The Protege'Author :
jedinemoRating and disclaimer :
Rated PG-13. The Star Wars Universe belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd, and I have gained nothing but satisfaction from this fanfic.Summary :
Darth Vader has an unsettling encounter within the Imperial Palace that changes the course of Galactic history.Timeline :
A few years before the events of ANH
Bail Organa had observed many Jedi in his lifetime. He'd sat with them in formal meetings, less often at social gatherings, and he was always struck by how ordinary they seemed. A being who could sense another's thoughts, or see the future, or throw a Senate pod around with their mind ought to have a neon sign on their forehead. But to a one, they looked like the average human, or Mirialan, or whatever their species.
He'd often wondered what it would be like to possess such powers. How different would his life be if he did? Would he have that same easy confidence that they all displayed? Or would he be too concerned with the responsibility? Maybe that was the real reason the Jedi started training initiates so early: so that younglings grew up without giving their abilities a second thought.
Obi-Wan Kenobi always seemed to him the perfect example of that: a man so at ease with his Jedi powers that they didn't change who he was. In person Obi-Wan was kind and gentle, and if Bail hadn't lived through the Clone Wars and read the reports himself, he would have never believed that the quiet man next to him was also a fierce warrior. Time and again, Obi-Wan had wrung victory from impossible situations, and stopped opponents others deemed unstoppable. If being a Jedi had
influenced Obi-Wan, perhaps it was only to give him a cheerful aura of invincibility. At least, that was the way Bail always remembered him from the past.
So to see Obi-Wan return from the Palace pale and tired greatly disturbed Bail. What could Obi-Wan have encountered that would steal his mantle of self-confidence? Luke was obviously not with him, so it could be simply that he'd failed in his quest, but it seemed more than that. Something had shook Obi-Wan to his very core, so much so that he'd instructed the speeder pilot to rendezvous with the Tantive
instead of returning to Obi-Wan's apartment. It was almost as if Obi-Wan needed the company. And so Bail simply sat with Obi-Wan in one of the Tantive's
staterooms, watching the other ships traversing the upper level flylanes.
Obi-Wan reached for the cup of tea resting on the side table between their chairs and took a sip. He carefully replaced the cup and looked Bail in the eye, as if he were at last ready to talk. "They weren't there. Neither Luke nor Vader."
Bail nodded. That observation confirmed the conclusion he'd drawn. "That doesn't surprise me."
Obi-Wan quirked his head.
"While you were gone, Governor Tarkin demanded that Vader step down," he said. He could still hear Tarkin's speech, his contempt for Vader quite evident. "The Emperor was not immediately available for comment, so I believe he was off-planet. Perhaps with Luke, based on your findings."
"Vader couldn't have taken that well," Obi-Wan said with a wry smile.
Bail found himself smiling back. That was more like the Obi-Wan of old. "No. When he finally responded, he declared Tarkin a traitor and basically dismissed him as a madman. I just hope there was nothing to Tarkin's threat."
"Something about unleashing the ultimate power in the universe, and that the Empire would regret it unless Vader was deposed."
Obi-Wan leaned back in his seat. "With that kind of language, Tarkin almost sounds worse than Vader."
"Wouldn't that be ironic, if Vader was the better choice?" he said. "Truthfully, I think this is the opportunity the Alliance has been waiting for. If Vader is occupied handling a military coup, this is probably our best shot at regaining control of the Senate and re-establishing the Republic."
Obi-Wan nodded. "And I have to try again, as well."
Bail was relieved to hear that Obi-Wan hadn't given up."Yes, your chances have to better if Vader is distracted."
"A day ago, I would have agreed with you," Obi-Wan said, the troubled look returning to his face.
"Why? What changed?"
"I did run into someone at the Palace," Obi-Wan said, his gaze falling away. "A clone of Anakin."
"A clone? Of Anakin
?" he said. That was the last thing he expected Obi-Wan to say. "For what purpose?"
"I'm not sure," Obi-Wan said softly. "He's Anakin in his teens, that's all I know."
Cold realization ran through Bail as the conversation he'd had with Leia suddenly took on new meaning. "Did you talk to him?"
"Not really," Obi-Wan said. "But now I understand what I've been feeling in the Force. I've been trying to avoid Vader, but I can't. My destiny is to face him again."
In his brief tenure as Emperor, Darth Vader had had neither opportunity nor desire to explore the vast residence he'd inherited by assuming the throne. Unlike Palpatine, he was satisified with what was functional, and had no need for luxury. To see the various environments Palpatine had created within the Palace was perhaps a window into his former master's soul, but Vader had no interest in reflecting on Palpatine's psyche. It was enough for him to note the similarities of this top floor room to Palpatine's old Senate office and to the antechamber of the surgical theater in the accursed medical rehabilitation center.
