had been lied to, anguish and horror at what his father had subjected him to, fear of what it all meant and of what was to come.
"… You can… can't be…" This last was a whisper, a plea for Vader to take it all back.
His son's body slackened on the bench, limbs loose, his breathing slowing, sucking in cool oxygen to calm the heat of his twisting emotions.
Vader broke the cloying quiet that had descended. "I thought you unborn, dead in your mother's womb. I did not know of you until I saw the lightsaber on your belt."
"Wha… what you…" the boy swallowed thickly, forcing the words out, accusing. "What... you did… to me…" It was a question in a statement, the simple words conveying all the horrors of his ordeal.
An ordeal that was not yet over.
"Was necessary to save your life," Vader was blunt and to the point. "You are my son."
There! It was said: acknowledged.
His son stared at him for long moments as though weighing those words, as though processing what they meant to him. There was a frantic refusal to believe, defiance against the truth and then a cautious understanding blooming beneath the surface, the first flush… the hope… of belief, and a hesitant acceptance.
Beneath the oxygen mask the boy dragged a dry tongue over dry lips. He regarded the Dark Lord with tortured eyes, with need and hopefulness and uncertainty.
"W..water… some… something for the… ah…pain?"
His request was a test of their announced familial connection, for surely a father would not leave his child thirsty and in discomfort?
This was the response Vader had been looking for: this spark of hope that rose from the boy spoke volumes. Vader smiled with triumph beneath his mask, glanced toward the droid and nodded his consent, giving the boy what he was looking for: a compassionate father, a foundation on which to build their relationship.
He waited until the droid administered a dose of analgesic, along with a stimulant to keep him awake, and allowed his son to sip water from a thin tube placed against his lips.
The youth sighed in relief as the drug did its work, giving some respite from unbearable pain. His breathing eased and Vader noted the rise in oxygen saturation from the monitors.
"I would know your name."
The boy smiled for the first time. "Luke…"
It had been one of the names they had chosen if the child was to be a boy. The one she had favoured. How long had she lived after the boy's birth?
"Luke…" He tried the name, and was pleased when the boy turned back toward him.
"Your situation remains difficult," the Dark Lord explained. "You are a traitor, the pilot who destroyed the Death Star and you are strong with the Force. The Emperor will not suffer you to live, regardless of whose son you are."
Vader paused, gauging his son's reaction. Luke was watching him closely, eyes narrowed with uncertainty, his hope now muted, wondering about his father's intentions.
"Your Alliance wishes to destroy the Empire and depose the Emperor," he continued, answering Luke's unspoken question, "but that will only lead to chaos and disharmony. There is only one way to ensure that stability is maintained; only one way that will allow enough of the Empire's structure to survive to ensure a more peaceful transition of government as we negotiate with the Alliance."
His son licked his lips, listening.
"Only one way that will guarantee your life."
Again he paused, before declaring his own rebellion.
"Palpatine must die."
The stormtroopers dragged the prisoner from the floor of the shuttle, hauling him upward and linking their arms under his elbows. He hung in their grasp, panting for breath, trying to quiet his groans of pain. He kept his head down looking at the deck plates as the Dark Lord's boots entered his line of vision.
Vader reached out and grasped the captive's sweat-dampened hair. He dragged his head upward until the Rebel's hostile gaze fastened on his mask.
"The Emperor is about to demonstrate to you the consequences of Rebellion."
The boy swallowed, sucked saliva into his mouth and spat at the Dark Lord. His hair was released and Vader brought his hand around, backhanding the Rebel, who slumped into the troopers' grasps, fresh blood dripping from split lips to land dark upon the deck.
Vader stepped away. "Bring him!" he snarled.
On arrival at Imperial Centre the boy had been disconnected from the monitors, IV lines and oxygen. The restraints had been released and he had been hauled from the bench and stripped of all dressings. He had been bent, unceremoniously, over the bench, his arms dragged behind his back and firmly fastened.
Vader had ignored the hacking coughing and cries of pain and ordered him to be dosed with stimulants. Still weak from everything he had endured, Luke had been dragged through the ship to the waiting shuttle, feet trailing on the deck. He had quickly quietened, his cries becoming muted gasps and moans when he understood that there would be no relief, no forgiveness and that he needed to conserve his energy.
Dumped on the floor of the shuttle the boy had lain still and quiet, staring only at the ceiling and refusing to look to his father.
Now, Vader turned and strode down the ramp into the wind and lashing rain. The troopers followed behind, dragging his son.
The gale hit him hard, driving the rain against him. His cape caught in the wind, billowing wildly but quickly drenched. The deluge did not concern him. Encased in his suit he was protected from the chilling downpour, but his son still wore only the sleep pants from the medical centre. He had to fight the urge to glance around at the boy. Instead, he walked faster toward the landing platform's exit, and the bank of tubolifts that lay beyond.
Luke was shivering badly, hair soaked, skin covered in a sheen of water. White pants drenched, clinging to his body, they dripped water onto the floor of the elevator. The door slid shut and the lift shot upward carrying them to the upper levels of the Imperial Palace.
Vader closed his eyes, subdued his feelings. Cooling his heated anticipation, he gathered calm indifference around him. The boy was supposed to be just another Rebel, another idealistic youth who had the misguided courage to raise his head and declare his opposition to the rightful leader of the Empire. Another naïve ingrate who had lifted arms against the Empire and in doing so had sealed his fate.
Luke was not the first insurgent he had brought to Palpatine, but he was surely the most important. And he would be the last.
