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
While this is the last chapter, there is an epilogue.Chapter Fifteen
Darth Vader wasn't sure where Tarkin had obtained this current batch of soldiers. From their fearlessness and tenacity, he wondered if Tarkin had ever been granted access to Palpatine's secret cloning facilities on Imperial Center. Though he couldn't see their faces to confirm it, these troopers fought like the original Jango clones. Tough and smart, almost identical to Vader's best from the 501st, they might have even been trained specifically to fight him
. Not only were they willing to come after him, they seemed to have a plan for going about it.
Like the clone troopers who'd executed Order 66, these soldiers seemed to have a familiarity and understanding of the fighting style of a Force user. Always staying beyond the range of his lightsaber, they co-ordinated their firing efforts so that whenever he angled his lightsaber to deflect their blaster fire, another of them aimed under its scarlet blade. So far he'd been able to meet their attack, but with he and Obi-Wan outnumbered ten to one, it was only a matter of time before a stray bolt made it through. He hated the fact that they could put him on the defensive, even more that they had been able to separate the two of them. Obi-Wan was now one corridor over in the series of hallways that radiated from the central hub outside of Tarkin's command post.
Vader had been right not to bring Anakin. Otherwise, it would have been his apprentice one corridor over, alone and outgunned by the troopers, just like in his vision. The boy would never have survived this kind of battle. As it was, he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of sending himself to capture Tarkin. Palpatine would have never made that choice; he would have thrown the infinitely vast resources of the Empire against the problem and waited patiently for superior numbers to prevail. But Vader had never liked anyone to fight his battles for him, and besides, this business with Tarkin was almost personal. Though they'd never discussed it, Vader was fairly certain Tarkin knew who he'd been before, and that was a detail Tarkin seemed to find distasteful.
The thought renewed his anger, and he slashed his blade forward, bumping the lead trooper with a Force push at the same time. The man crumpled against the corridor wall, and the rest of the troopers shuffled back towards the doors shielding the command center. With a casual gesture he flung the downed trooper's blaster away and stepped past him. The remaining troopers knelt down, shoulder to shoulder, each with a rifle aimed at him. The impression that he was facing a firing squad was not inaccurate. They all let loose at once, and he battered back against the rain of blaster fire. If he had any sense, he'd retreat for cover, but retreat was a maneuver he'd never learned.
Flattening himself as much as possible against the wall, a tingle of distress signaled at the back of his mind. Not a plea for help, but an escaped overflow of feeling from a mind under too much pressure. Obi-Wan. As dangerous as this exercise was for him, Obi-Wan was facing it without the additional protection of armor. And if Obi-Wan's compulsively practiced control had began to slip, that could only mean...He shut off the thought at its conclusion. He hadn't brought the old man here to die, either.
Solidifying his resolve, he realized that to win, he needed to disrupt the unity of the troopers' attack. He knew which tactic would best accomplish that, but it would leave him momentarily vulnerable. Lowering his lightsaber, he brought his left hand up, closing his fingers and focusing on the nearest stormtrooper. He felt a glow of heat as bolts reached his breast plate and the energy dissipated against the durasteel. The trooper began to scratch frantically at his throat, dropping his blaster in the process. After that, the firing stopped as the other troopers turned to watch their brother struggle. Vader shifted his focus to the next trooper, who tore off his helmet in a desperate attempt to breathe. Letting that man slump to the ground, he closed in on the other troopers, who resumed their defense too late.
Standing surrounded by bodies in the central hub, he could hear the sounds of another battle. Moving to the head of that corridor, he saw that Obi-Wan was in a bad spot. Crammed into a corner by four troopers, it appeared it was all the old Jedi could do to hold them back. The gulf between them of fallen men with lightsaber wounds seemed to be the only thing keeping the soldiers from making a final advance. Though Obi-Wan's eyes still burned with impassive determination, Vader could see fatigue in the swing of his former master's arm. Roaring down the hallway, he felled three men with one great arc of his lightsaber. The remaining trooper pivoted, now trapped between opponents, and unleashed a sweeping spray of blaster fire. Vader flashed up his left hand and deflected it, but Obi-Wan sagged to the floor, apparently hit. Stepping in, Vader stabbed his lightsaber through the chestplate of the last trooper. After the man collapsed, he picked his way over the white armored body to reach Obi-Wan's side.