If he were honest with himself, the room was also reminiscent of the Jedi Council chambers: the same curved expanses of glass opening onto a grand vista of Imperial Center skyline. Sometimes it seemed as if every pivotal event in his life had taken place in a room such as this. That was probably why he chosen this one for his meeting with Luke, because it felt
right for a conversation of importance. And what could be more important than letting his son know the truth? Besides, he wasn't entirely sure Anakin didn't have his private suite bugged.
He could feel them approaching, the stormtroopers he'd sent to escort his son, as well as the dazzling brilliance that was Luke. Though it shouldn't be possible, Vader swore he was sweating inside the suit. He walked to edge of the panoramic windows and stared out, replaying all his speeches in his mind. Most likely the boy would be overjoyed to know the truth, to have a part of the family he appeared to crave. There was no reason to think the boy would reject him. So why did he have this damned sensation of perspiration?
Though he could tell they were now just outside the door, he continued facing the windows. The chime sounded, and he motioned the door open without turning. He heard footsteps pad into the room. "Skywalker, you may stay. Troopers, you are dismissed."
When he could sense that only Luke remained in the room, Vader turned at last, his cloak shadowing his movements. He eyed the massive desk and semicircle of chairs that filled one corner of the room, then decided on the less formal pair of couches at the other end. He motioned towards them. "Luke, have a seat."
His son obeyed, perching himself stiffly on the edge of one plush velvet couch. "Did I do something wrong, sir?"
"No," he said, moving into the space between the couches. He considered sitting down opposite Luke, but then thought of how his legs would splay awkwardly to accomodate his prostheses. And if he leaned back, the suit's air pump would be blocked. Stand, yes, it was better to stand. "I need to talk to you about your father."
Instantly, the worried look on his son's face was replaced by one of complete focus. "What is it, sir?"
"I...," he said, but the words wouldn't come out. Luke stared even more intently. Say it, just say it
. He licked his lips. "I
am your father."
Luke's mouth fell open, and he squinted up at the mask. "You're what? But...," he started, then his voice faded and his eyes searched the room, as if he needed something to anchor himself. "Why didn't you come for me sooner?"
After everything he had sacrificed for his wife and unborn child, he didn't want Luke to think he had been unwanted. "I only found you after you joined the Imperial Navy."
"I see. I understand," Luke said, and the light in his eyes dulled. "There were some kids like that back home. All they knew about their fathers was that they had passed through Mos Eisley. Once."
"No!" he said. He was a step behind at every turn. Now his son thought he was the product of a casual encounter. "I loved your mother. We were married."
Emotion played over Luke's face before he contained it. "Then how could you not know about me?"
"So where were you?" Luke said, standing up.
He gazed back at his son. What should he tell him? He couldn't say, I didn't look for you because I thought I killed your mother
. But he didn't want to lie, either. "It's complicated. There were momentous events happening at the time you were born."
"Oh," Luke said. He absently removed his uniform cap and ran his hand through his hair. "Well, then, can I see your face?"
He froze. It was not an unreasonable request. The boy thought he could simply pull off his helmet, as the stormtroopers did. But if he was not ready to tell Luke all the circumstances surrounding his birth, he was truly
not ready to reveal what lay beneath the mask. "That is not possible here. Perhaps at another time."
Luke looked confused, but nodded his acceptance. This hadn't gone exactly how Vader had wanted it to. Luke knew the truth, but they might as well be just Emperor and recruit for all the distance that remained between them. He floundered for what he could do to fulfill his son's wish. "However, if you wish to see how I appeared at your age, look at my apprentice, Anakin."
"He looks like you?"
He hesitated. "He is my... clone."
Luke furrowed his brow. "You cloned yourself? Why?"
"It was not me," he said. "It was my master's doing."
The tone in Luke's voice made him feel ashamed, as though he was still a slave, not a Dark Lord of the Sith. "There is much you do not yet understand. Like me, the Force is strong with you."
"I keep hearing that," Luke said, "and I don't know what it means."
He shook his head. Once he, too, had been ignorant of the Force, but it was so long ago he could hardly imagine it anymore. The Force was his strength, his gift, his guide, but to put it into words, he couldn't explain it. Instead, he looked to the desk and called a decorative orb sitting on its top to his hand. "That is a most basic use of the Force. You have powers you've never dreamt of."
Luke took the orb and examined it. "I
can do that?"
"That, and much more," he said. Luke's curiosity loosened his inhibitions. "I want to teach you everything. I want us to rule the Galaxy together."
Luke looked long and hard into the mask, and then he sank down onto the couch. "I'm overwhelmed...sir."
"No more 'sir', " he said, trying to make Luke understand. "You are my son. You are with me now."