The lift slowed, stopped, and the troopers carrying Luke followed Vader into a vast busy, vestibule. Men and woman in grey, in black and in white uniforms mingled with citizens dressed more colourfully in luxurious and expensive fabrics. They mingled in groups, whispering and conspiring together.
Conversion stilted and stopped as the small procession made its way across the vaulted chamber toward a pair of massive doors and the phalanx of red-robed Royal Guards who stood, statue like, before them. Vader could feel the curiosity in the hallway, the distain as they looked upon his injured son, as they realised what he must be: a Rebel, a Terrorist about to meet his fate.
The Red Guards stepped aside as the doors ground open to admit them. Without a word the stormtroopers stopped and transferred their prisoner to the Emperor's own soldiers.
Vader continued on without looking back, knowing that Luke was now in more dangerous hands. His men would not act against the boy without his permission. The Royal Guard however were not so inclined. Any breech of protocol, any gesture or word out of line and Luke would suffer the consequences.
As they entered the throne room, Vader heard the quiet gasp of dismay from behind him, as though the youth had just realised where they were. Fear tumbled through the Force, panic spiked and he wondered if Luke could raise the courage and the strength he would so shortly need: to face the Emperor.
Vader lead the way down the central aisle, his boot steps ringing against the black polished floor as they passed waiting courtiers, petitioners and lobbyists. Whispered discussions dwindled as they walked. A silence descended over the immense room as all eyes turned to watch. The atmosphere changed, became charged with curiosity and anticipation.
The Emperor's throne was silhouetted before a huge circular window and raised above the room by a set of steps. He saw Palpatine look up and wave away the supplicant he had been in conversation with. The man bowed and backed away, losing himself in the crowd as Vader reached the end of the aisle. He dipped to one knee before his master, his eyes cast to the floor. Behind him he heard the guards draw to a stop, heard the grunt of pain as they knocked his son's knees from under him and the thud as Luke dropped to the floor.
Palpatine leaned forward, his eyes trailing from his Apprentice to the prisoner held fast in the grip of his guards. He smiled, thin lips pulling away from blackened teeth.
"Welcome back, Lord Vader." The Emperor drew himself from his throne and reached for his walking stick. Vader knew the octogenarian did not require the support and that Palpatine used it, as he used carefully timed concern and gentleness, to lull those brought before him into a false sense of security. The Sith Master, however, was a Veluvian Lash Viper beneath his robes, striking when least expected and with devastating consequences.
The stick tap-tapped on the steps as the Emperor descended toward them, his rancid yellow eyes fixed solely on Luke. "Am I correct to assume that you have been successful in locating the Rebel pilot?"
"You are, my Master," the Dark Lord assured him.
Palpatine gestured with his hand. "Rise, my friend," he invited.
Vader drew his bulk from the floor and stepped behind his master as Palpatine moved toward the injured man kneeling between the red robed soldiers.
Palpatine walked around the boy and his guards. Luke was kneeling back on his heels, his head pushed down and held in place by a red-gloved hand, arms held high behind him by the guards. He was shivering badly, body shuddering from the cold rain he'd been dragged through, trembling with fright and fatigue. Water dripped from his hair, blood ran and dropped from his lips, creating a little crimson puddle on the polished floor of the throne room. He was gasping for breath.
Vader was reminded of a vulture approaching carrion as he watched the Emperor circle his son, taking in the boy's injuries; the large healing burn on his back, the lacerations on his arms, the bruises and surgery scars. Palpatine's eyes shone with delight. His grin foretold of his pleasures to come. His presence within the Force grew rank, putrid, as his Master considered the fitting punishments that should be meted out to this, most daring of Rebels.
"You poor boy," Palpatine mused, voice silky with sympathy. He nodded to the guard and Luke's head and arms were released. He almost fell over, but the Emperor reached out and took hold of Luke's chin with gnarled, clawed fingers, steadying him. Lifting the boy's head Palpatine took in the fresh swelling, the bruises and the blood. He saw the large angry red scar that ran along the length of his forehead and down the side of his face to his ear. He glanced up at his apprentice and admonished, "Lord Vader, you have been unkind to our young guest."
There was murmur in the crowd, a collective chuckle at the Emperor's words, at the Rebel's predicament. They all knew what happened to insurgents here.
Vader saw his son's eyes flicker in his direction. Luke stared at him with open hostility. "He was… unruly," Vader supplied.
Palpatine grinned. "Unruly…" he repeated looking back down at the Rebel at his feet, tightening his hold when Luke tried to wrench his head away. The guards tensed but the Emperor shook his head and they relaxed once more. "His other injuries?"
"Sustained during the battle for his ship," Vader told him.
Palpatine glanced around at him. "You had him treated? You saved his life?"
"To bring to you, Master," he explained, remembering Palpatine's words when he was tasked with finding the pilot responsible for the Death Star's destructions. "So that you may show him what it means to defy his Emperor."
"You are too kind, Lord Vader, too thoughtful to have brought me such a gift," He looked up at the crowd. "This…" he announced to his supporters and supplicants. "This… is the Rebel Pilot who destroyed the Death Star."
There was a louder murmur at this. Outrage rippled through the assembly.
"This… boy," the word was spat out, "… is responsible for the death of thousands of loyal soldiers and citizens. He is responsible for the loss of Grand Moff Tarkin…"
Palpatine snapped back to the youth, his jovial mood now lost as his mouth turned down. He glared down at the injured boy, his fingers moving upward, curling through the wet strands of hair to hold him tighter. The boy grunted in pain. He worried his hands against the cuffs around his wrists.
