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
Anakin hurried through the Palace halls towards the grand foyer. It was virtually unheard of to have an intruder in the Palace, but it had happened, and on his watch. He felt no sense of danger in the Force, but that didn't lessen his feeling of urgency. With Vader unreachable in some meeting, the stormtroopers had summoned him, and he would fulfill his role as the Emperor's apprentice.
The sound of a female voice in the Palace was also a rarity, and it caught Anakin's attention immediately. Whoever she was, she was fighting mad. "Ma'am, ma'am," he heard one of the stormtroopers say. "Ma'am, you have to hold still."
Anakin burst into the far end of the foyer and was amazed to see Leia Organa struggling in the grip of Commander Rell. She looked so small up against the white armor. "Let her go," he said in his most authoritative voice, supplementing it with a touch of Force suggestion.
The commander obeyed promptly, and Leia yanked her arms free and smoothed her clothing. Anakin didn't know what kind of fabric her gown was made of, but its pale yellow color shimmered like the sun. She looked more beautiful than ever, even with the withering expression she gave the stormtroopers.
"She demanded to see the Emperor," the commander said. "She refused to leave."
Anakin nodded solemnly as he approached. "I'll take it from here."
He grabbed Leia around the bicep in a way that he hoped appeared forceful enough, but that wouldn't actually hurt her. "Don't say anything," he whispered into her ear. To his relief she didn't protest, and he led her down the left corridor to an alcove beyond the visual range of the troopers. He relaxed his grip and let his fingers slide down her arm. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for my father," she said, her dark eyes glittering. "He's overdue to return from a meeting with the Emperor."
He felt a trace of disappointment that she hadn't said she was here to see him. Having her inside his home seemed so personal. He took her hand in his and leaned forward. "Meetings don't always run on time. I'm sure everything's all right."
She tilted her head up towards him. "He missed an appointment at the embassy. That's never happened before."
Her lips were just centimeters from his. He wondered if he leaned down to kiss her, if she'd let him. In the back of his mind, a voice asked why she would be worried about her father speaking with Vader, but he ignored it. His fingers intertwined with hers, and he stepped closer, so that they were almost touching. Heat coursed through him like he was on fire.
Leia's mouth fell open, and her eyes searched his, but then she shook her head as if to wake herself. "You work with the Emperor, don't you? You can help me find him, right?"
"I can help you with anything," he said softly, releasing her hand to place his around her waist. Her gown was silken ecstasy beneath his fingertips, and he pressed at the small of her back to bring her to him. For a moment she didn't resist, and their bodies brushed together.
She seemed to start at the sensation, and grabbed his hand, pushing it back to his side. "Then let's go."
He heard her, but his mind was too incoherent to comprehend her words. All he wanted to do was touch her again. She stepped away and looked at him expectantly. Under her scrutiny, the ability to think returned to him. "Okay, sure," he said with a sigh. He stepped out from the alcove and motioned for her to follow him.
She moved to his side and stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. "I knew I could count on you."
Darth Vader lifted the stylus from his handheld touchscreen. He'd known the Rebel Alliance was growing in strength - the increasing number of acts of sabotage was evidence of that - but to hear the names of the member worlds and the reasons why they had joined the Alliance caught him off guard. It wasn't as easy to say that they were all traitorous malcontents. He looked to Bail Organa, seated next to him in the small workroom. "Are there more?"
Bail nodded. "Mon Calamari. Tarkin holds the former leader of their Council as a slave."
Vader leaned back in his seat. Mon Calamari had long been a thorn for the Empire, fighting openly against Palpatine's attempts to bring the world into line with the precepts of the New Order, precepts that included the subjugation of non-human species. Having grown up on Tatooine, speaking Huttese and Toydarian as easily as he spoke Basic, Vader never understood Palpatine's bias, but like everything else about Palpatine, it went unquestioned. That both sentient races of the Mon Calamari world had overcome their distrust of humans to join with the Rebels bespoke of their hatred for the Empire. "Continue."
"Gerrard Five," Bail said. "And Ralltir. Banking assets have been seized by Imperial factions."