Obi-Wan looked up from his crumpled position, one hand clasped to his right thigh. Vader reached a gloved hand down to him. "That's eleven."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened briefly and then he gripped Vader's hand. "Ten. Cato Neimoidia still
He smiled and pulled Obi-Wan to his feet. Some things never changed. And maybe that wasn't so bad.
Anakin was beginning to hate the two TIEs that silently, relentlessly paced his fighter. He didn't understand what they were waiting for, unless they were still undecided about whether they faced friend or foe. Whatever the reason, the tension was maddening. He'd thought about circling around to fire on them, but Obi-Wan's advice to never start the fight stilled his aggression.
If Luke was worried about the other ships, Anakin couldn't feel it in the Force. Instead, Luke seemed as focused as ever, leading them all upwards towards the long gantry attached to the focusing disc. The transformer had to lie somewhere along its length, but at two meters it was too small to identify from this distance. Anakin followed Luke as he brought his fighter above the plane of the gantry and began to trace it. Suddenly, Anakin became aware that the other TIEs were no longer flying with them, but had dropped back into attack position. Apparently something in Luke's approach tipped the scales for them, and they now understood Luke's intent.
Anakin closed in on Luke's ship, shielding his friend from the opposing fighters. He grunted as a lasercannon blast rocked his ship, a hit registering to his left cooling panel. Debris and flashes of fire rocketed past his viewport, but the ship still felt stable. A second hit landed on the main hull of the fighter, and after that he knew he couldn't hold his position. He reduced speed and angled his ship upwards, and Tarkin's fighters shot underneath him. He dropped back down, now behind them and ready to fire. Just as he locked on to the rearmost TIE, it began swerving and dodging, preventing him from making a clear shot. He tried to lock on with his targeting computer, all the while cursing himself for his lack of skill. Every second he wasted gave Tarkin's lead pilot more time to fire on Luke.
The rear TIE accelerated, and the forward one moved to the side so that both of Tarkin's fighters were directly behind Luke. The ships commenced firing on Luke's ship, and Anakin watched in horror as cannon bolts found their mark. Luke's TIE bobbled for a moment, then dived off the approach line. Tarkin's men followed him, apparently closing in for the kill. Anakin uttered an unconscious "No!", and gunned his fighter, knowing he had to intercept them somehow. He plunged in between Luke's TIE and the enemy ships at full throttle, meaning to draw their fire.
Circling back up, he could see them only on his sensors, but their presence was soon made real when another hit shook his fighter. This time the yoke felt sluggish in his hands, and he struggled to keep his TIE on course. Rolling back, the ship's hull gave an ominous groan, and he noticed that his gauges were creeping into the red. A dangerous thought ran through his mind, and for the first time he recognized that he might fail. But if he failed, then Luke was left alone to the enemy, and that just couldn't happen.
That thought filled him with new determination, and he swung his battered craft around to give chase to his opponents. His target bobbed and weaved as before, but this time he didn't attempt to mirror its motions. Instead, he reached into the Force and gave up following it with his eyes. Allowing the Force to guide him, he stopped chasing where the TIE was, and instead saw where it would be. He prepared to fire, waiting until one of Tarkin's fighters crossed into his sights. He punched the triggers, feeling victorious when his weapons landed a direct hit.
The enemy TIE exploded, disintegrating before him, and he gripped the yoke to ride out the resulting shock wave. Once through the debris cloud left by the destroyed ship, he located Luke, who was trying to evade a pursuer. He ran down the other ship, ignoring the way speed made his gauges rise further towards red. He pulled off two shots, striking the second of Tarkin's fighters, and sending the ship into a downward spiral.
Anakin exhaled in relief, and eased up on the throttle. Luke's ship pulled away immediately, heading back towards the gantry. Anakin thought for a moment about going after him, but then glanced at his gauges. Even though he'd slowed his ship, the readings were still too high. He'd have to let Luke go on for the win, while he limped home.
He brought his ship up over the plane of the gantry for a better view of Luke's moment of glory. Luke's TIE grew smaller by the second, while Anakin let his ship glide along under low power. Abruptly, a blip returned to his sensor screen, and he leaned forward, trying to visualize the object through the viewscreen. A TIE came flying up over the gantry, the same one he'd shot earlier by the marks on the exterior. Somehow, the pilot had recovered his ship from the tailspin and was back on target, steadily moving in on Luke's ship.