The Red Guards shifted behind him.
"… a gifted visionary and a loyal friend."
The Emperor opened his hand, releasing him and Luke fell to the floor, gasping his relief. It was short lived. The guards took hold of him, manhandled him back onto his knees.
Palpatine used his walking stick as a support to stand and stepped back, keeping his eyes on the prisoner but addressing his court. "The question is what to do with him? Does his crime against this glorious Empire warrant a quick execution? Will we martyr him; make him a greater hero to this pitiful Rebellion?
"Or shall we allow Governor Tarkin the last say in this boy's life? Allow his doctrine to decide this Rebel's fate? Let the fear of this insurgent's death be an example of what will happen to all of those who dare defy me? Shall we allow his screams for mercy to be heard across the galaxy?"
There was shiver of fear through the Force, a twisted spike of doubt, of abhorrence and despair.
Palpatine paused, glanced back at his apprentice. Vader nodded his acknowledgement: the feelings had come from the boy. The Emperor smiled and crouched beside the youth once more.
"Or shall I send a fleet to his home to burn it from existence?"
The youth coughed. It sounded like a torn laugh. It sounded bitter and harsh.
"You find something funny, boy?"
Luke didn't answer.
Vader stood unmoving as the guards turned their pikes on his son. He stood by as Luke howled with each thrust, with each blow that drove an electrical charge into his body. He remained still when the boy was dragged back to his knees and the question repeated. "You find something funny?"
A draw of breath. "My… ho..me is already… burned," he forced out, his grief raw.
Palpatine was delighted and Vader could feel his Master growing stronger as the darkness around his son deepened. "Such defiance, such anger." He pointed down at Luke, again speaking to the assembled courtiers. "This is the Rebel spirit we have to break…" He stopped, a slow smile spreading, twisting his thin lips.
"And perhaps that is what We shall do?" he goaded. "Perhaps We shall break you? We will keep you and teach you obedience. We shall show the Alliance their hero pilot willingly kneeling before us…"
The shout was felt as well as heard, an instinctive burst of power that caused the guards to stumble backward, forcing even Palpatine to take a step away to balance himself.
"And there it is…" he whispered. "You were correct, Lord Vader!" Palpatine sounded incredulous, intrigued, fascinated as he stared at the boy. "He is strong with the Force… very strong and…"
He paused, bending closer to the youth. Dropping his stick he clamped his hands around Luke's head, drawing him up with surprising strength and twisting his head back. His eyes gleamed as he tore into the youth's mind and emotions, assessing the potential and the possibilities presented to him.
Luke cried out against the invasion, his body involuntary jerking in Palpatine's hold. Old and new wounds protested the movement. Vader could feel him, scrabbling instinctively within the Force, fighting to repel the Emperor's presence even as his feet kicked uselessly against the floor.
Abruptly, with a cry of his own, Palpatine threw the boy away from him and stepped back as though repulsed, as though afraid. It shook Vader, un-nerved him to see his Master so troubled.
The Dark Lord took a hesitant step forward, unsure of whom to go to, aware of the watching eyes. The Red Guard moved in to restrain the prisoner as Palpatine hid his reaction with a gleeful cackle.
The Emperor turned his head to regard his Apprentice, "… he is aware he has power, but is untrained. It lies dormant, rarely used, wasted…. And yet, there is something more… something wrong… something…"
His attention snapped back to the boy, now sitting panting on the floor, head down, hair lank and damp with rain water and sweat. Palpatine crouched beside him, smiling as Luke flinched.
"Your name, Rebel?" Palpatine ground out, leaning his face closer to Luke, blocking the youth from Vader's view.
Vader allowed a breathing cycle to fill the silence that followed, a silence that was broken only by Luke's grunts and moans of pain and by the shifting of fabric from the watching crowd as it moved uneasily: as though even these corrupt beings could sense how crucial this moment was, that something unexplainable had just occurred. Vader had to force himself not to move, not to respond on Luke's behalf.
Luke hadn't answered yet and the sudden crackle and hum of force pikes filled the chamber as the guards raised their weapons ready to punish the prisoner once more.
Palpatine lifted his walking stick, holding them back.
Vader could just hear the whisper of his son's voice and anxiety coiled tightly within as he waited for Luke to gather the strength to finish saying his name.
"Luke… Sk..Sky…" There was an inhalation of breath, a barking cough, a fight for oxygen through a damaged throat and lungs and healing ribs. "…walker. Skywalker."
Palpatine froze and Vader could feel the ripples of surprise undulate through the Force, the swell and flow of chilling fury. The Force blackened, gathered and the very air of the throne room sparked with unspent energy.
The crowd of courtiers and supplicants could feel it, too. They backed up, moved further away, clearing the floor of the chamber around them.
Palpatine released Luke and he slumped back onto his heels, balancing unsteadily. His head was down, eyes closed, breathing shallow and quick.
"Clear the room!" Palpatine whispered, still standing over the kneeling prisoner, still not drawing his eyes off the boy with the impossible name.
The huge doors opened and the throng of people began to file out. No-one ran, no-one rushed, order and dignity was maintained, but they moved quickly, eagerly, relieved to be away from the fury of the Emperor.
"You, too," he dismissed the guards. "Let no-one in."
They hesitated for a fraction of a second before turning off their weapons, bowing and turning away to follow the dwindling crowd.
The Emperor waited until they were alone and the door closed, then he turned and regarded the Dark Lord. "The child survived?" he hissed, anger searing the words.
Vader gave a nod. "He did, my Master."