Both Core worlds, the first systems Organa had named that weren't on the Galactic periphery. That the Rebels had infiltrated so close to Imperial Center alarmed him. The Empire wasn't fighting isolated insurgents, but rather a coordinated network that linked multiple systems. If the Rebels were ever to gather enough ships to engage the Imperial Navy, the Galaxy would once again be facing civil war. Had Palpatine been truly unaware of the extent of the Rebellion, or, in typical fashion, had his former master kept the truth to himself? He noted the names on the touchscreen, and then lifted his hand in silent query.
"Zephyr Base on Rori," Organa said. "It's a moon of...Naboo."
He flinched at the name, a flood of images flashing through his mind before he could stop them. Theed...the grassy plains of the Lake Country...the absolute beauty of Varykino...his wedding night...her
. Emotion swelled in him the way it always did with those memories, and his face flushed hot. He glanced at Organa, embarrassed even though the mask concealed him. But Organa had already averted his eyes, as if he had known the reaction the mention of Naboo would produce.
He stared at the senator. It was strange enough that Organa knew that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were one and the same, but how could the senator know Skywalker's secrets? "How long have you known?" he asked cautiously. "About me."
Organa hesitated. "Since the beginning."
How was that possible? Organa had been one of Padme's closer friends in the Senate, that he knew. Just as with Luke, he had the disconcerting feeling that some part of her looked back at him through Organa's eyes. He cleared his throat. "Any more systems?"
"Well, of course, Alderaan," Organa said, lowering his gaze.
He had to respect Organa for his honesty. The senator could have avoided implicating himself by claiming to have only stumbled across the information he'd just presented. He could have even tried to appear the loyalist by reporting the information as treasonous actions, but not once had he evaded culpability. Vader stood up from the table. "Thank you, Senator, for your candor."
"Is that it?" Organa said with a surprised look." Am I free to go?"
"I must assemble the fleet immediately," he said. In truth, he should
arrest Organa for crimes against the Empire. Had Tarkin's actions not pressured the senator to seek protection, Organa would likely be devising plans to undermine the Imperial government at this very moment. But by reciting the list of Clone Wars victories, Organa had shown that while he needed Darth Vader's power, who he trusted was Anakin Skywalker. That trust felt like a contract, and Vader found he couldn't violate it. "Besides, I know where to find you."
"Thank you, your highness," Organa said, rising swiftly.
He led the senator out of the workroom and back towards the Palace entrance. As soon as he dismissed Organa, he would begin making contact with his admirals. At the edge of his awareness, he felt Anakin nearby. Good. He would need the boy on this mission.
"Leia!" Organa shouted, rushing forward. "What are you doing here?"
Startled, Vader looked up in time to spot Anakin in an alcove, distentangling himself from an embrace of the senator's daughter. The girl quickly distanced herself from Anakin as her father strode up to her.
"I forbade you to see him!" Organa said, staring down at his daughter.
Curious, Vader moved closer to the trio. Anakin looked mortified. "Do you have a problem with my apprentice, Senator?"
"No, no, of course not," Organa said, mustering what Vader recognized as a politician's smile. "I'm sure he's a fine young man."
"Perhaps your plea to me was not as sincere as it seemed," he said. "We both know who he resembles."
Organa blanched. "I am most grateful for your assistance. It's not him, it's her. She's too immature to be dating."
"Father!" Leia exclaimed. "I can't believe you said that."
"She daydreams and hardly pays attention to her work," Organa said. "I'm forced to be very strict with her."
Leia's eyes spat blasterfire. "That's not true!"
"You see," Organa said, throwing up his hands in defeat. "It's all I can do to keep her in line."
Leia turned on her heel and stomped down the corridor. Organa followed her, turning back towards Vader. "Be glad you have a boy."
Anakin darted towards her, but Vader restrained him. "There will be time enough for that later. First, we have a battle to win."
"Admiral, you will lead your ships into the Telos system," Darth Vader said into the holotransmitter. "Report any unauthorized vessels immediately. Is that clear?"
"Yes, m'lord," the admiral said, nodding, and then his blue image flickered out.