Anakin automatically accelerated his fighter, and the ship lurched forward with a shudder, the engine temperature skyrocketing with its effort. He cut the throttle immediately, realizing that his ship was incapable of pursuit. He shook his head inside the flight helmet. This wasn't how he had envisioned this mission at all. They were going to be the great heros, they were going to do it together. He felt terrible for leaving Luke to fend for himself. In fact it felt more than terrible, it felt wrong
in the Force.
He braced against his flight harness, focusing, while his ship drifted along the line of the gantry. Now that he was listening, he could hear the Force urging him on. He accelerated lightly, and the ship responded, this time with only a minor sputter. Nursing the fighter forward, he gradually increased his speed, though the gauges still ticked towards red. After that, he stopped looking at his instruments and searched his viewscreen for the two TIEs ahead of him. Blasts of cannon fire marked their location and he flew on towards them.
As he closed in on them, he could see one fighter, probably Luke, making desperate evasive manuevers while the trailing ship tried to remain within firing distance. Anakin pushed the throttle towards full, and noticed a tremor in the ship that strengthened with speed. To his surprise, he had no fear, only a sense of certainty. He was meant to do this. They would
finish this mission together.
Luke's ship doubled back as he attempted to shake his pursuer, and for a moment Anakin was facing Luke's ship head on. Then Luke dove to the left, the other fighter glued to his tail. Anakin kept to a straight line, sensing that Luke would reverse direction again. When both TIEs popped up over the gantry, heading towards the focusing disc, Anakin was ready. He punched the throttle, paying no heed to the violent tremors that shook his ship. Feeling entirely like an instrument of the Force, his field of vision narrowed to the rear of the enemy fighter. He wasn't even thinking when his thumbs pushed the triggers and his weapons found their mark on the ship ahead of him.
The other TIE vanished in a ball of fire, raining pieces back on Anakin's ship. As Anakin withdrew from the Force, he became aware of not only the unholy vibrations that gripped his fighter, but of the sound of alarms filling his cockpit. Readings blinked urgently on his instrument panel, no longer numbers, but only HHH
. High, high, high, because the limits of the gauges had been exceeded. He released the throttle, but the panel still flashed HHH
. He caught sight of Luke's ship, and he reached out to touch his friend's bright presence. He smiled, comforted to know that Luke was safe.
The scream of shearing metal roared through the cockpit, deafening Anakin, and flames bored through his seat from the engine compartment. Oh kriff
, he thought, and then all went white.
When Darth Vader and Obi-Wan burst through the doors of Tarkin's command center, the Grand Moff didn't even blink. Vader supposed Tarkin could have seen the battle with the troopers through a security cam, but that didn't explain why the man was so calm. In fact more than calm, Vader thought, looking at Tarkin across the strategy table of the command center. This wasn't the face of a man who had accepted his fate, this was the face of a man who believed he was still completely in charge.
"Vader. I'll give you credit for making it this far," Tarkin said. He moved his gaze to Vader's right and squinted. "And Obi-Wan Kenobi? What, did you pull him out of some museum?"
"Don't let the dust fool you, Governor," Obi-Wan said.
"Your mutiny has failed, Tarkin," Vader said. There was motion behind the Grand Moff, and a Mon Calamari moved out of the background to Tarkin's side. Something Bail Organa had said leapt to the front of Vader's mind. Tarkin holds the former leader of their Council as a slave
. Staring at the broad faced Mon Cal, Vader's dislike of Tarkin ratcheted up a notch.
"No, my friend, it is your rule which is finished," Tarkin said. "My guards will be here any moment with a my herd of Wookiees. They're not very fond of you, the Wookiees. They've never forgiven you for what you did to Kashyyyk."
The torching of Kashyyyk. That was a lifetime ago, when he was raw with grief and pain and rage. He tried to think as little about that act as hed did about the destruction of the Temple.
"If I were you, I'd leave now and take the head start, " Tarkin said. "A Wookiee can tear a man's arms from the sockets. Yours might even be a little easier."
He bristled at the insult, igniting his lightsaber for emphasis. He had intended to take Tarkin and his cronies alive, to parade them in front of the Senate in a display of his firm control of the Empire. But if Tarkin kept running his mouth like this, he'd have to go to plan B. "Order your men to deactivate the laser."
"Not in our moment of triumph," Tarkin said. "If you were smarter, you'd understand that the elimination of the Mon Calamari is essential for the safety of the Empire. The Mon Cals have just agreed to supply the Rebellion with ships." Tarkin turned to his captive. "Isn't that right, Ackbar?"