The Emperor watched him for a moment and Vader knew his motives for bringing Luke to his Master were being gauged and considered by a suspicion that all Sith Masters harboured for their Apprentices.
"Did you know the pilot was your son?" The question sounded like an accusation.
"I did not," Vader assured him evenly, disquiet that Palpatine had referred to Luke as "his" son settling within. It meant that Palpatine suspected that remnants of Anakin Skywalker had risen from the dead, that his intentions were being called into question. It was time to reassure his Master.
Vader unhooked Anakin's lightsaber from his belt, he held it out to his Master. "He was carrying this."
Palpatine dropped the needless walking stick and took the offered lightsaber.
"He was given it by Obi-Wan Kenobi and told that I had murdered his father. I explained the truth to him."
"Did you?" Palpatine scraped out. He looked down at the sword in his hand, a sword that dripped with blood of the innocent and guilty alike. He crouched by the kneeling boy, dark robes pooling on the floor as he grasped the back of Luke's neck and pressed the saber hilt to the Rebel pilot's temple.
Luke gasped. Vader stiffened.
"Did your father explain everything, boy?" he whispered, his voice low, sinister. "Did he tell you how he turned against his brother Jedi? Did he tell you how young and old fell to this sword? Did he tell you how he crushed the throat of your mother?"
The boy's head jerked up, eyes staring in horror, questioning his father silently.
Palpatine twisted the hilt against his skin, digging it hard against the side of his head and hissed. "I wonder… did Kenobi slice her open with this sword to drag you from her dead womb?"
Luke cried out. Repulsed he tried to pull away, gagging with his own pain and from the appalling imagines that Palpatine had planted in his mind. Laughing the Sith Master grabbed the boy's upper arm, held him while he struggled against him, still pressing the lightsaber to his skull. Vader could feel Luke's abhorrence, could feel the disgust, could feel the blinding rage, the driving hatred and the tendrils of darkness that curled and caressed his son's presence.
The struggle was short lived: Luke was too weak, too sore to fight for long. He sagged back on his heels, defeated.
With a snort of derision Palpatine lifted the sword away and released his hold. He rose to his feet and the boy crumbled sideways, falling to lie shivering on the cold, polished surface.
The Emperor handed the lightsaber back to Vader. "Kill him."
No more toying, no more goading, no more talk of the boy's fate. Something about his son had alarmed his Master.
Vader took the sword. He considered his Master's order as Palpatine walked toward the steps to his throne and looked back at the boy… Skywalker's son… lying helpless on the floor.
Vader dropped the weapon. The clatter of it striking the floor brought The Emperor's attention back to him.
"Is there something wrong, Lord Vader?" The question was innocuous enough, but Palpatine's eyes flashed with anticipation. "I would have thought that using Anakin's sword to kill Anakin's son would be fitting?" he chuckled, a dry sound, a humourless noise. "A just retribution against the Jedi who tried to hide him from you."
"Master," Vader tried, as it was expected he would. To act differently would be to arouse greater suspicion in his Master. "The boy is strong with the Force. His potential for the Dark Side is…"
Palpatine turned on him. "You would think to train him?" he spat. "You would have him as an apprentice?"
"I would never presume, Master," Vader assured him.
"Oh, but you do, my Lord Vader," The Emperor's voice was low, chilling. "You would take this boy, and claim him as your own and you, my friend, would be lost. He is a bind to the past. He reminds you of all that Anakin had, all that Anakin destroyed. Every time you look at him you will be reminded of that life, that man you once were. If the boy was to live, you would become that conflicted man you once were.
"It is here, and now, that you reaffirm who you are: Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, or Anakin Skywalker, failed Jedi Knight."
Vader unhooked his own lightsaber, gripping it tightly as he answered. "I am not Anakin Skywalker." He snapped it on, the red blade hissing to life.
The Rebel on the floor stiffened. A muted sob tore from his throat.
Vader wasn't sure if it was fear or relief that drove the sound from his son now that the moment was upon them.
Palpatine smiled in victory, grinned, yellow eyes flickering back to the boy. "Not too quick a death, Lord Vader, he must suffer for his crimes."
The lightsaber sliced through the air as the Dark Lord turned to his son. Luke was trying to move away, kicking his feet against the smooth floor trying to peddle backwards as Palpatine chuckled behind them. Vader lifted his sword…
Palpatine closed his eyes delving deep into the Force, opening himself fully to Darkness. He could feel the boy's terror, could feel the agonizing horror of his situation, the whole wrongness of father murdering son. He could feel Vader's seething rage, his hatred for Kenobi, his loathing for his own master…
There was the sound of a quick slice of the lightsaber and a cry of pain and fear and… the hard clatter of metal onto the floor.
… suddenly there was doubt, there was hope and a swift warning.
Palpatine's lightsaber was in his hand and ignited as Vader turned, lunging toward his Master with a killing stroke.
The Emperor met it, stumbling backward under the strength of Vader's brutality. The blades crackled together hissing and spitting energy. Vader pushed forward taking the advantage, forcing Palpatine upward toward his throne.
They broke apart.
"So," Palpatine drawled, drawing out his words, looking for a few precious moments in which to gather himself. "You choose your son over your Master?"
He glanced over at the boy as the younger Skywalker pushed the fallen binders away from him and struggled to sit up, his eyes on his father.
Vader held his sword defensively. "Always…"
"Then you are Skywalker," Palpatine taunted. "Without me you are nothing."
"With my son, I shall be Emperor."