Star Destroyers were now deployed to each of the eight Rebel targets, save for Alderaan, which would be guarded by Devastator
as soon as he finished gathering his support troops. He could hardly wait to see the look of surprise on Tarkin's face when they stormed into the central control room of the Death Star. He swiveled his chair towards Anakin, who sat in an identical hardbacked seat entering ship positions into the command screen. He would need his apprentice like never before, in real combat. He remembered how fierce the boy had been when they first met; Anakin had seethed with an energy that demanded an outlet. Obi-Wan had picked a hell of a time to make the boy go soft. "Are you ready for this?"
"Sure," Anakin said, his eyes fixed on the screen and his fingers flying over the keys.
"Do you remember how to fight?" he said. "Or has Obi-Wan filled your head with too many Jedi ideals?"
"The Jedi knew how to fight," Anakin said. "Obi-Wan told me about some of the battles you fought together in the Clone Wars."
He grunted and turned back to the display. Of course he knew about the combat abilities of the Jedi, but he couldn't resist teasing his apprentice for his newly found beliefs. "Why was he telling you about the past?"
"He said it would help me understand who I am," Anakin said.
"You never lived that life," he said with annoyance. "You are the trained protege' of Sith Lords."
"Exactly. He wants to save me from the dark side," Anakin said. He typed in another set of coordinates and a new green blip appeared around Tierfon. "He thinks you're beyond saving, though."
He snorted at Obi-Wan's arrogance. "I am not in need of saving."
"So, uh, why do
you hold on to the dark side?"
"What?" he said, turning abruptly.
"I didn't know anything else," Anakin said with a shrug. "But you've seen both sides. Why didn't you go back once Palpatine was gone?"
The presumption that the light was the superior way filled him with sudden fury. "Do you understand the path you're choosing? Do you really know
what accepting the will of the Force means?"
"I guess," Anakin said, shrinking back in his seat. "I can feel when what I'm doing is right."
He shook his head in disgust. What a naive simplification. "Terrible events are going to unfold and you will be expected to do nothing about them. People you care about are going to die and you will be supposed to just accept that. Because it will be the will of the Force."
Uncertainty crawled over Anakin's face, prompting Vader to drive his point home. "Can you do that? Can you?" he said. "Because I couldn't."
He turned back to the glowing display, and attempted to focus on tactical maneuvers. He shouldn't have allowed the discussion to aggravate him so much. When he realized Anakin was still staring at him, he sighed and looked over at the boy.
Anakin was wearing his most serious face. "Will I still be your apprentice if I'm not a Sith anymore?"
The concern in the boy's voice mellowed his anger. "What does the Force tell you about hunting down Tarkin?"
Anakin thought for a moment. "That we need to do it. That he must be stopped."
"Good. Then we are in agreement," he said, returning to his work.
"What about Luke?"
"What about him?"
"Is he going into battle with us?"
He shook his head. Some day. "He does not have enough training. He will have to stay on board Devastator
Obi-Wan. Now there was a quandary. While he'd restrained his desire to kill the old man for Luke's sake, he wasn't ready to turn his old master loose, either. "We will have to bring him. To keep him from escaping."
Bail knew just how angry his daughter was by the fact that she'd said nothing on the trip home from the Palace. If she was angry, she'd let him know it, but if she was really
angry, a resolute wall of silence went up that required careful dismantling. And she had every right to be. He'd extricated them from a delicate situation by sacrificing her reputation. He glanced over at her, the wind streaming through the cockpit of his speeder and ruffling her hair. She focused dead ahead, her lips tight, and her chin held high.
He sighed as he brought his gaze back to the traffic lane. To fix this, he would have to tell her the truth. It was a conversation he'd rehearsed many times, knowing this day might come, though he always fervently hoped that it would not. But she was owed the truth now. He guided the speeder into the hangar of the Senatorial apartments. He let her jump out and storm ahead, knowing that what he had to do could only take place in the privacy of their home. That she held the elevator for him was at least a small concession of civility. Once at their floor, however, she again leapt ahead.
By the time he made it to the door of their apartment, Leia was already half way across the long formal living room. "I'm sorry," he called to her receding form.
"How could you?" she said, whirling about to face him. "And in front of the Emperor!"
"Believe me, it was necessary," he said, closing the distance between them. "I had to get us out of there safely."
"And belittling me was all you could think of?" She turned away and walked slowly to the end of the room. "Is that how you really feel, that you'd have rather had a son?"