The Mon Calamari shifted uneasily, his expression changing, but foreign and unreadable to Vader. He'd never had many dealings with this species. Still, he could sense simmering hatred in the tall humanoid. "My men will soon reach the laser, regardless. Surrender is your only option."
Tarkin sniffed and glanced at the strategy table, tracing a skeletal finger over the red lights of the schematic. "The order to fire has already been given. You and your men are too late."
Luke put a hand to his chest, feeling as though a piece of himself had just torn away. One minute he'd been flying for his life, afraid he couldn't outrun his pursuer, and the next he was seemingly all alone. He glanced to his sensor screen, and found it empty. But that couldn't be. Anakin's ship should be registering; he'd seen him just a short time ago. And it had to have been Anakin who had shot down the enemy TIE, because there were no other fighters in the area. So where was he?
Luke circled his ship around, even though he knew he shouldn't. He flew back towards the core of the space station, searching for any sign of Anakin, but there was nothing. A hollowness settled in his stomach, and he swallowed hard. You can cry after the fighting's done
, that was what Uncle Owen always used to say. Luke gathered himself and swung his ship around; he had a job to do.
He followed the line of the gantry, skimming its surface in search of the transformer junction. As still as it was around him, he might as well have been on a pleasure run to Anchorhead. Meter after meter zipped by beneath his ship, almost too fast for him to focus. He realized he might fly over the transformer and not even see it. Thinking back on the lessons Anakin and his father had given him in the Force, he closed his eyes for a moment and relaxed. Don't think, just feel
, he could remember them saying.
He reached out for the nebulous current that he now knew to be the Force, and began to release his conscious control. Faster, faster
, the Force whispered, and he complied, even though it meant he had no chance at all of recognizing the target. He let himself be carried along, thumbs poised over the triggers, waiting for the right moment. Open to the Force, he was bombarded by images and feelings sweeping by too fast for him to grasp them all. It was almost too much.
Suddenly he had the impulse to fire, and he acted on it, sending cannon bolts into the gantry below. Fire burst all around him, and he pulled hard to the left to escape the explosion. From a distance he watched the gantry sag, and then the back of the focusing disk went dark. His adrenalin fading, Luke drifted through the unfinished sector of the space station. They'd fought so hard to get to this point, but now that it was over, he felt empty, not triumphant.
His heart jumped when a cluster of blips appeared on his sensor screen, and he turned his ship to face them. Five fighters, flying in close formation. He was imagining his escape route when his transponder chimed. It took him a moment to realize that meant these were Imperials, not Tarkin's men. Quickly he sent the code back, and then his headset crackled.
"You did it!" the voice exclaimed, the call sign RDK-1 blazing on Luke's comm screen.
He allowed himself a smile, though he didn't feel the excitement that his commander did. They might have won, but Luke couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.
"Let's get on home, boys," came the voice through the headset, and Luke, not knowing what else to do, turned to follow the other TIEs.
The Grand Moff moved away from the strategy table and activated a wall display, revealing the Mon Calamari homeworld with its swirls of blue and white. "If Ackbar here would have convinced his people to submit to the Empire, I might have changed my mind. But since he didn't, his punishment is to watch this space station in action."
The Mon Cal's operculum flashed red, and Ackbar leapt forward, jostling Tarkin. The Grand Moff swund around, outraged, but before he could say anything, Ackbar pulled Tarkin's sidearm. For a split second, Tarkin stared at his captive and then Ackbar shot Tarkin point blank. As Tarkin's body slipped to the ground, Obi-Wan summoned the blaster from Ackbar's hand.
The Mon Cal's head seemed to retreat into his shoulders. "Go ahead, kill me. Death doesn't frighten me after what I lived through being a slave to that
Ackbar nearly spat as he indicated Tarkin, and Vader recognized the desperation of having nothing left to lose. He deactivated his lightsaber and hung it on his belt. "Bail Organa told me of your... situation. I understand it, more than you know."
"You're working with Bail Organa?" Ackbar asked suspiciously.
"As of late, yes," he said.
"You are?" Obi-Wan said, sounding equally surprised. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Does it make a difference?" he said.
Obi-Wan had an odd expression on his face, but for once had no answer. From Tarkin's belt came the chime of a comm, the speed of its repeat conveying the urgency of the message. After going unanswered, a voice suddenly burst from it. "Sir, please respond. The power supply to the laser has been destroyed."