Vader struck again, hammering his sword against Palpatine's, the Emperor again losing ground to Vader's vicious strength. "You are weak old man," Vader mocked Palpatine as he had Kenobi. "I should have done this a long time ago."
The Sith Master laughed as he met another blow, pushed Vader's blade back, ducked under a swing and brought his blade up, thrusting forward toward Vader's chest. The Dark Lord blocked the move, pushing Palpatine's blade away unbalancing them both.
Palpatine rallied first and leapt several steps up and away from his opponent. "Not as weak as you think, Lord Vader," he retorted, lifting a hand in familiar gesture.
Vader was prepared for him, lifting his lightsaber to meet the Force lightning, trusting the blade to absorb it.
The blast of blue lightning streaked past him forking outward and striking Luke square in the chest. The boy was thrown backward, slamming hard onto the floor. A howl of agony ripped from his throat as tendrils of power coiled around his limbs, his body, igniting nerve endings with a punishing intensity.
Vader roared with anger, swinging his lightsaber in a wide arc. Again Palpatine met the blow and the lightning tapered off as he concentrated on Vader's attack. "Your son will not survive this day, Lord Vader! He is weakened, frail and pathetic!"
"The Force is strong with him," Vader denied, his regulated breathing working quicker to meet the oxygen demands of his body. "He will heal."
"But heal as what?" Palpatine taunted. "Not the boy you found! Not the pilot who destroyed the Death Star! He will be something else entirely."
Vader knew his master was correct, could feel the truth of his words, for was it not the same for him? He was not the man he had once been. "Just as I healed as someone I was not?"
Palpatine grinned, blackened teeth twisting it into a snarl. "Oh, he will be something much worse. You think to reign as father and son? Do you think the boy will be content with that? You will not be able to control him! The Galaxy will fall into chaos and your reign will be short. Your son is destined to be your end!"
Vader faltered at those words. Something about his son had unsettled his master. Palpatine's foresight was accurate, rarely were his premonitions wrong.
"The boy must die!"
He couldn't stop himself, he turned from Palpatine to glance at his son. Luke had drawn himself to his knees, was on all fours, gasping to gain the strength to move.
Palpatine made use of his distraction. The lightning struck the Dark Lord, lifting him and sending him down the steps. He landed hard a few metres from the kneeling boy, his helmet colliding with the smooth surface, his head within crashing against the interior of the casing. He lost the grip of lightsaber and it rolled across the floor, out of reach.
"You fool!" Palpatine spat as he stalked down the stairs toward father and son, lightsaber extinguished and hidden once more. "How easy you lose your focus! How easy you are distracted!"
He sent another burst of lightning toward his Apprentice, keeping him down, keeping him in check. Vader roared against the pain, against the humiliation, against his defeat.
"This was the reason the Jedi allowed no attachments. I would have thought you had learned your lesson from Amidala. She was the reason for your downfall, and now her son will be the cause of your death."
Another streak of blue energy, seeking out, forking out across Vader's armour causing his prosthetic limbs to twitch, his breathing to wheeze as circuits sparked and shorted.
Vader could barely see through the opticals of his mask. It was hazy, blurred and he wasn't sure if it was because his helmet was failing or if it was his own eyesight that was fading. He closed his eyes, drew in a stuttering breath and opened them again. Palpatine stood over him; pale, clawed hands retracted and clasped together before him.
"Oh, my old friend, that it should come to this!" He raised his hands, fingers splayed. "You have always known that, since Mustafar, you do not have the power to kill me."
Vader couldn't help but smile at the word. It was the first time his son had called him by that title, but the sound of the word also brought solid consternation to the back of his throat for Palpatine raised his head and focused on the boy.
"How touching," he sneered, stepping away from the prone Sith Lord. "The son calls for the father he has never known. The orphan clings to a relationship he has never experienced."
Vader dragged himself up, propping his body up on his elbows as Palpatine moved toward his son, understanding that Luke had just saved his life.
"Your father was a fool to bring you to me! And now he will watch you die!" Sparks of blue light darted and cavorted on his splayed fingers: energy cracking and sizzling as it ran over his knuckles.
Luke looked up, eyes wide. He tried to stand and was send flying backward toward the steps of the throne by the blast of lightning. The damp of his body conducted the electricity. It arced across his skin, burning and scorching. He jerked and screamed his anguish; forks of searing energy ripped down his open throat, choking him.
Vader rolled onto his side as the light flickered across the throne room. He tried to push up, strained to gain the strength to get to his feet, but his prosthetics failed him.
Palpatine laughed, cackled as he tortured the boy, as he took pleasure in the spasms that wracked the boy's body, in the mindless horror that blanked the pilot's mind, in the torment of searing power that could cook skin, boil blood and calcify bones.
He pulled back the power, lest he kill the boy too soon. Luke gulped in air, moaned, curling into the foetal position as micro-seizures jerked his limbs. Knees in, hands across his body, unwanted tears of pain streaked his face, his lip trickled blood, the cut pulled apart by the cries Palpatine had wrung from him. He shivered, he groaned, face turning into the floor as curls of smoke rose from his skin.
"I can feel your fear, your anger, your hatred," Palpatine told him stepping closer, grinning as the boy tried to move away, hitting against the steps. "You have a natural affinity with the Force. I can feel the Dark Side yearn for you, but you are much too dangerous to be allowed to live."
Vader tried again, pushing against the floor, pulling strength from the Force. He heaved his bulk into a sitting position as his breathing regulator fought to re-establish a proper cycle. He was too far away to help Luke, too weakened to defend his son.
The boy was on his own.
"Plea… please," Luke pleaded through his seared throat.