," he said desperately. He went to her side, gently grasping her shoulders to turn her towards him. Her eyes were rimmed with tears, and she immediately dropped her gaze. He tilted her chin up with one hand until she looked him in the eye. "Listen to me. I chose you. Hmmm? I chose you."
She swallowed hard, and then he pulled her close. At last she relinquished her anger, returning his hug and sniffling into his shoulder. He stroked her hair the way he'd done since was a child. "You mean more to me than life itself. I couldn't be any prouder of you."
"Then why did you say those things?" she said.
A lump formed in his throat. This was it. There was no delaying the truth any longer. "Here, please sit," he said, guiding her to the couch. He took one of her hands and pressed it between his. "Your mother and I never hid the fact that you were adopted."
"Yes," she said, her brow heavy with concern.
"Well, your friend Anakin is a clone of your biological father."
"What?" she said, pulling her hand free. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "Ewww. I kissed him."
He shivered internally and tried very hard not to let it show on his face.
"Why didn't you say something sooner?" she said.
"I didn't know at first," he said. The shock he'd felt at Obi-Wan's discovery replayed in his mind. "But after, I just couldn't bring myself to tell you. Because that boy is a clone of Darth Vader."
She blinked. "But that means..." her voice trailed off, and she drew herself up on the couch. "That can't be...that's impossible."
He nodded and looked into her eyes. "I know it's hard to hear. I have kept you protected from him and that truth your whole life."
"But he doesn't even seem human," she said, her gaze defocused. "He's done such terrible things."
"Which have nothing to do with you," he said. "When I first knew Vader he looked like that boy. He was a Jedi and a hero of the Republic. If there's a bright spot in all this, it's that you've seen your father how he was. Think of him like your friend, not the monstrosity he's become."
And even as he said that, to give her the peace that she deserved, he knew he had risked everything that some of that boy was still inside the armor.
Cool air rushed over Darth Vader's face as the mechanical arm lifted his helmet to the ceiling of the meditation pod. He leaned his head back against the padded synthleather of the chair and closed his eyes. With Star Destroyers enroute to each of the eight Rebel targets, and his entire crew busied with their assignments, he could allow himself a moment of rest.
A curious thing, Organa's disclosure. Just when Vader was struggling most for a solution to the Tarkin problem, an answer had dropped in his lap. It was so smoothly timed, that if he were a Jedi he'd say it was the will of the Force. But he was not, so it was not. Still Anakin's query stuck in his mind: Why do you hold onto the dark side?
Hadn't his first thought after Palpatine's death been that at long last he was free? And yet nothing had changed. What was holding him back?
He opened his eyes and shifted in his chair. Reflection was a luxury in a time of combat. Better that he review his plans one more time. He waved on the display, recalling the Galaxy map marked with the target worlds and the Star Destroyers assigned to them. He had no doubt that Organa had given him good information, and he was certain they would encounter Tarkin and the Death Star in one of the named systems. If only he knew for sure which of the eight Tarkin would attack next, he could direct maximum firepower to that location.
As he considered each system, he realized he had only data to go by, and not even a hint of guidance from the Force. Maybe here, alone, was the place to release the dark side, at least long enough to see if his visions would return. To look into the future and forsee Tarkin's location would be worth the risk. He closed his eyes again, and drew in as deep a breath as his damaged lungs would allow. He slowly repeated the process, a pale imitation of the last time he had meditated Jedi style, when his body had still been young and whole. His mind rebelled against the languor that seeped into him, holding shields in place by habits so long established that they'd become purely unconscious. He made himself let go, moving closer towards the quiet state from which his visions had always sprung.
As he relaxed, a dull ache gripped his heart, and a heavy weight settled in his chest. The love he knew he felt for Luke sprang forth with desperate strength. Force, he loved the boy so much, why hadn't he done more than merely drag him around everywhere? Why hadn't he talked to him, told him about the mother who he so resembled? Why hadn't they ever talked truly face to face, as his son had asked? He'd wanted to do all that, so why hadn't he? He shuddered at the intensity of his feelings, and pushed them aside, being careful not to break the meditative state. Dwelling on what he felt for Luke would not help him defeat Tarkin.