Across the table, Ackbar sagged visibly, then walked up to the wall display, gently touching the image of the watery planet.
"As I predicted," Vader said to Obi-Wan, before reaching down to remove Tarkin's comm. "This is the Emperor. Governor Tarkin is dead and the Death Star is under my control. All troops are to stand down."
main hangar, Darth Vader gently set down his lambda
shuttle. All around his ship, other craft involved in the assault on the Death Star were also returning home. He was glad of their victory, but he was also troubled by what lay ahead. Now that Tarkin was gone, he had to decide what he was going to do with the information Organa had given him. He had everything he needed to crush the Rebellion, and yet he couldn't imagine taking that course. And then there the other issues, such as the entire population of Wookiees enslaved on the Death Star.
At least the disposition of Ackbar had been clear cut. He'd never made good on his vow to free the slaves on Tatooine, but he could at least free this one being. Even if Ackbar and his people remained foes to the Empire, there was no other choice. But somehow Ackbar's departing words of gratitude made him wonder if the rest of the Mon Calamari leadership might have a change of heart, as well.
Lowering the shuttle ramp from the cockpit, Vader turned to Obi-Wan. "Your wound should be examined by a medic."
"It's nothing," Obi-Wan said, rubbing a hand over his thigh. "I've had far worse."
"I will alert my personal physician," he insisted, as he rose from the pilot's seat. "He's very good."
"Fine, then," Obi-Wan said, following him out of the shuttle and down the ramp. "And, uh, thank you. I assume that's a privilege most prisoners don't receive."
In completing the mission, Vader had forgotten about Obi-Wan's status. It had seemed so natural for them to work together again. And now, as with Ackbar, there seemed to be only one path to take. "You are no longer a prisoner. You are free to go."
Obi-Wan gave him a mysterious smile, and then they turned for the hangar exit. From across the hangar, a TIE pilot in full uniform was heading towards them, helmet tucked under one arm. Halfway to them, the pilot broke into a jog, discarding the helmet to pick up speed. The strange thing was, the pilot felt like Luke. In fact, the blond hair bobbing with each stride looked like Luke. But why would his son be out here? Vader glanced at Obi-Wan, who returned an equally perplexed look.
But it was Luke who ran up, stopping abruptly, near breathless. "Where's Anakin?"
"What do you mean?" Vader said. "And why are you in a flightsuit?"
Luke shook his head. "We decided to help out. We joined the mission."
"You had orders to remain here," Vader said, leaning forward.
"I destroyed the transformer," Luke blurted, appearing more shell-shocked than proud.
did?" Vader said. He looked at Luke's furrowed brow and troubled eyes, and for the first time he saw not Padme', but himself.
"Yeah," Luke said, lowering his head. "But Anakin was right behind me, and now I can't find him."
A flash of cold ran through Vader's heart.
"I was being fired on, and he was back there," Luke said, gesturing as he paced a line on the hangar floor, "and he shot down the ships that were after me, and then he was gone."
Vader wet his lips. "Do you know which ship he was flying?"
"RDK-Six, " Luke said, running ran a hand through his hair. "I was Five, he was Six."
Vader pulled his comm from his belt. "Flight Officer, tell me the status of TIE RDK-Six."
"Yes, m'lord," the flight officer replied. The comm went silent, and then the officer spoke again. "Central Ship Command shows that the fighter experienced severe engine trouble. There's no signal now. I'm afraid we lost that one, sir."
"Thank you," he said, slowly lowering the comm, the chill spreading in him. Anakin, lost in combat. He clenched his jaw. Had he caused Anakin's death by leaving him behind? Would the boy be alive now if he had
taken Anakin with him? Why was it always his curse to see the future, but never be able to change it?
Obi-Wan had moved to Luke's side, but the boy shrugged off Obi-Wan's hand. "He fell way behind for awhile. He must have known his ship was damaged," Luke said. He stared into Obi-Wan's face. "Why did he come back?"
"To help you," Obi-Wan said gently.
"But his ship was in trouble," Luke said, sounding agitated. "Why did he sacrifice himself for me?"
The reality of Anakin's death was just beginning to hit Vader. The boy had lived a life of duty and restriction, hardly even tasted freedom, never known love. However briefly Vader had known those things, at least he had known them. He shouldn't have been so hard on his apprentice. He'd should have given him more praise. He'd promised the boy a better life, but he'd barely fulfilled that promise. No matter his desire to have Anakin escape his fate, somehow they still shared it.