"Please?" Palpatine leaned low, questioning in amusement as he teased his victim. He ran his fingers along the fresh trails of charred skin that marked the boy's arms, noted others razed deeply into the partly healed burn on his back. "Please? Please stop? Please… help me?"
The Sith Master reached down and hauled the boy back from the stairs, turned him onto his back wanting to see his face as he died, wanting the youth's last sight to be of him. "You'll have to be more specific."
The Rebel pilot closed his eyes; he grimaced and opened them to gaze up at his executioner. He whispered. "Ple… please…"
Palpatine crouched beside him, running a cold finger down his cheek. He brushed against the bleeding lips, knowing that, drip by crimson drip, this boy's time was running out.
"You have something to say before I kill you?" Palpatine's voice was soft, gentle, mocking the youth in his final moments. "Something… profound?"
The Rebel swallowed, his face contorting in pain, he nodded and the Sith Master leaned further in.
"Please… please… die!"
In the split second before the blue blade of the lightsaber pierced his heart, Palpatine realised his mistake. The boy had tricked him, had played him, had lured him in. In that instant he could feel the hilt of the sword pressing against his chest and he realised that, as the lightning had struck him, the boy had rolled toward the throne, landing on the lightsaber that his father had dropped to the floor by the steps. The Rebel had taken the punishment and the pain, he had curled around the lightsaber and kept it hidden until Palpatine had turned him over, and crouched beside him. The boy had taken the only opportunity he was going to get.
He had been killed by an injured, untrained youth: one who hadn't needed the Force to defeat him. Looking into those ice blue eyes as he died, Palpatine knew that the Galaxy was lost.
The weight of the Emperor's body slumped over Luke and the blue blade extinguished, seemingly disappearing down into the corpse. Vader dragged himself up, found his feet and stumbled toward his son.
He grabbed the body and hauled Palpatine off his son, relieved to see Luke's eyes open and his chest heaving.
The boy glanced at his father. "Is… he dead?" His voice was hoarse, his throat painful, but he sounded stronger already.
"He is dead," Vader confirmed.
Still lying on his back, Luke regarded his father. "You… need medical attention."
"As do you, but there is something I must do first." He offered his son his hand. Luke took it and was drawn to his feet. He staggered, knees collapsing under him. Vader caught him, righted him.
"Can you walk?"
"I don't… think so," Luke wheezed, clutching onto his father. He stared down at Palpatine. "You were right, father." He was panting from his injuries, from the rush of what he had just done. He wiped at the blood still running from his lip. "He was drawn to… weakness."
"He enjoyed exploiting it," Vader explained, glancing down at his dead Master, feeling free for the first time in his life. At last his life was his own. No owner. No Master, neither Jedi nor Sith to control his decisions and actions. "His overconfidence made him vulnerable."
They had played on Palpatine's quirks, the keen enjoyment he took from tormenting those he saw as weak, as inferior to him. Luke had not fully healed from the injuries he had suffered on the ship, but he had been placed back into bacta for the last few hours of their journey and was not as frail as he had first seemed when dragged from the medical bench. They had entered the palace as captor and captive, as Rebel and as Imperial, until it was time to reveal their relationship and, as Vader had known he would, Palpatine had cleared the court allowing their ruse to run its course until the Emperor at last could not fail but rise to the challenge presented.
It had not gone exactly as planned, some of his Master's reactions and words still troubled him, but the result was the same.
He was now Emperor.
"Now… what?" Luke asked, glancing at the far door, sounding unsure, his body trembling with the effort of staying upright.
"Now we take the Throne," Vader told him. Seeing hesitation and doubt flicker over his son's face he reassured him with, "It is the only way to bring peace."
He had not divulged all of his plans to Luke. He had not told the boy that he had planned on ascending the throne, knowing that Luke's rebellious nature, his idealistic dreams of a democratic government, would balk at the suggestion. He had sweetened the plan with words like "negotiate" and "mutual co-operation."
He had also been afraid of Palpatine ripping into the boy's mind and revealing the truth. He had not explained how he had worked for this moment for years, how he had trained his troopers and vetted his officers. How he had planted officers loyal to him across the Galaxy and across the fleets. He had not had the time to complete his coup preparations but finding Luke had brought his plans forward. His son was too valuable to die a Rebel's death.
Vader reached out and the two discarded lightsabers flew into his hands. He clipped them to his belt.
"The throne," he directed, again. "I need to contact my ship."
Together, supporting one another, father and son climbed the steps. Vader settled into the seat of power as Luke crumpled to the floor at his father's feet, resting against the throne itself as he tried to catch his breath. The Dark Lord activated the comm. in the arm rest.
Immediately a hologram of an Admiral appeared before them. "Lord Vader, How may I…"
"I wish to speak to Captain Piett," Vader's tone brooked no argument and Ozzel stepped aside allowing Firmus Piett to step into the holographic projector.
"My Lord Vader."
"Give the order, Admiral Piett," was all Vader needed to say.
Newly promoted, Piett dropped his head in a perfunctory bow as the sound of a single blaster shot came from off camera. "Of course, Sire. It shall be done."
Vader sank back into the throne, exhaustion threatening to descend, and listened to the silence of the room, listening to the muted gunfire that erupted from beyond the vast doors at the opposite side of the room.
The boy shifted on the floor, hissing at the pain the movement caused and settled back without speaking.
It was a moment of contemplation; it was a time for reflection and to let others fight their battle for them.