The ache in his heart thankfully receded, and he drifted through nothingness, waiting for the glimmer of an approaching vision. He gasped as unbearable heat and horrific pain enveloped his body. All he could see was Obi-Wan walking away, climbing the dark rocky shore without looking back. Despair surged through him, followed by total helplessness. He despised the feeling, so he smothered it with anger. The dark side threatened all around him, and reluctantly he released his anger back into the Force. When that emotion drained from him, though, the others remained. Sorrow and disbelief were melded together, resurrecting the question that had haunted him as he laid on the black sand, unable to help himself. How could you leave me?
It was a question that echoed even as he prepared to kill Obi-Wan on the Palace steps. It had surprised him that some part of him still needed an answer. He put a hand to his chest, feeling a pain not unlike the one he felt when he thought of Luke. That made no sense, not unless....
He groaned. These were not the revelations he was seeking. He needed a vision of the future, not a replay of his past. He breathed deeply again, and rid himself of the unwanted feelings that had arisen from the depths. Even though he was shunning the dark, his conscious self was still too much in control, and he knew he had to surrender himself more completely to the Force. Summoning lessons taught to him in his youth, he stilled his mind and tried to just be.
His perception of time slowed, and he sat immersed in the Force until he found himself walking down the corridor of a ship. The light fixtures were current design, as if this was happening now, and not another memory dredged from the past. A sense of urgency propelled him forward, and a spray of blaster bolts raged through the approaching intersection. He heard the answering hum of a lightsaber, and then there was another flurry of blaster fire, followed by a muffled cry. He quickly thumbed his own weapon to life and cautiously rounded the corner into the opposing hallway.
A blond young man lay sprawled across the deck, while stormtroopers retreated behind a blast door. He hurried to the boy's side, only to be taken aback by the sight of his own face in death. He glanced at the clothing and the lightsaber hilt laying just beyond the boy's fingertips. Not his face, but Anakin's. He gently laid a hand on the boy's forehead, smoothing back his tousled hair. Looking away from the still form, he surveyed the corridor, but was unable to determine whether it was the interior of a Star Destroyer or the Death Star, or even a smaller vessel. No matter. The truth was now evident: if he took Anakin with him on the invasion, his apprentice would die.
He struggled to pull himself out of the vision and back to full awareness. He should have known the boy was too inexperienced to participate in this mission. Despite Anakin's abilities in the Force, he'd never really been under fire. When he was Anakin's age he'd already been on many missions, and still the opening battles of the Clone Wars had been a disorienting blur. He should have never placed his apprentice in such danger.
At least there was still time to correct his error. He motioned his helmet into a descent, barely allowing it to lock in place before waving open the halves of the meditation pod. Striding towards Anakin's quarters, he cleared the residue of concern from his mind, and drew the solace of the dark back into place. Withdrawing his apprentice from battle was a tactical move, not a sentimental one. Just as the alternative plan that was forming in his mind was based solely in logic. Seizing control of the Death Star would be difficult unless he replaced Anakin, and there was one experienced candidate aboard the ship.
Once at Anakin's door, his apprentice readily answered the chime, lightsaber in hand and a sheen of sweat on his face as if he had been practicing. The boy would be disappointed, to be certain. "Do you still have the prisoner's lightsaber?"
Anakin nodded, and retrieved it from a small chest in a corner of his cabin. "Why do you want it?"
He took possession of the saber before answering. "I am going to return it to its owner."
"Good," Anakin said. "I'm glad you're finally coming around."
"Plans have changed," he said, ignoring the boy's comment. "You will remain on board Devastator
during this mission."
The smile on Anakin's face evaporated. "Why?"
"If you go, you will be injured."
"No, I'm ready," Anakin said earnestly."I can do this."
He remembered his own resentment when the Council dismissed his abilities, but he had to remain steadfast on this issue. "If I take you with me, you will die. I have forseen it."
Anakin brow furrowed, and he was silent for several moments. "But what will you do without me?"
"What ever Obi-Wan told you about he and I during the Clone Wars was likely the truth," he said, hardly believing what he was saying. Still, he felt a resonance in the Force even as the words left his mouth. "Getting into and out of impossible situations, it's what we do."