Bail Organa put an elbow on his office desk and leaned his head into his hand, taking a moment to close his eyes. For years the Alliance had struggled along, underground and underfunded, but its leaders had managed to maintain a unified front. Now fate had gifted them with an enormous opportunity, and he was afraid they were going to squander it because they couldn't agree on a course of action. Mon wanted to gather their entire fleet and make a direct move to retake Imperial Center, while Garm Bel Iblis wanted to blockade key trade routes, as the Separatists had done. As for himself, he favored simultaneous insurgencies on multiple worlds, too many for the Empire to address at once. His plan might not give them immediate control, but neither did they risk losing everything. They'd given themselves two standard hours to cool off, and then they'd resume their negotiations over an encrypted channel.
"Father, you should get some rest," Leia said from behind him.
He was tired enough that he hadn't even heard her come into his office. What to do about his daughter during this whole mess was the other matter that had been keeping him awake. Would she be safer at home? With him here in his Senatorial apartment? Or on some distant base? He supposed it all depended on what path the Alliance chose. And then there was the issue of her dating the clone of her biological father. Whatever the Alliance did, he had to stop that scenario here and now.
"I know, sweetheart. There'll be time for that later," he said. "Come sit with me. I need to talk to you."
She pulled one of the chairs around to his side of the desk, and sat near its edge. "Has there been an agreement?"
"No," he said, turning to face her. He knew she wasn't going to take this well. "But I think it would be best if you went back to Alderaan."
Her response was immediate. "I can't leave. What if you need me?"
"Things are going to be unpredictable, and you'll be safer at home," he said.
Her dark eyes pleaded with him. "But you said I was always safest with you. That we'd always watch out for each other."
said that. Often. But he couldn't give in this time. "I know. But there's something else. I have new information that suggests the boy you've been seeing is closely tied to the Emperor."
For once, Leia had no quick retort, and merely looked away.
"You knew that was a possibility?" he said, shocked at her response, or lack thereof.
Leia's cheeks flushed. "He made some comments about talking to Vader every day. I thought he made it up."
"I can't allow you to see him again. Or, more importantly, for him to look for you," he said. "That's why you have to go home."
"Maybe I should
keep talking to him," she said. "He might say something that could help us."
"No! I forbid it!" he said, loud enough that he surprised himself.
Leia drew herself up in her chair, looking every bit of her regal heritage. "Why?"
"Because I'm your father and I say so," he said, desperate.
She snorted. "That hasn't worked since I was about five. What's going on?"
If revealing the truth would have only hurt him, he'd have done it already. But the damage to Leia would be far greater. "Please, just trust me on this."
Luke placed the last of his clothing into the dresser in his new room. More than triple the size of his old quarters, and minus the bunkmate, this room was apparently more befitting the son of the Emperor. He still wasn't sure what he felt about that. As many times as he had wished that he could have known his father, he almost preferred his childhood daydreams to the reality he'd been given.
In his imagination, his fantasy father had always been there with a warm smile, and a clap on the back for a job well done. They'd taken voyages together on the spice freighter his father navigated, the only real bit of information he'd had. His father's face was always blurry in those fantasies, because he'd never seen a holo to fill in the details. He could hardly believe that after finally meeting his real father, he was no more enlightened about what he looked like. Or that after talking to him, he had more questions instead of less.
Still, he did feel some sort of connection to the Emperor. In place of the spice freighter, there had been a Star Destroyer. And even if he didn't really understand why his father hadn't known his whereabouts, there was no denying that the Emperor had taken immediate action as soon as he discovered him. Luke had no doubt that his father did want them to be together, and maybe that was all that mattered. Maybe he should ignore the sense of unease that his new position of power had given him.
He wished he could magically walk into the old garage back home. Taking things apart and putting them back together always helped him sort out his problems. He supposed he could go down to the Palace hangar, but it was hardly the refuge that the Lars garage had been. With the alternative being to stay in his room, though, it was an easy decision. Now he just had to remember how to get there from the top floor. A stormtrooper had escorted him from the lower level crew barracks, but he'd had been so caught up in his thoughts that he hadn't paid attention to the route they'd taken.
Once outside in the corridor, he picked the direction that felt right, and was relieved when he passed the entry to what the trooper had identified as his father's private suite. He expected to find the turbolifts next, but then a door he hadn't noticed last time opened up, and a young man dressed all in black stepped out into the hallway. Anakin looked down as he adjusted his heavy belt, from which hung a cylindrical weapon similar to Vader's.
Luke paused. Of course Anakin would carry the same type of weapon: he was the Emperor's apprentice. Luke felt a pang of jealousy as he wondered why his father had raised this boy instead of him. Anakin probably knew everything about the Emperor. He might even know everything about Luke.