Sitting in silence Vader opened himself to the Force. He could feel the turmoil in the palace as his troopers stormed it. Wider still he could feel the shock as the communication systems across the city planet warned that there was an immediate planetary lock down, that all citizens were to leave the streets and remain indoors until further notice, that anyone caught outside would be summarily executed. He knew the same announcement was being relayed across the Galaxy.
He pulled his feelings back into the throne room, back to his son who sat, so still and silent, beside him.
He could feel his Luke's own turmoil. Could sense and see his son's unhidden thoughts: snap shots of sounds and pictures of the last few days, of the last few hours of pain, humiliation and torture at Palpatine's hands. He could feel Luke's uncertainty grow, could feel his confusion and doubt as one memory played over and over…
"Did he tell you how he crushed the throat of your mother?"
"Did… you kill her?"
Luke voice was quiet, a whisper dragged through a raw throat, rough with physical pain and emotion.
It was the same question that Vader had asked himself many times over the years. Had he really killed Padme, had he really crushed the life from her? He had sensed no deception from Palpatine when he had told him that Padme was dead and that he was the cause, that in his anger he had killed her and their unborn child. However, that quiet voice of doubt at the back of his mind insisted that she had been alive when he had let her go.
"No," he intoned, ancient memories resurfacing. Memories of dreams and visions of Padme in labour, memories of her pain and of her cries, the wail of a newborn. "She was alive when I…"
When he what?
What to say to his son?
When he released her throat? When he had watched her crumple to the ground? When he and Obi-Wan had fought around her, moving away and leaving her to lie on the landing platform in the heat, the ash and the smoke?
Had she died then? Had she woken? Had she died alone, in pain, gasping for breath through a damaged throat, died knowing her husband had abandoned her and their child to the same fate?
"… released her."
The boy listened, nodded. "So Obi-Wan… never…?"
"That, I do not know," he growled truthfully. He did not know the details of his son's birth, he did not know if his child had been born in the fire and blood of Mustafar.
Again, Luke shifted on the floor, easing his legs out straight on the floor, grunting in pain as he moved. Like his own, the youth's breathing was still laboured, restricted by his injuries and Vader knew that they both required medical assistance. However, their wounds were not immediately life threatening and he would only allow those he trusted to treat them and the battle for the palace was still seething beyond the door way.
Something hit hard against the doors, the noise echoing throughout that chamber.
Luke stiffened, looked up, his hands automatically going to his waist and Vader knew he was looking for his weapons belt. The boy remained watchful, his eyes focused on the door, unaware that he was the focus for his father.
Luke's eyes trailed from the doorway, looked up at the vast vaulted ceiling, at the sheer scale of the room and Vader could feel a sense of disbelief and wonder settle over the boy, he could feel the smile of irony on his son's lips.
Here he was, an officer in the Rebel Alliance, sitting in the Emperor's throne room.
A traitor sitting in the very heart of the Empire.
His eyes found the still body of Palpatine.
The jolt of realisation fired through the Force, slamming into Luke with such strength that it drove the very breath from him.
He had killed the Emperor!
He was sitting at the feet of Darth Vader!
Vader remained still, silent, having no wish to interrupt his son's thought process. Luke needed to work this through, needed to untangle the mess of his head, the disorder of his feelings. His son's future was still unbalanced and he would need clarity to make the decision to come.
He closed his eyes allowing Luke's feelings to crash over him. The enormity of it all, the horror of it all, rattled through the Force and Luke surged forward onto hands and knees as he gagged and dry heaved with a sudden and awful comprehension and insight.
Vader was Emperor!
He had helped put him on the throne!
Suddenly he knew, suddenly he understood.
He had been used.
Vader had never intended on negotiating with the Alliance. He had never intended to bring the war to an end through peaceful means. Vader was Sith, his father was Sith, and victory would only be achieved through destruction.
His body strained as he retched, the large raw burn scar on his back stretched and pulled as he moved, but the pain was lost to him.
"What… what have I done?" he breathed to the floor, dismayed and appalled, asking the question of himself. "What… am I doing here?"
Vader could not help but recalled his own downfall, his own agonised comprehension at what he had been party to, and what Palpatine had told him then.
"You are fulfilling your destiny, Luke."
The boy looked up at him sharply, stared at him, competing feelings and emotions clashing within.
This was his father!
He was the Emperor's son!
Just there… just there, Vader could feel it; the small dark twist, the subtle trickle of pleasure that seeped through his son's feelings and which was quickly quashed, quickly denied, pushed away to linger and fester within.
His son had been raised in goodness and light, like himself. He had been given morals and values, he knew love and companionship and now he had been torn away from it all, thrust into a very different life, one that would test his resolve and beliefs, his strength.
His son was not so different from him.
"I… can't go back…" The words were a lament to a life lost.
"Join me. Let me train you, Luke," Vader offered, watching his son closely. "Let me teach you all that my Masters taught me? Let me open you to the Force and unleash your potential!"
Luke hesitated as the battle beyond the throne room raged on. He looked at Palpatine's corpse and then to the lightsabers on his father's belt and Vader knew it was only one sword that was the focus of his vision… Anakin's.
Vader could feel the quiet murmur of the Force, could see his son's memories: a flash of Tatooine sunlight, a burning homestead, corpses. A grief that was still sore, still raw and an image of Kenobi, his hand on his son's shoulder as Luke pledged himself to the Jedi.
"I want to become a Jedi like my father…"
The youth swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, as he turned back to regard his father, to look up at what his father had become, who his father had become.