Obi-Wan walked up to Luke again and looked into the boy's eyes. "Because that's what Anakin Skywalker does."
Luke looked solemnly at Obi-Wan, and the old Jedi continued. "Once I was taken prisoner, and the entire Jedi Council gave up on me. But not Anakin. He was right there when I needed him. Count Dooku was about to kill me, but Anakin saved me, at the cost of his own arm. It's no exaggeration to say I wouldn't have survived the Clone Wars without him."
Luke swallowed, his expression softening. "But Ben, I don't understand. Anakin was my age. How could he have helped you in the Clone Wars?"
Obi-Wan smiled softly and turned his face away from Luke to look into Vader's helmet. "I'm not talking about the boy you knew, though I'm sure he would have done the same. I'm talking about your father."
Luke's head swung around and Vader almost missed the look of admiration in his son's face because of the tears that clouded his eyes. Obi-Wan's words were a gift, a gift of affection and respect. It was more than he deserved after everything he'd done. He'd taken that which Obi-Wan valued most - the Order, Obi-Wan's bride, really - and still Obi-Wan had found a way to open his heart. Vader didn't think he could ever be so generous with the person who had taken Padme' from him. He clenched his fist, his gaze falling away. But it was not Obi-Wan who had taken her from him. He knew that- he knew
that. It was himself.
He made himself taste that bitter truth, and the rest came tumbling out, all that he kept hidden away. He hadn't wanted any of them to die, he'd only wanted her to live. They were his brothers, his family, and he'd killed them all. He was a monster. Shame and disgust raged through him, no longer contained by his mental defenses. He raised his head to see that Obi-Wan had walked off, leaving him alone with Luke. Urgently, he called after him. "Master!"
Obi-Wan froze, and Vader stumbled up to him, falling to one knee. He'd knelt before Palpatine so many times, but never before the one man who'd actually earned the honor. "Master, please forgive me."
Vader felt the weight of Obi-Wan's hand atop his helmet, and then his old master's face was so close his whiskers brushed the mask. "I don't know that it is my place to grant that. I think you must forgive yourself. But I am sorry that you have lived so much of your life inside this cage."
He shut his eyes against the tears that threatened once more. How many times had he cursed Obi-Wan for making him this way, for leaving him alone to die? How many times had he questioned whether he was still a man, and not some mechanical abomination like Grievous? But a cage, only living things were put inside a cage. He swallowed hard. "But we are not this crude matter, right?"
"No, no," Obi-Wan whispered, his hand rocking the helmet. "Luminous beings are we, and none more luminous than you in the Force."
A platitude he'd heard too many times in his youth, and only now did he understand that it wasn't false at all. He gripped Obi-Wan's arm with one great gloved hand, unable to speak. He was still a man, still himself, despite the prosthetic limbs and the accursed ventilator.
"And now, we're going to stand up," Obi-Wan said,"because I can't bear to see you on your knees one more minute. And because right now your son needs his father."
He shook his head, and together he and Obi-Wan rose from the hangar floor. Luke stood a few meters away, stoic faced, though in the Force his grief and confusion were palpable. Vader walked towards him, wanting nothing more in this moment than to comfort his son. To be the Anakin Skywalker that his apprentice had been. Yes, the Empire needed his attention, but it would have to wait.
He extended his arm as he drew closer, waiting for his son to back away, but Luke never flinched. Vader wasn't exactly sure how a father should act, but he knew what his mother would have done. He laid his forearm across Luke's back, gripping his son's shoulder and pulling him close. Luke's breath hitched, and then his son returned the embrace. After a moment they stepped back from each other, and Luke looked up into the mask, some of his pain now showing in his eyes. The openness and trust Vader saw there made him want to rip away the black armored barrier that separated them. He wanted to know this boy who had been Anakin's friend. Who was a hero to the Empire. Who was his son
. "Let's get you out of this flightsuit," he said. "And then we'll talk. Man to man. Face to face."
Luke swallowed, nodding, and Vader glanced back at Obi-Wan, who smiled his approval. Something unlocked inside him, and he was flooded with feelings of love and hope and belonging. When Anakin had killed Palpatine, he had marveled that his clone was not the same as he. But maybe that wasn't true. Maybe everything he'd seen in his apprentice was in him, too. And maybe, just maybe, if had the courage to live the life he'd wanted for his apprentice, then Anakin would live on, too.