Anakin smoothed his trousers and swung his head up. His eyes registered no surprise when they met Luke's, as if he had known without looking who waited in the distance. "What are you doing up here?"
The question made him feel like an intruder. "I just...uh," he said, jerking a thumb back towards his room. "My father transferred me up here."
"I suppose that
was only a matter of time," Anakin said, an odd smile flickering over his face.
Luke moved closer, despite the lack of an invitation. "The first day we met, you said I was only here because of my father. Did you know all along?"
"No, not exactly," Anakin said, giving Luke an appraising look. "I failed to understand that Vader and the Jedi Anakin Skywalker were one and the same."Anakin Skywalker
. So he did share his father's name, after all. But, then, so must his apprentice. "So, I guess you're Anakin Skywalker, too."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Do you look like him?" he said, trying to imagine an older version of Anakin's features.
"I guess. I've never seen him without the helmet."
That didn't make sense. "But you're his apprentice."
"He'd been injured," Anakin said. "He can't just take it off."
Luke remembered his father's words: There were momentous events happening at the time you were born
. He wondered if that included whatever had happened to his father. "Do you act like him, then?"
"Sometimes," Anakin said. "What's with all the questions?"
"He's my father, but I don't even know him," Luke said. "I thought if I got to know you..."
Anakin's expression softened. "Yeah. He's not very good with the details, is he?"
"No," Luke said. "I'm not even sure what he wants from me."
"Join the club," Anakin said, with a mirthless laugh.
Luke suddenly realized that maybe Anakin's life hadn't been as easy as he first thought. "Do you think I'm
Anakin shrugged. "You're strong in the Force, that's for sure."
Wow. If he had a credit for everytime he'd heard that. "How can you tell?"
"I can feel it," Anakin said. "Can't you?"
"No, " he said, lowering his head. "I don't know anything about the Force."
"Well," Anakin said, shifting in his boots, "I could show you a few things. If you want."
"Yeah, I'd like that," Luke said. He remembered the jealousy he'd felt earlier, and was ashamed. He should have given Anakin more of a chance. "I'm heading down to the hangar. You want to come with me?"
Anakin looked startled. "Umm, sure, I've got a little time."
"Good," Luke said. He had the feeling they both could use a friend. "You can help me work on one of the fighters."
"What I'd really like to know," Anakin said, "is how to fly one. Do you know how?"
"I've flown something similar," Luke said. "I'm sure I could figure it out."
Anakin smiled broadly, the first time Luke had seen him do that. "Teach me that, then."
Obi-Wan stepped out of the rented speeder and onto the plaza surrounding the Imperial Palace. Things were going far too smoothly for his taste. As soon as he violated Palace airspace, some sort of defense should have scrambled to repel him. But there had been nothing. Setting the speeder down on Palace grounds should have sent a squad of stormtroopers rushing up to him, but instead he was alone on the duracrete walkway, sunlight warming his shoulders as if he were taking a stroll through the park.
The only logical explanation was that Vader was expecting him.
His heart pounded in response to his body's tension, but he kept his mind tuned to the Force, and the Force told him all was as it should be. It was now further back to the speeder than it was to the ornate towering doors that marked the formal entrance to the Palace, so escape was a moot point, anyway. He maintained his steady pace down the walkway, the eerie calm weighing on him. The shimmering Palace walls only reflected back his own image, revealing nothing of what waited in the interior. He had almost decided he was going to have to knock and ask if anyone was home, when the tall doors swung open, and an armored figure in black stepped onto the plaza, its cloak rippling in the breeze.
The figure was massive, and the flickering lights on its chest made it seem more droid than human. It remained stationary, arms crossed, even as Obi-Wan drew close enough that he could hear the repeating wheeze that accompanied the figure's breathing. A lightsaber gleamed at the figure's side, completing the impression of ominous power. Just another Sith Lord
, he told himself. He repeated that mantra as he walked to within two meters of the still silent figure, wondering what the Force could possible want out of this encounter. Insectile red lenses stared down at him, and he stared back, daring to reach out with the Force.
The presence he sensed was cool and controlled in a way that Anakin had never been, and yet there was something familiar about it. Then a storm of emotion smacked him, seething and roiling, white-hot and intense, and Obi-Wan almost fell to his knees. He sucked in a breath and gazed into the mask. Vader had let down his shields, just enough to remind Obi-Wan who really dwelt inside the armor. Anakin, kriff, it was Anakin
. All those times he'd told himself his old padawan was gone, he'd been wrong. Whatever resolve he had mustered to take on Vader again failed, and he knew he was powerless against him. He felt Anakin sneer at him, and then the shields went up, and Vader's cool persona returned.
"Obi-Wan," Vader's mechanical voice boomed, "you should not have come back."