Vader stared back. He did not move, he did not speak again lest he disrupted Luke's internal battle. The boy knew what he had just been offered, understood the consequences should he refuse. Luke was an officer in the Rebel Alliance. Luke was still the pilot who had destroyed the Death Star and humiliated an Empire. Should he choose the Rebellion, Luke knew he would not be leaving this place alive.
Luke's decision, Luke's choice was more difficult than he had faced. The Dark Lord understood this…
Anakin had been faced with the loss of his wife and child and he had been given a chance, he had been given a hint of deliverance by Palpatine. In his despair he had grabbed it, taken it and had obeyed all his new Master had tasked him with while knowing, understanding, that it was all for Padme… no matter how many he killed to achieve her salvation. It was all for his child…
The child who now sat in utter turmoil at his feet.
Luke did not have the same reasons for choosing darkness, Luke did not have a wife and child to save. His son had already lost everything he ever had. He only had…
… a flash of a young woman's face, familiar dark eyes. And a name…. Leia…
… his friends in the Alliance, people he had known only a few short weeks.
Luke would either fall by choosing his father, or he would die by rejecting him.
Vader cautiously caressed his son's feelings, keeping his own presence mute and quiet.
Still the conflicting feelings warred within: the idealistic Rebel possibly facing execution against the natural need for self-preservation. The loyal Alliance pilot remembering friends lost, against the man who had killed an Emperor. Luke's innate goodness and light, against the twisted voice of darkness that tempted and teased with promises of power
The boy, curious about his gift and what he could achieve with it, vied with the duty of the Rebel Officer who rejected everything and anything Darth Vader could possibly offer.
And then there was the child, the son: wishing, wanting, needing his father.
Carefully, gingerly, Luke turned on the floor and, using the arm of the throne as leverage, he pulled himself to his feet to stand on weakened legs before his father.
Vader's hand moved to his sword, fitting it to his palm, curling his fingers around the hilt. So convoluted were Luke's thoughts and emotions, so twisted and torturous that they swung one way and then the next. The Dark Lord still did not know his son's decision, was unsure of Luke's intentions.
Luke stood beside his father, holding onto the throne for support, breathing heavily, fighting his wounds. He looked up and around the throne room, his eyes flicking to the closed doors so many metres away, to the polished floor now scuffed from their battle with Palpatine, to the huge circular window behind the throne and to the view beyond. He stood for a long time, simply staring out that window.
Luke was, Vader mused with fist tightening around his sword, behaving much like a man in his final moments. He was taking in his environment, breathing in the cool air, relishing his last seconds of life. It was as though he was imprinting this time, freezing the taste and smell of the air, the sights around him to take with him into death.
Luke closed his eyes, dipped his head and gave a small, shallow, sigh of acceptance. His decision made.
Reluctantly, regretfully, Vader withdrew from Luke, reigned in the Force and raised his shields against what he may have to do. The very least he could do for his son was gift him a quick death, something Palpatine would have denied him.
Hand still clutching at the throne to keep from falling, Luke Skywalker shakily lowered his body onto one knee.
He bowed his head. "I am yours to teach, father."
He was the Emperor's son.
He was heir!
The dark side crowed its victory, the lights of the Throne room seemed to dim and subfusc shadows reached out from the darkened recesses of the chamber.
Vader smiled beneath his mask as it grew quiet in the vestibule beyond the throne room. The battle over, the battle won. He glanced at his Master's corpse, at the glazed dead eyes staring at the ceiling above.
"Your son is destined to be your end."
A burst of ion energy lit up the exterior of the Rebel Blockade Runner, lights flickering and arcing across the hull as the ships systems were neutralised under the assault and its engines whined and died. It reminded him of another time and place when lightning had rained across his skin and his rage simmered with the recollection. His body was stilled marked by the experience, thin white scars that ran like rivulets over his chest, and arms. The memory of the agony fuelled him, fed the darkness around him as he watched the vessel being slowly lowered to floor of the vast docking bay.
The tractor beam disengaged and the ship was immediately surrounded by white armoured soldiers.
Its ramp lowered automatically with the loss of power, but the hatch remained firmly closed.
A lithe, black figure broke through the ranks of white and stalked forward.
"Get it open!" he commanded, impatience driving his anger.
Four troopers sprinted forward, hull-cutters flaming to life, metal sparking, melting and dripping to the ramp at their feet.
With adrenalin beginning to rush, he closed his eyes, reaching out with the Force, feeling the occupants of the ship prepare for their last stand. He heard their prayers, their fears, their promises to loved ones passed that they would be with them soon. He explored among them, briefing touching each one as he searched for the presence he was here for.
His lips curled in a feral grin, eyes shining with dark delight, irises yellowed and red rimmed.
There she was!
His father would be pleased.
He pulled the lightsaber from his belt and ignited it. Around him his men shifted uneasily, they backed away, giving him and the crimson blade room.
Bouncing impatiently on his feet, eager to get into the fight, he stood sideways to the ramp, turning the lightsaber blade in slow circles at his side, eyes focused on the hatch.
Metal broke free, the hatch fell inwards, clanging heavily to the floor. Shots from the interior of the ship blasted into the hanger, killing the troopers who had broken in.
He laughed and pushed off, storming up the ramp, lightsaber swinging, deflecting blaster bolts and cutting down the Rebel soldiers who had fired upon him, cutting down those he had once called friend.
The Jedi Princess, Leia Organa, would die today. The last trace of light, the last threat to the Sith would be swept aside and only then could he return to the Imperial palace and fulfil Palpatine's last prediction.
He had one single purpose, one goal, one destiny and no-one would stand in his way.
Not even his father.